People Who Quit Their Restaurant Jobs Are Sharing Why They Did It13 min read
Note: This post contains mentions of harassment and abuse.
With “Help Wanted” signs hanging in many restaurant storefronts, it’s clear that there’s been a mass exodus from the service industry over the past couple of years. And if you’ve dined out during that time, you’ve likely experienced the effects of restaurants being perpetually understaffed.
Showtime / Via giphy.com
For some former restaurant workers, the onset of the pandemic led to abrupt career changes — but for others, walking away from the service industry came as a result of years of exhausting work, mistreatment, and, in some circumstances, abuse. So we asked members of the BuzzFeed Community who left their restaurant jobs for good to share the “final straw” moment that led them to do so. These are some of their responses.
1.“Let’s just say that I used to work at a place named after a day of the week — do with that what you will. I quit serving for good after a man applying for a job in the kitchen ran into me and caused me to drop all of my table’s food. He was running and collided with me. Plates shot out of my arms, and one even hit the window and shattered. A piece of plate cut my leg open. I was bleeding like crazy. I apologized profusely to my customers, and they blamed me for running into him. The assistant manager ended up comping their whole meal, and somehow, I got written up for it.”
“Later in the week, our general manager returned from vacation and wondered why I had quit. He called me and asked, so I explained. He believed me and asked me to come back. I refused. The restaurant business is so toxic. I wouldn’t ever go back.”
2.“I sprained my ankle badly on the job as a food runner. I was in terrible pain at the ER when my manager texted me, asking if I could ‘find someone to pull [my] next shift.’ They never asked if I was OK or needed help. I got the ER bill and had the restaurant pay it for me. Never got my shift picked up, never went back.”
3.“A group came in at the end of the night while I was bartending and asked for one drink before we closed up. I obliged and made them vodka OJs at their request. After I served them, one woman accused me of giving her ‘only orange juice.’ I explained to her that there was definitely vodka in it, as I had just made it right in front of them. The men started calling me names under their breath, and the woman demanded I ‘dump it out’ and make her a new one while she watched — for free. I said no, and she threw the drink at me, then jumped over the bar to try to fight me. I walked out and never returned.”
4.“I’m a 41-year-old chef of 20 years. I worked my way from dishwasher all the way to executive chef. When the pandemic hit, I left the industry for good. The service industry is incredibly demanding of your personal time, and the pay never truly equals the amount of time you devote to your career. My starting pay in the industry was $7.25 per hour, and when I left the industry (a whole 20 years later), I was still only making a $36,000 salary. I couldn’t take vacations, either. The last vacation I took was in April 2000, since schedules were usually sent out two days in advance.”
5.“For two years, I worked as a host at a pretty popular restaurant run by a pretty famous chef. I experienced some form of sexual harassment every single day, which ranged from inappropriate comments to full-on groping. I put up with it because I was told, ‘This is the culture.’ I was young and didn’t know any better. One day when I was standing by the host desk with a female coworker, one of the male servers walked up, put his hand up my dress, and walked away. My coworker and I were both in shock.”
“I told a manager what happened. An ‘investigation’ was launched that lasted about a week, during which I was forced to work with that server and put up with people whispering about what happened to me. Ultimately, the restaurant’s general manager told me that while my coworker corroborated what happened, they didn’t think there was any ‘malicious intent’ on the part of the server, so I needed to drop it and not talk about what happened again or I would be fired.
“I quit a couple of months later. I was in my early 20s, and this was a few years before the #MeToo movement, so I wasn’t fully aware of my rights or even the fact that what happened to me was considered assault. Had I been more informed, I would have — and should have — sued.“
6.“I left when my boss dumped out two buckets of cutlery roll-ups that had taken me an hour of unpaid time to do, for no reason other than the first roll-up was ‘scratched.’ I cried so hard that my fake eyelashes fell off.”
7.“I managed and owned restaurants for over 30 years, but realizing how physically, emotionally, and mentally burned out I was is what led me to finally quit. Back in 2015, my neurologist told me to get out before it killed me. I finally did years later, and I’m on full disability now. People are abusive. Customers for the most part became impossible. I would never suggest that anyone get into this industry.”
8.“I started having allergy symptoms out of the blue one day while working. I’m sure you can imagine that being itchy and constantly sniffling is a bad look when serving people food these days. I went to an allergist to get tested — out of pocket, since of course we didn’t have insurance — and found out I was allergic to cockroaches. Everything clicked in that moment, since we’d just started to notice cockroaches coming into our restaurant from the nasty building next door. I brought proof of the allergy to the owners, and they did nothing besides put some powder down. They refused to close for just one evening and spray for roaches, even though we were losing customers because people could easily see them scurrying around on our mostly white surfaces. I killed 50 in a shift once.”
“The owners called me in for a meeting and told me that ‘it didn’t seem like [my] heart was in it’ and ‘people could tell that [I] didn’t want to be there.’ They fired me on the spot, and I pointed out that they were essentially firing me over medical reasons, which is, you know, illegal AF. I left, got unemployment, reported them to the health department, and took a nice, fat vacation.”
9.“I left after tips got worse and worse. After I worked a 12-hour shift — serving one of our ‘highest-paying customers’ — management let him walk out on a $1,000 tab without tipping even $1.”
10.“I haven’t waited tables in 10 years, and I still have stress nightmares that I’m working at the restaurant again. My final straw came when I ended up needing hip surgery and would have to take two months off. I had doctor’s orders not to take tables larger than four people until the surgery. One of the managers sighed when I handed him the orders, and he asked me ‘how serious’ it actually was — as if I was lying about needing literal surgery.”
11.“I worked in the restaurant industry for about 10 years, in and out of different places. My last restaurant was Red Robin, and I was in a pretty high management position. I could no longer put up with being forced to see my employees — actual people — as just numbers and percentages. The final straw for me was being forced to make people work in over 110-degree weather, with the AC not working in half the restaurant, under the guise of ‘being there for the community.’ It couldn’t come at the expense of the employees I was supposed to be there for. So I dropped my keys on the counter and walked out. Ever since I walked, I’m in a much better place mentally, physically, and financially.”
12.“I was serving a table on the patio, and the patrons had dogs with them. One of the dogs took a shit on the patio…so the people bagged it, put it on a plate, handed it over, and said, ‘This is trash.'”
13.“I left the service industry after 20 years — 12 spent in the back of house, 8 in front of house — when I was laid off because of COVID-19. It was the best thing that ever happened to me. I was working at a steakhouse owned by a well-known ‘celebrity’ chef, and the management’s pandering to our often entitled clientele at the staff’s expense (so many things given away to influencers) had really worn me down. They were also misappropriating our tips and paying out people who weren’t eligible for tips with the waitstaff’s money. I was miserable, and as a result, I was using alcohol to cope.”
“Now I’ve gone back to school, I’ve done a ton of volunteering, and my former colleagues and I even sued the company for our tips. We won. I’ve been practicing mindful consumption for the past year and finally feel in control of my drinking. Getting out of the restaurant industry quite literally changed my life.“
14.“I accidentally charged a woman for guacamole. She opened up her burrito, looked me in the eye, and said, ‘See? No guac,’ then proceeded to throw said burrito in my face. I quit after that night.”
15.“My sister-in-law almost broke her knee while she was a server, and she continued working with her brace on. One day, she woke up and her knee was twice the size it normally was. Since my brother’s business had really picked up steam, he told her to quit, since they could figure out money without her ruining her knee. She did.”
“She wrote a formal apology and resignation and delivered it, in person, on crutches…and her manager said, ‘This is a really inconvenient time for you to quit, so we’ll expect you back here at 4 p.m. for your shift.” She laughed and left. That manager called her EVERY DAY for three weeks straight telling her they were going to fire her for no-shows if she didn’t come in. Like…ma’am. You don’t even offer insurance. She’s not trying to work herself to the point where she needs surgery for a fucking server job that doesn’t even pay $3 an hour.”
16.“My sister passed away after battling a prolonged illness in January 2020. Everyone I worked with knew about it (as it was a small diner). I let people know when services were and told them it would mean a lot to have their support. The day of her funeral, the assistant manager called me to see if I ‘wanted to pick up a shift,’ and no one from work showed up to the funeral either.”
17.“I have never seen more drama, favoritism, backstabbing, and misery than when I worked as a waiter. My nerves were wrecked, since I knew that one cruel customer or petty employee could determine if my family ate that week or not. I left and will never, ever go back. People have this idea that servers and their colleagues are rolling in money — probably from news reports and viral Facebook posts about servers who get large, unexpected tips from celebrities or anonymous rich people. It looks like a lot of money because it’s cash, but if you do the math, most service industry people are lucky to get minimum wage in the first place.”
18.“I’ve been a server for 25 years, and the only reason I’m not going back is the customers. Every server will tell you that the customers have become intolerable over the past two years, since the onset of COVID. Yes, the money can suck and the hours aren’t great, but the Karens of the world are taking over…and since I’ll definitely get fired for telling them how I feel, I’ll just never go back to work in a restaurant again. The customers act worse than my 4-year-old grandson. The customers are not always right.”
19.“Someone stubbed a cigarette out on my arm. Instead of saying sorry, they just said, ‘Thank god it was only staff and not someone important.'”
20.“I worked in catering for years, but I also worked as a restaurant host for a few months. I thought it would be easy, but boy, was I wrong. The waiters would scream and verbally abuse you if you skipped their sections because customers wanted to change seats. My manager was verbally abusive, and he even threw a seating chart at me in front of customers. One of the assistant managers threatened me. I was sexually harassed, and management never acknowledged it. I didn’t quit right away because I needed the money, yet I ultimately didn’t even make all that much when all was said and done. I was treated like garbage. If you want to work long term in the restaurant industry, you basically need to not have a soul.”
21.“One of our managers died in a car accident on New Year’s Day. I had been the closing bartender with her the previous night — New Year’s Eve — so we’d done a champagne toast together at midnight. We were a close-knit staff, with most of us having been there together for five years or more. Management told us all that she had passed away as soon as we walked in for work that night, and then forced us to work through the shift when we only had a handful of reservations on the books.”
“Half of the staff had to keep going back to the kitchen to cry. That was when I realized that not a single one of us meant shit to management. I left a 10-year bartending career two months later and never looked back.“
22.“Before I left the service industry, my hourly pay was $4. Excluding tips, my two-week pay averaged $36 — and the company didn’t care. How can anybody live on that?”
23.“I worked in fast food for 23 years as a manager, but after having two miscarriages in 2021 from the stress and emotional abuse, I quit. The pandemic has shown the absolute worst in people. In early March 2020, a customer purposely coughed and spat on me. When I told a manager that I was uncomfortable and worried, I was laughed at.”
“Every shift from April 2020 onward was incredibly busy and short-staffed, with customers yelling and screaming about precautions, protocols, and cleanliness, plus employees failing to follow the protocols. Twenty-three years, and no one said goodbye when I left.“
24.“I left when I realized that I had developed a drinking problem. People who work in restaurants are such train wrecks — but they’re also some of the best, most fun people I’ve ever met. There were bar regulars who would drink their faces off every day, staff who would show up drunk from the night before or their morning fix, and the whole thing normalized heavy drinking. I was not the only one who needed to seek help, either. I had many good friends who needed help too. I had a coworker pass away when she vomited in her sleep.”
“The kind of work environment that tells you it’s normal to start your day with a coffee and two shots of vodka just isn’t the kind of environment I can survive in. I’m not alone, either. Still, though…best job I’ve ever had. I met interesting, creative, wonderful people. We were all just wracked with problems that got out of control.”
25.“I worked at an Italian restaurant that did a LOT of to-go orders. I was a cashier, so I took orders and grabbed them for the customers out front when they were ready. The cooks were the ones responsible for packaging up food and putting it in the right slot for me to grab, and because containers were stapled closed, we could never check orders beyond looking at the receipt. One time, the cook made a mistake and switched two orders, so I unknowingly grabbed the wrong order for a customer. The customer came back, pissed off, and THREW the food at me. I was drenched in marinara and Alfredo sauce. When I started crying, he was boasting and telling the restaurant, ‘Look, I made the piggy girl cry, everyone!’ A few folks laughed. My boss then fired me on the spot because he had a policy that the customer was ALWAYS right, and if an employee upset a customer, it was an immediate job termination.”
“To top it off, I ended up getting followed by this guy as I drove home, and he didn’t relent until I pulled into a police station parking lot. I suffered because the cook put the order in the wrong slot. That was my last and ONLY restaurant job.”
26.“My breaking point came after I severely injured my back on the clock and was told I couldn’t leave until after my shift. I left, went to the ER, and never came back.”
If you quit your restaurant job for good, tell us why in the comments below. 👇
Note: Some submissions have been edited for length and/or clarity.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline is 1-888-950-6264 (NAMI) and provides information and referral services; GoodTherapy.org is an association of mental health professionals from more than 25 countries who support efforts to reduce harm in therapy.