Job Searching 101: Early Warning Signs Your Employer is a Jerk

The day was too warm to be pounding the streets and dropping off resumes in restaurants. The Sushi Place was my last stop and I felt wilted walking in. The sign outside offered a happy hour with $1 off sushi and half-price Asahi and Sapporo beer until 7 p.m. It was close to 5 when I walked in. Near the entrance was a bar, where a tired looking bartender stood staring at a huge, soundless, wide-screen TV located over the sushi bar. An experimental art film seemed to be playing. The images were visceral and discordant, closeups of food being chopped and chewed, raw. A Lady Gaga song played innocuously in the background. There were a few occupied tables, but it wasn’t very busy.

“Hi,” I said to Weary Bartender. “Is the manager or owner available? I’d like to apply for a server position.”

A small smile cracked his stony expression, more out of amusement than friendliness. He gestured to a seat at the far end of the bar. “The owner is in the back. You can wait here if you’d like.”

“Sure. Thank you. It’s hot out. The air conditioning feels great.” As I sat down, I noticed a half-finished pint of beer and a laptop in front of an empty seat at the other end of the bar.

“Would you like a glass of water?”

“Oh, yes, please. Are you hiring servers now?”

“We’re always looking for someone,” he said, filling my glass and placing it before me.

“Oh. Great. How long have you been here?”

“A few months.”

“Are you pretty much settled in, then?”

“Yeah. Sure.”

I gratefully drank as I took in the place. It was decorated in a lean, vaguely Asian style with oak wood paneling throughout. The sushi bar sat in front of the kitchen and next to the bar. A sushi chef was unwrapping fish and placing them in the bar display. A couple of girls were nursing beers and staring at the sushi chef expectantly. In fact, there were a lot of expectant faces and I had yet to see a server.

The TV caught my eye again. What I thought was an art film turned out to be a Japanese horror movie with subtitles. A man had just thrown a naked woman across a table. Her face was made up Kabuki style. Another man, also naked, held tongs in one hand and poured a brown sauce on her with the other. I stifled a shocked laugh.

“Have you seen our waitress?” A man from one of the tables had just approached the bar. “We’ve been waiting 30 minutes for our sushi.” I looked over at the sushi bar and there were some plates with sushi on them at the service area waiting to be delivered. The girls at the sushi bar still sat waiting to eat. The sushi chef was slicing fish laggardly, like a DMV clerk processing forms.

“She’ll be right with you,” said Weary Bartender, not moving.

Just then, the kitchen door banged open and belched forth a man. His hair was greasily combed over half his forehead, barely covering a bald patch. A couple of facelifts had given his face a wide-eyed skeletal appearance. He shambled over to the half-empty pint at the other end of the bar and drew a draught between surgically fattened lips. His colorful collared shirt was unbuttoned almost to his navel, revealing sparse hair, strange scarring, and the top half of his beer-gut. He seemed to be hanging onto a style from his heyday.

“Are you the owner?” asked the customer at the bar.

“Yes,” said Weird Owner, not even looking up from his now finished beer.

“I’ve been waiting 30 minutes for my sushi.”

“Yes, well this isn’t fast food you know.” He then pirouetted away from the bar and toddled to the back to pour another beer. Frustrated Customer went back to his table to rejoin his friend. After setting the beer down next to his laptop, Weird Owner walked over to the sushi bar, sashaying to the music of Rage Against the Machine. I thought he might deliver the still-waiting sushi plates, but he stopped at the two women. A caterpillar roll finally sat in between them, upon which they were nibbling. They looked up at him as he inquired about their food in a voice that carried over the thin din of music and guest murmuring.

The girls smiled and said something I couldn’t hear. “Pretty girls and pretty sushi go together like a handroll with spicy tuna.” He snorted at his own joke.

They smiled politely. He went on, pointing to his chest. “See these scars? I got them in ‘Nam. I got this there too.” He rolled back his sleeve to show them a tattoo on his upper arm. It continued onto his shoulder, ending who-knew-where. I was afraid for a minute he would take off his shirt to show them the whole thing. “You ladies really are pretty, and for a kiss, dinner is on me! Hell, I’ll pick up your tab even without the kiss.” He chortled.

This time the ladies didn’t smile back and I heard a reply. “That’s not necessary,” said the bolder of the two.

“No, I insist,” said the owner.

The kitchen door banged open again and a young server, looking bored, walked out. The owner jerked around and marched toward her. “Where have you been, skank? I don’t pay your lazy ass to stand around.”

She looked unsurprised by his outburst. “I took a cigarette break,” she said and went to the server station to pick up the waiting sushi. When she arrived at her table, Frustrated Customer started complaining to her.

At this point, Weird Owner finally noticed me taking everything in. He approached, his bee-stung lips parting into a grin. “What can I do for you, young lady?”

“Um. Nothing. I was just leaving.” I fished for my wallet and pulled out a dollar for Weary Bartender. Then, as he continued to stare, I picked up my résumé and handbag and scurried back out into the stifling air.

I may be broke, but I have standards.

Server for Hire

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156 thoughts on “Job Searching 101: Early Warning Signs Your Employer is a Jerk

    • Yes indeedy, restaurant owners demand “professionalism” from their servers. In Los Angeles, it’s pretty competitive work. There are lot of actors and artists needing day-jobs, including me! Thanks for reading. Have a great day. 🙂

      • Your story had a distant connection to mine, so I linked yours to it. Best of luck to you! — YUR

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  3. Yes, often places do tell you exactly what it’d be like to work for them right off the bat. Wish I could share my horror stories, but I still work at the place I’d like to talk about (and have a gag order in my contract to boot!)

    • I’ve lived through work horror stories and I’ve listened to them. No one deserves to exchange misery for money. I hope one day you can find a better job. Best of luck to you! And thank you for reading. 🙂

  4. Oh. Wow. Talk about a horror story. You narrowly escaped, you realize…what if you had been there on a good day?!?!

    Never mind. With that owner, a “good day” probably doesn’t happen.

    Congrats on NOT getting (or even applying for) that job!

  5. What I want to know is, how do places like that stay in business? If I had been waiting 30 minutes for my food, hadn’t seen hide nor hair of my server, and had been ignored by the owner when I asked about my food, I’d have gotten up and left. I’m glad you elected to leave. Sounds like the kind of place where you’d have to fight with the owner about your paycheck every week.

  6. Yikes. My blog tells horror stories from the management side of the table, but this was pretty awful. At least you figured that out before you took the job. Surprised the owner hasn’t been sued by somebody for sexual harassment.

  7. I had to share this with my Mom, it sounds just like her first boss at a fast food restaurant! I can’t believe anyone works for this guy, or that people even eat there! The food must be really good…

  8. That was a good read! Reminds me when customers would ask if where I worked was hiring and I’d mumble something how they don’t really want to work here….ah low wage retail!

  9. STANDARDS exactly. You know what alot of people would have done the opposite and jumped in to serve the customers…in an attempt to get the job. Yikes. You did the right thing. And some amazing manager will recognize your ethics and values and offer you a great job!

    • There is no reason anyone should have to work at a job that would likely be problematic and more stressful than it’s worth. Thank you so much for your supportive comment. 🙂

  10. Well done — both the writing and the way you handled your job application. Imagine working there every day, ugh. Congratulations on being FP!

  11. A Lady Gaga song never plays innocuously. It’s always painful (to me, at least.)

    But that was pretty entertaining. Good to know that we can still have standards, even when we’re desperate for work.

    • Agreed – it was written so well my first thought that it was a story, you know- made up! Cannot believe that this restaurant is still in business. YUCK! Weary Bartender should have asked you “how desperate are you?” when you asked for the owner/manager. 😉
      Congrats on FP!

  12. Just be thankful you saw that before taking the job.
    I had a waitressing job when I was 20 & the sleazy bastard owner was always trying to get us young girls up to his “3rd floor apartment”. I only lasted a couple months. Money is nice, but so is dignity.

  13. Thanks for sharing your story, it’s beautifully written. Good for you, for walking out. I remember the interview from the last restaurant I worked at. I was asked to be there at 5, which I was. A waitress let the owner know I was there and he must have walked by me 100 times. She reminded him several times and about a hour later he walked up to me said I was good looking and “you’re hired”. That was what I waited an hour for. I ended up working at the restaurant for 2 1/2 years and it was the most stressful job I’ve ever had, so props to you for walking out, wish I had too.

  14. Good for you – walking out on Mr. Creepy Guy. How do restaurants stay in business with standards like that? I can only imagine what his application process involves……..ick.

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  16. Good for you for deciding to leave! I know how depressing it can be to job search. I’ve worked in a couple of restaurants and the attitude of management makes a huge impact on my work mood and after quitting the first horrible place I felt a wonderful sense of relief and increased self worth. Happy job hunting!

  17. Great story, and eff that guy.

    On my blog I write about restaurants in Minneapolis,MN. Most of the time I find when I do not get good service it has nothing to do with the server.

    Usually, it has to do with management. Many times with under scheduling and not having enough servers.

    Kudos to you for walking out.

    You can read some of my reviews http://www.mplsgossipgirl.wordpress.com

  18. Good for you for heeding the warning signs and getting out of there! That owner sounds like the last person on Earth I would want to work for.

  19. Your last line says it all – well said. Good for you!

    It amazes me how disrespectful and downright tacky lots of people can be – yet they get away with it (return customers, decent job reviews, mainly though – they get a paycheck!!). It’s not appropriate, cute, funny and is far from professional.

    Good luck and thanks for an enjoyable post.

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  21. Amen to that! Perfectly said!! I was a server for too many years to mention. I was lucky enough to stay at one place for most of them, Mystic Pizza (yes… the one from the movie with Julia Roberts… lol) While the tourists could be a little crazy, thankfully the owners were awesome. Keep looking… you’ll find a place that realizes and respects your skill-set and talent. Good luck.
    P.S. Great blog! Looking forward to reading more 🙂

    • You were lucky to find a place with awesome owners! I’m finding that’s hard to find. But I maintain crossed fingers! Yes, please keep reading and thanks for commenting! 🙂

  22. This was a delightful post, rich with resonant detail. It sounds like there wasn’t much of a choice for you though. This place sounded like a serious hell hole! You might as well been in Hell’s Kitchen with Satan strolling around hitting on customers and snorting like a pig. Good luck on your job hunt and may The Sushi Bar be the bottom of the pack.

  23. Wow! First off, wonderful storytelling. Second, two big cheers for you for walking out. Sometimes, the money is not worth the job (or the boss). I wish you luck in your job-searching! Hope you get a job soon, and good luck on your acting as well (I read somewhere in the comments above that you’re an actor needing a day-job).

  24. HAHA I love it! Thanks for the post, a great way to end the day. Keep up the good work, can’t wait to read more. Congrats on FP!

  25. honestly obsessed with this ! you honestly should be writing and no where near serving at a restaurant, especially one like that! love all the detail, felt like i was reading it myself and good choice walking out that door !! 🙂
    Do you mind taking a look at my blog, its new and id really appreciate your opinion !
    Thanks so much 🙂

  26. Good for you for walking out. This is a real problem with the current economic climate. I feel that employess have lost a ton of power and that power has shiffted to the employer. Employer’s fell that they can treat folks how ever they want and we are expected to take it. They assume they can walk over a person in many cases, glad you set the standard…not them:)

    • It’s true. People are understandably scared. Perhaps I’ve lived too long working too many jobs as an artsy bohemian type, but there is no reason for exchanging misery for money and I’d rather chase my dreams. I’ve watched people give away personal power and it makes me sad every time. We all have power. It’s not just for the chosen few. Thank you for reading and commenting.

  27. Thanks for your story. I think it is important to keep your eyes open when approaching a new opportunity. Being objective is very important instead of letting the need/desperation to make money cloud your judgement and ultimately your happiness.

    there are plenty of job opportunities out there, so good luck in finding the best one for you 🙂

  28. I’m torn. On the one hand, you made an excellent decision because the job would have been miserable. On the other hand, think of the story fodder your boss could have given you…

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