This was originally posted in response to a first time dishwasher in the dishwashing subreddit, and got a lot of karma. Reposting it here:
If you are offended by anything, don’t work in a kitchen. No joke is off limits. Being in a high pressure situation leads to dark humor. There has to be a release valve somewhere……
As for the work itself, you will come home some nights feeling like you aced it, and some nights feeling like you are one step away from being fired. Because your schedule is going to be different than 99% of your friends, the kitchen will take over your whole life. Anthony Bourdain said it best…. “a tribe that would have me.”
You will never be more tired in your life, but you will often feel a sense of satisfaction that can’t be found anywhere else. And lots of cooks, perhaps even the chef, will let you work on other projects when it’s slow and you can up your cooking game as well. Dishwasher is basically the only position in which there is forward motion. You might want to be promoted someday to a prep or line cook. I loved both jobs equally- working on the brigade was just as enjoyable as being queen of my own domain.
Before you start, know that you have to have a strong backbone and be able to take a lot of criticism… but it’s not just that. You cannot be afraid of yelling at a line cook if he/she puts knives in a full sink, etc. Sharps under the water is probably the most hazardous part of the job. Don’t ever do it, don’t ever let anyone else get away with it, even the chef (in my restaurant, dishwashers didn’t even touch sharps- we made the line cooks wash and put away their own).
If you get fired for standing your ground, dishwasher jobs are a dime a dozen and none of them are worth deep, permanent scars on your hands…. and before the scars, possibly great big infections because you’ve been cut in water containing “used food.”
Being a dishwasher is not for the faint of heart. You will have to show up on time, every single day, and absolutely bust your fucking ass. I promise that the simple act of showing up on time, every single day, will win you more brownie points than you can possibly imagine. Kitchen folk are not necessarily the most dependable, reliable people on earth……………
Your work ethic also means a lot, because anyone else in the kitchen could walk out at a moment’s notice and the kitchen would still function, except you. You are the key to the whole operation. Take pride in that fact. The motherfucking chef doesn’t mean as much as you do, and most chefs, if not all, know it even if they don’t say it. I’ve been lucky enough to have chefs say that out loud.
In some restaurants, you’ll get tipped out at the end of the night. In some restaurants, you won’t. You’ll make a fourth of what the servers make, but it’s worth it not to have to deal with customers. Bet on it.
You’ll know within one shift whether the job is right for you. Don’t stick around if you can’t hack it. Not everyone can. But you’ll gain an immense respect for everyone able to take the heat, as it were. Don’t walk off- finish out your shift and tell the chef you just can’t do it. There’s a 19 year old Salvadoran who is 80 times better than you waiting in the wings if you’re not capable.
And if you have any negative thoughts about illegal immigration, cut that shit out before you even apply. Illegal immigrants have been the backbone of every restaurant in which I’ve worked. Literally the people keeping it running. I find that most immigrants in kitchens speak Spanish (although where I live we also have a huge African immigrant community as well, so no promises). It won’t hurt to learn a little, and you’ll pick it up on the job.
Also, I love working in kitchens because in my former life, I was the IT person connected by the umbilical cord to my work phone and laptop. In kitchens, there’s none of that crap. When you’re off, you’re really off. People ask me why I’d rather work in kitchens than make more money in IT. That’s easy. Being in a kitchen gives me energy, being in IT sucks my soul every damn day and I am too exhausted to take on anything else. I’m not cut out for it- I’m a writer, and I need the calm after finishing a shift to write late into the night. I joke that Anthony Bourdain stole my career- or at least I did until he died. After that, it just wasn’t as funny.
If you have never, ever worked in a kitchen before, do yourself a favor and watch the episode of No Reservations at the Texas border. Read Kitchen Confidential- it will tell you everything you need to know about whether you are capable of taking on this lifestyle. You’ll become a night owl if you aren’t already, you’ll sleep during the day, and you will develop a sense of humor that would make Andrew Dice Clay blush. Over time, you’ll realize that you don’t quite fit in with your friends who have “normal jobs” (I have often forgotten where I was and who I was talking to and jokes landed with a thud and “what’s WRONG with you?” :P)
Once you leave the kitchen, you may not want to go back, but you’ll most likely remember it as one of the best times of your life, because there really is nothing like it on earth. Good luck.