What I learned while working in a temporary restaurant

When I first learned that my husband and I were going to work on a food truck for a week, I was excited. I had visions of my husband and I working in a cute, little food truck, deep frying foods and handing out overpriced fountain drinks in large cups.

Boy, was I wrong.

First off, it wasn’t a food truck at all. What my husband and I had envisioned as a concessions stand turned into a temporary restaurant. That first day, I helped pack trucks, trailers and cars with restaurant-related materials. Fridges, freezers, pans, griddles – the works. After hours of packing, we drove to our venue and had to unpack. Since I wasn’t able to take a week’s vacation, I huddled in front of my laptop under a pavilion watching the rest of the group unload everything we packed up. As the day turned into dusk and rain surrounded everything, I laughed to myself over the hum of a generator while watching a patch of grass transform into a pop-up restaurant. Metal poles, canvas tent tops, and everything you’d expect in a restaurant besides the seating. 

Now, I’ve worked in food service before, but this was an entirely new experience. I’ve been to festivals before, but I’ve never served food at one. I have a lot of respect for “carnies” and concession stand employees now. Here’s what I learned:

Food prep is necessary.

As someone who eats five meals per day and tries to meal prep, I understand that there’s a lot of food involved in the process. The insane part? We served so much food! We went through hundreds, if not thousands, of pounds of food in less than a week. I went on a couple of trips to multiple stores to pick up food. Now, I’ve been to Sam’s Club before when wedding prepping, but Costco was an experience. On multiple occasions, I cleared out a specific brand and type of bun from a store (all in a matter of four days). I literally filled grocery carts will just buns – hot dog, hamburger and hoagie rolls. And don’t even get me started on the giant rolly carts at Costco. It was a workout to pull one through the store, piled high with water bottles, meat, vegetables, potatoes, and more. But, not surprisingly, no one looked at me oddly as I did so. When we packed up the truck, filling even the bed, I was convinced everything would fly off and be long gone on a highway. But nothing was lost. Everything survived the journey and was later fed to hungry people.

Did I mention potatoes? There were a lot of potatoes involved. The team would prep potatoes for hours in the evening only to sell out of the prepped potatoes during breakfast. And guess what? There were two meals left in the day that required fried and cheesy potatoes. (It wasn’t my healthiest week, but I do love potatoes.)

That leads me to my biggest learning point of the experience.

Trust people in the industry.

They’ve been doing this for years and are experts. They know which stores have the freshest produce and will have the largest amount of certain products. They know how to create a restaurant out of mental poles and canvas. They know how to cook up incredible food. They know how to handle health inspectors. They know how to keep the line just long enough because people love to stand in lines (seriously, why is this a thing?) but not too long so people don’t want to leave said exciting line. (It was worth the wait, after all.) They know how to sell their delicious food and joke with the customers. They know how to do all of this speedily and for hours on end. It’s invigorating and exhausting.

“Teamwork makes the dream work.”  – John C. Maxwell

There’s no backup crew or second shift in this food business. Most of the team worked from 6 a.m. to 3 a.m. with few breaks. It was exhausting. I had to leave the line or kitchen in order to work on my laptop, but I did my best to keep up with the rest of the team, even if half of my work was for someone else. Prepping and cooking and cleaning and buying that much food takes a lot of team players. It’s important to lean on them and work your hardest for them. And make sure you all drink enough water and take a couple breaks to refuel so no one passes out. There’s literally no time for that.

All good things must come to an end.

The week was filled with unique experiences with kind and funny people. I was sad to leave the small group I laughed with and worked beside all week, but I also found that returning my laptop to my home office was an inviting and warm alternative to the chaotic week. I went home and did not break out a bag of potatoes to fry. (Although my husband did perfect his fried potatoes technique. Maybe someday we’ll buy an industrial griddle. It’s key.)

The key to such an intense experience is that it must come to an end. It’s not healthy to work so hard for so long. My body was so tired and sore from the week. Lifting potatoes and flipping spatulas did a number on my arms. But mentally? I was tired, yes, but I tried new things, which gave me an invigorating sense of accomplishment.

What does this have to do with writing and the creative lifestyle? Everything.

Learning from the experts, no matter what industry you’re in or writing about, that’s what it’s all about. These experiences are about transporting your readers into the world that you crafted, which requires expertise, whether you’re the expert or you learned from another expert. Either way, the education stage – physical and/or mental – is vital.

Challenge: Reach out to your friends and family. Do any of them have a crazy, fun job or hobby you’d love to experience for a short period? Ask them if you can join them. If not, interview them. Ask them to show you pictures. Dive into a bit of their world and then write about it.

If you liked this blog post, please buy me a cup of coffee.

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