Confessions Of A Former Cheesecake Factory Employee

Cheesecake Factory is one of those larger-than-life places that you only have to eat at once for it to leave an impression. Portions that could feed small families, menus that are nearly book-length, and, of course, the kooky varieties of cheesecakes are all part of what makes the chain stick out in a sea full of competitors.

But what does the average customer not know about? We spoke to a former waitress to find out what things are really like behind-the-scenes. Our anonymous source worked there several years ago but says that she still remembers specifics about the menu. She sat down with Refinery29 to discuss her experience, from carrying giant plates to the difficulties of keeping a white tie clean, to the weirdest orders she’d have to deal with.

The following interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Starting Out
"It was an open-call interview, and they asked me basic questions like, ‘You have a two-top and a six-top, who do you serve first?’ I interview so well, I was like, ‘Yeah, I’ve got experience, I’m so great at this.’ But I was a really bad waitress, really bad.

“There is a weeklong training that lasts all day, at which you learn everything. I had to learn how to tie a tie, which I didn’t know how to do, as well as the menu, which is huge. We also had to learn certain phrases. You never say ‘No,’ you say, ‘I’m sorry.’ You don’t say ‘Yes,’ you say, ‘Absolutely.’ There were also certain things you were supposed to say about dishes that got sent back often, like, ‘The jambalaya is spicy, is that okay?’ ‘That dish comes with onions, is that okay?’”
Photo: Myung J. Chun/Getty Images.
Waiting Tables
"It could be hectic, but I made it more hectic by being bad at my job. They are known for their gigantic portions, and when you’re running food, you’re supposed to be carrying three plates at a time. By the end, my arms would be spaghetti. Because the plates were so heavy, I would seem angry when I would put things down. You also had to wear all white: a white oxford, white pants and tie, and white apron. I would be carrying a tray of wine and sangria and spill all over myself. I’d have to wash my clothes all the time, and they would get mad and say, ‘Your apron’s not clean enough.’ I’d be like, ‘I poured an entire bottle of bleach in there, I don’t know what you want me to do!’ I have gone back recently, and they are wearing black pants now. I was upset about that because I had to wear white pants! They’re hard to find and to keep clean.

"I also could never remember the table numbers, or even my shorthand when taking orders. ‘Is C with a circle coffee or coke?'

"My shifts were all different, but I preferred working brunch. You don’t make as much money since you need high turnover, but I was young and wanted to go out at night. Plus, working nights could mean staying till close at 12:30 a.m. I didn’t want to be walking around at 1 a.m. in all white, clearly a waitress and carrying a lot of cash. And 12:30 is past my bedtime!

"It was hard to go on break because you had to ask someone to cover for you. That was the only time I became a smoker because that was the only way you could get a break. You couldn’t tell someone you need a break because you need to drink some water and sit down, it was like 'I need a cigarette,' and people would agree to cover for you."
The Customers
"The clientele wasn’t the easiest. We were in a touristy section of the city, near the aquarium and the convention center. It was a big mix of things, from whatever convention was in town, to crowds after games, to tourists in general, to people who wanted a romantic night at the Cheesecake Factory.

"The conventions all had different personalities. The Mary Kay convention was notoriously horrible, the Southern Baptist convention was horrible. The Omnicon Convention [anime/video games] would come in in costume, and they were sweet. But sometimes, people would leave their hotel room numbers on the check. They’d say, 'Oh, you can come over later if you want.' No, no I do not.

"It was a bad tipping culture. Sometimes, the tourists would tip 18%, but other people would just do a couple of dollars on top of the total, not a percentage thing."
The Food
"Pretty much the only time we got to try the food was during training. When I first started, you could get most of the meals you wanted half-off, and then when I was leaving, there were a few employee meal options, but without regular breaks, there weren’t many opportunities to eat. On big days, like July 4th or Father’s Day, employees couldn’t order because things were so busy in the kitchen. There’d be a staff lunch instead, but a lot of times it would just be something like popsicles. The chefs got a comp meal, so the best way to get free food was to be friends with them.

"Sometimes people would be like, 'Oh the portions are so big!’ and I’d want to say, 'Why are you here?' I was surprised at how fresh the food was there. I just expected everything to come out of a freezer, and it didn't. If it said it was made fresh daily, it was."
Off-Menu
"The menu was so big that people would say, 'This is what I want. Instead of meatballs, I want shrimp. Instead of this sauce, I want this one.' The kitchen would usually accommodate it, but the biggest issue was figuring out how to put it in the POS system. People would also just say, 'I want pasta with Alfredo sauce.' The Alfredo sauce is not good, it’s not even on the menu. I’d warn people, but they’d say, 'I don’t care, I want it.' [Editors note: Fettucini Alfredo is currently on the menu at the Cheesecake Factory.]

"People would also order things as plain as possible, like ask for a side of grilled chicken and that’s it. Or someone might send back the pulled pork because it wasn’t pulled enough. It would never have occurred to me to make that kind of complaint.

"A blind woman came in often and would get the menu we had that was translated into Braille, and she would read the entire menu every time. She would take a long time because she never really got the opportunity to do that at other restaurants. That was cool."
Photo: Luke Sharrett/Getty Images.
The Cheesecakes
"You had to showcase the cheesecakes at the end of the meal, no matter what. You had to bring over a dessert menu and walk them through it, telling them, 'This is our cheesecake of the month, featuring blah blah.' A lot of people would take it to go, especially if they were celebrating a special event or birthday.

"There was a national cheesecake day, probably invented by Cheesecake Factory, and it was announced on the radio, 25 cents for a piece of cheesecake. There was a line wrapped around the block. It was lines forever and just was like this crazy day, where they could not get enough cheesecake, and it was giving people half frozen pieces of cheesecake from the freezer."
Looking Back
"I have gone back, but not of my own volition. I know the food is prepared fresh, but it’s still not something I look forward to re-living. They also got rid of my favorite sandwich! It was called the Navajo – maybe they got rid of it because the name was culturally insensitive. It was made with fry bread and a lot of mayo and chicken. It was really good.

"I did go back once with a friend who hates cilantro, and she ordered a dish and asked our waitress if it had cilantro. The waitress said no, and I kept insisting it did. She kept saying, 'No, I don’t think so,' and I was like 'No, I don’t think you understand, I’m sure that it does.' She looked at me like, 'Ok, weirdo.'

"I’m glad I have the experience because, for one, it gives me stories, but I also think it’s good to have that hardcore server experience. But you couldn’t pay me to repeat it."
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