I Left the Restaurant Industry and It Did Wonders for My Health
- Zanny Steffgen, 24, is a freelance writer based in southwestern Colorado.
- She quit her job as a restaurant manager after months of dealing with poor treatment from customers.
- Now as a freelancer, Steffgen says she feels happier and more respected by clients.
During the pandemic, it felt like my role as assistant general manager of a restaurant in a ritzy ski town would more accurately be described as “assistant head of damage control.”
I spent months catering to guests’ every need while dealing with complicated pandemic restrictions
This included moving tables in and out of the restaurant as capacity limits changed, cutting off food service at 10 p.m. one day then 8 p.m. the next, and explaining to guests that these policies came from the county government, not our restaurant.
Throughout it all, getting guests to wear their masks was a constant challenge. As someone with cystic fibrosis, my polite reminders came from a place of real personal fear.
When I’d started this job after the lockdown was lifted, I felt grateful to have work at all. But as I continually dealt with guests’ reactions to the inconveniences of a global pandemic, that gratitude began to wear off.
Many of our guests were understanding, but those who weren’t made the job disheartening
One night, I called a guest who was late to ask if they’d make their reservation. When I gently let them know that we charged a cancellation fee, the guest exploded, “If you charge us, you won’t have this job. Or any job ever again.”
I repeated our cancellation policy in the most polite voice I could muster, hung up, and quickly made my way to the office. There, I finally let out the tears I’d been holding back after months of similar interactions. I thought: That’s it — I’m going to quit and become a freelance writer.
Although I’d been writing seriously in my free time for eight years, I’d never seen writing as a feasible career. But sitting at my desk that night, I realized many of the skills I’d developed in restaurants would also serve me as a freelancer. The feeling of disgust at guests’ behavior, coupled with the sense of not being respected for my work, became motivation enough to take the leap.
The next day, I spoke with my husband, who also worked as a server in town. He supported my decision to quit, saying he’d pick up extra shifts so I could focus on writing. I gave my notice immediately.
The transition from hospitality to freelance writing wasn’t an easy one
As soon as I left the restaurant in April 2021, I began dedicating all of my time to writing. I was determined to avoid returning to restaurant work, so got busy searching for opportunities, applying to jobs, and polishing my profiles on freelancing sites.
Within a few weeks, I had two or three jobs that were enough to encourage me to keep going, even if I couldn’t cover my half of expenses yet.
Because there was no boss to set my schedule, I struggled to separate work from leisure and the two began to bleed into each other. I’d reply to emails from bed in the morning or pause
at night to answer questions from prospective clients.
Working from home, I also felt lonely after years of being around coworkers and interacting with guests. But even with the loneliness and long days, I was more at ease than ever.
While managing the restaurant, each night I’d felt the weight of being treated like a servant and that all of my efforts at excellent service met just the bare minimum of what was expected. Now, I feel that my work has real value.
As a freelance writer, my clients appreciate my abilities and recognize the effort that has gone into honing them. And if a client becomes difficult, I can simply cut them off and find another gig. There’s no pressure to put up with bad behavior.
A few months into writing full-time, one client began assigning me extra tasks for the same pay and then went four weeks without answering emails or compensating me for my submissions. Instead of forcing a friendly solution, I simply stopped working until I received my payment, then sent a quick email: “This situation is no longer working for me, and I will be stepping back in order to dedicate my time to other projects.” Finally, I had some control over my own work life.
The best part about my career change is how it’s improved the way I feel each day
Any pressure I feel while working now comes from myself, not from anyone I’m working for or hoping to please.
For the first time in my life, I can keep up with all of my medical treatments and adapt my schedule to fit my physical and mental needs. When my chronic health issues landed me in the hospital last year, I was able to continue working in between tests and doctor’s visits.
I’ve been able to prioritize personal creative projects and found a rhythm to my weeks that works for me. I still stay up late and wake up after nine like I did during my restaurant years, I take breaks in between assignments for hikes or yoga class, and I dedicate two or three days off a week to spend time with my husband.
My new career has done wonders for my mental health. The transition from restaurant work to freelance writing has shored up my confidence and reminded me of a feeling I’d lost after years in customer service: pride in my work.