Deepti Chopra

Waiting tables 2 years after graduating from IIT

On my first day to work, I wore a jacket over the uniform to cover the Pizza Hut logo, carried the cap in my bag and my flatmates didn’t notice when the black pants replaced my usual black track pants. I was offended that no one could tell the difference, but having a terrible sense of fashion can come in handy sometimes.

I didn’t need anyone to try to talk me out of it, so I didn’t mention my new gig to my flatmates.

2 years ago, I had graduated with an undergrad degree in electrical engineering and no understanding of it. I declined my campus job offer. I was going to start a startup & get rich- quick.

Didn’t work out that way.

The first startup I started made a total of 0$ in lifetime revenue.

One of the main reasons my startup failed was that I was freakishly introverted, completely unwilling to talk to anyone and spent all of my time behind a screen. But I taught myself to code, went through hell & came out mostly okay. So, not all bad.

Once I was done with that I wanted to take a break and have fun before I figured out where I was going next. One random thing I wanted to try was to wait tables, for a bit.

It would help me get out of my comfort zone.

Or atleast that’s what I told myself & everyone else at the time. But really I just wanted to see what it felt like.

I approached this like I would approach any job. Do a few practice interviews where you don’t really want to work and once you’re ready, take a swing at the one you want. I picked a Pizza Hut near my house for a practice run to see what questions they would ask and what the interview process is like. I obsessed about questions I would get about why someone with my background wanted to work at Pizza Hut and how I would field them.

After a few days of analysis-paralysis, and a few oscillations outside the store, I went in. I murmured to the cashier that I was looking for a job. He was visibly confused and called the manager.

The manager asked 0 questions, said something about being desperate to hire more women, gave me a form to fill and asked me to show up at 9 at an address for a 2 day training program. So much for all that prep.

2 day training

Day 1: A lot of form filling. Employment agreements, bank account opening forms, NDAs. I don’t think anyone really understood what they were agreeing to, since they needed a lot of help filling basic information into a form.

Day 2: Basics of pizza making & operating the restaurant- how to operate the cash counter, how long to cook the pizza in the oven, how to cut it, what to do if an armed robber attacks the store- how to protect yourself instead of trying to be heroic and other tricks of the trade. One interesting (shady) trick they taught us was to ask- “Do you want a cheese base or a double cheese base?” The correct answer is no, but customers would assume that these were the only 2 options, pick one and not realize that these are both upsells. I tried it once & it worked- felt horrible later. Never again.

Work & professionalism basics- how to dress, what shoes are acceptable, how to use hairnets and how getting waxed and putting on makeup is the bare minimum requirement to deserve respect as a woman (I didn’t do it & nobody cared, but that’s what the trainer told us).

What the job was like

The first day was 5 hours of cutting capsicum non-stop in a corner. I didn’t speak to anyone except one guy who told me that the Domino’s around the corner paid a 20% higher wage. I forgot to ask him why he didn’t work there. So I didn’t speak to him either.

I got a bit more comfortable over time, and rotated through veggie chopping, pizza assembling & dispatching, operating the billing counter, waiting tables, sweeping the floor and closing the store. I also managed a bulk order once (180 pizzas)!

They have very detailed analytics on how the store is doing and what needs to improve. An entire whiteboard with all numbers & breakdowns. I worked on Diwali morning as well- we pre-prepped a lot of pizzas based on our projections for the expected Diwali spike (we had historical data).

One of my big fears going into this was that one of these days someone I knew would come in to get a pizza and come out with pizza and a story to tell. But I was also curious as to what their reaction would be and how I would respond to the situation. But life isn’t like the movies and Murphy's Law only works when you don’t want it to, so this didn’t happen.

As my days were coming to an end, I tried to engineer this. I asked a friend to come in and asked them to bring a friend who I sort-of knew. They came in completely unaware and freaked. That was fun.

What I learnt

I learnt to make something people were happy to pay for- pizza!

I messed up people’s orders a couple times, but nobody got angry if I apologised sincerely and with a smile.

Life in the service industry is hard. I made a grand total of INR 2438 from that gig (almost 2 months). That can barely cover 1 fancy meal for 2 in the same city. I never cashed that check (also never returned the apron).

Overall, it’s an interesting story to tell. When I write about it I mean. In real life I’m this person.

It’s how a lot of my friends introduced me to others for a long time.

And yes, you do get free pizzas. But that gets old quickly.

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