Cafeterias hold a very special place in my heart, as they do many others who work, study or have spent time in one over the years.
They’re where many kids and adults alike receive human interaction during an otherwise potentially sterile day. And now thanks to this beautiful Q/A session with an anonymous, 21-year-old college cafeteria lady I found on Reddit, I’m now fixated on the beautiful, laughable and cringeworthy things she sees on a daily basis.
Let’s jump right in to the most interesting questions:
“I feel a lot for some of the kids that look so damn lonely”
Q:Do you worry about the kids who are on the free lunch program? Does it really enter into your mind that this might be the only decent meal they get that day, or is it just a matter of just another mouth to feed, don’t much care how/if they paid?
Lunch Lady: I work the main cafeteria at the college, so we really don’t have a free lunch program. Most of the kids I serve are fresh out of high school and on loans or scholarships which include a meal plan. I don’t worry much for them in that they won’t be fed.
I feel a lot for some of the kids that look so damn lonely.
I have a few regulars that come in and stay in my line as long as they can before I have to tell them they have to go eat so that I won’t get into trouble for talking.
I remember when I first started college, the lunch ladies and food service staff were the people I talked to the most since I used to be really shy and obviously in the wrong area of study and unhappy. I try to be as friendly as possible in case I happen to come across a student that’s as lonely as I was. I have to tell myself that they’ll get better and open up eventually as I did. But, for now, I do what I can to let them know that at least one person is listening.
Q: Wait, “trouble for talking”? In a college cafeteria?
Lunch Lady: It happens in almost all workplaces. If you have someone stand near you holding a conversation for a long time, it’s viewed as a distraction and not paying enough attention to your job.
I had a girl tell me I was pathetic to work in a cafeteria.
Q: Do you regularly get rude comments from students just for being a lunch lady?
Lunch Lady: Not as many as I expected to get when I was hired. I mostly get complaints when I have to run to the kitchen to get more food, and about the small portions that I’m required to give.
I’ve had a few really rough ones though. I had a girl come through my line once early last semester and tell me that she thought it was really pathetic that I had to work in a cafeteria for a living to compensate for having to drop out of college.
I happened to be serving fajitas that day, and after her speech as I handed her her plate she asked me if she could get extra chicken. I laughed, and told her not to bite the hands that fed her.
Why are you required to give certain portions when most college mess halls are unlimited eats upon entry?
Q: Why are you required to give certain portions? I’m in college where we all have unlimited meal plans. I don’t understand why I can’t have six more chicken nuggets without grabbing a second plate.
Random Response: Because they hope you’ll finish that plate and say “Ah fuyck it, I’m done” instead of going up for seconds
Lunch Lady: (in response to the above) That too. Cuts down on waste.
Lunch Lady: It’s a production/inventory thing.
Health codes require us to measure out serving sizes which are counted to see how much of that certain food should be ordered for the next shipment. It’s also so that we don’t run out of food as fast.
When there are a lot of students in line, we can’t dump three servings of food on every plate. We would be giving out faster than we can prepare, and that looks bad on performance. Especially when there are big-wigs walking about. When there isn’t food out, we get into a LOT of trouble.
Lunch ladies appreciate you trying to make them smile
Statement: I always make the effort to talk to the lunch ladies and get you girls to smile 🙂
Lunch Lady: We appreciate people like you! Thank YOU for being awesome!! 😀
Q: Do ever just look at the kids you serve and fear for the future of the world?
Lunch Lady: Every day.
The anonymous apology…
Redditor Effex: When I was in Junior High, me and a few hipster classmates would “rebel” and be complete assholes to all of the school staff members. Lunch ladies would be at the top of our list, because it was easy. We would do typical, dumb, obnoxious 12-year-old crap like shout profanities, make fun of, and just generally be disrespectful.
A particular day stands out in my mind above all the others – I was in line to get lunch and getting ready to harass the lunch ladies, one of my classmates was in front of me and we both went up to get served. He extends his tray, but as he does, the lunch lady accidentally misses her scoop of lasagna, and it falls on his sneakers. This kid, in half a second, becomes so furious, but also so excited that he can now take revenge on the lunch lady, that he picks up the lasagna, and flings it in her face.
The kid got suspended, but it wasn’t even about that. It was the look on her face. Complete and utter embarrassment. Shame. Sadness. I instantly thought of my mother, as she was about her age, and it made me tear up.
I stopped being disrespectful after that day, and every time I think back, I just cant forget that face.
On behalf of all of the immature, obnoxious kids out there: I apologize.
Lunch Lady: God, I’m tearing up just imagining it. And thank you for the apology. It does mean a lot.
Q: What is your favorite school lunch meal?
Lunch Lady: I love making fried rice! It’s a very popular dish, and it takes a long time to cook, so I have time to talk. (I sometimes have to cook in front of the kids. My line is like a hibachi bar of sorts every now and again. Fried rice is messy as hell, but a lot of fun at the same time.)
Q: What food seems to be the one that most kids dislike?
Lunch Lady: Mediterranean food. Hummus, Falafel, Gyros, Tabbouleh, Baba Ghanoush, etc.
Q: One time I took an extra grilled cheese when you weren’t looking. You mad?
Lunch Lady: Absolutely! Kids being smug about it and stealing things is a HUGE pet peeve of mine. If you want another sandwich, just ask me. If there isn’t a manager around, I’ll give you one. I honestly don’t care to give you more than that if you want it, as long as you don’t get me into trouble.
CrunchyLumpia: A few of my friends (not me) used to smuggle entire pies out of the dining hall in their backpacks. The next year, dessert was no longer self-serve.
Lunch Lady: That’s kinda funny actually. I never took whole pies, but I remember taking a pineapple once before I worked there.
Q: Have you ever spat in the food of one of the kids who treated you like crap?
Lunch Lady: I’ve been very tempted to on multiple occasions. Instead, I just give them really small portions of what they ask for so that I don’t get in trouble, and they’re still irritated. 😛
Q: When serving people, do you give nicer, prettier, skinnier people bigger portions?
Lunch Lady: The nice ones, absolutely.
And I’ll sometimes give the “prettier” ones more – that’s just human nature, I think. The more attractive you are, the better you will be treated. I don’t go out of my way to make it a life-changing experience, but I do let them get away with a bit more. I do it also for the kids that look like they’re having a shitty day.
I try to help out anyone that I can.
Q: Would you eat the food you serve? Do you think it’s particularly nutritious? If you could change one thing about school lunches, what would they be?
Lunch Lady: I eat it every day. And it’s balanced nutritionally. We don’t use a lot of processed crap where I work. There are a few things that I’m not particularly fond of – there’s a sauce we use for sweet’n sour dishes that is a little questionable, but that’s about all I can think of atm. And I don’t know if I’d really change anything. I like the way we do things now.
Most of my food comes from work
Lunch Lady: I have to be really shady about it though. We have a policy that we aren’t supposed to leave with food without paying for a whole meal (it’s a buffet in my building) which is way beyond reasonable.
Short side story: last semester I came in on a day I didn’t work and got one of those nasty fish sandwich squares, and our crazy register troll saw me, called the location manager, and I had to come back and drop 8 dollars on one lousy piece of fish product. It was the end of the semester so there wasn’t anything else to eat when I came back. I was very upset.)
I take out food in paper cups so it looks like I’m taking out soda on the cameras. When I don’t bring stuff back home, I have some home canned vegetables and the basics — eggs, milk, bread. In short, I don’t eat much when I’m not at work.
Also, since I have such a sad income, I qualify for food stamps. I don’t get much, but it’s enough to get me through the weekends.
In conclusion: have respect for all, especially those feeding you.
Note: Stories/Questions/Answers edited for grammar, punctuation and context.