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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 abuse from customers.
  • Now as a freelancer, Steffgen says she feels happier and more respected by clients.

During the pandemic, I felt like my role as assistant general manager of a restaurant at a fancy ski resort would be more accurately described as “assistant damage control chief.”

Spent months meeting all customer needs while dealing with complicated pandemic restrictions

This included moving tables inside and outside the restaurant as capacity limits changed, cutting catering service at 10:00 p.m. one day and then 8:00 p.m. the next day, and explaining to customers that these policies came from the county government, not from our restaurant.

All the while, 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 started this job after the lockdown was lifted, I felt grateful to have work. But as I continually faced customer reactions to the inconvenience of a global pandemic, that gratitude began to fade.

Many of our guests were understanding, but those who weren’t made it daunting

One evening, I called a client who was running late to ask if he would make his reservation. When I kindly let them know we were charging a cancellation fee, the guest exploded, “If you charge us, you won’t have that job. Or any job.”

I repeated our cancellation policy in the most polite voice possible, hung up and quickly made my way to the office. There, I finally let out the tears I had been holding back after months of similar interactions. I was thinking: That’s it – I’m going to quit and become a freelance writer.

Although I had been writing seriously in my free time for eight years, I had never considered writing as a career. But sitting at my desk that night, I realized that many of the skills I had developed in restaurants would also serve me well as a freelancer. The feeling of disgust at the behavior of clients, coupled with the feeling of not being respected for my work, became motivation enough to take the plunge.

The next day I spoke with my husband, who also worked as a waiter in town. He supported my decision to quit, saying he would take extra shifts so I could focus on writing. I gave my notice immediately.

The transition from hospitality to freelance writing wasn’t easy

Zanny Steffgen

Steffgen says being treated poorly by restaurant patrons during the pandemic prompted her to pursue freelance writing full-time.

Zanny Steffgen

As soon as I left the restaurant in April 2021, I started devoting all my time to writing. I was determined to avoid returning to work in the restaurant industry, so I got busy looking for opportunities, applying for jobs, and polishing my profiles on freelancing sites.

In a few weeks, I had two or three jobs which were enough to encourage me to continue, even if I still could not cover half of my expenses.

Because there was no boss to set my schedule, I found it difficult to separate work from play and the two began to merge. I would answer emails from bed in the morning or take a break


at night to answer questions from potential customers.

Working from home, I also felt lonely after years of rubbing shoulders with colleagues and interacting with guests. But even with the loneliness and the long days, I was more comfortable than ever.

While managing the restaurant, each evening, I had felt the weight of being treated like a servant and that all my efforts for excellent service met only 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 gets difficult, I can just cut them off and find another gig. There is no pressure to put up with bad behavior.

A few months into writing full-time, a client started assigning me additional tasks for the same salary, then went four weeks without responding to 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 take a step back to devote my time to other projects.” Finally, I had some control over my own professional life.

The best part about my career change is how it has improved the way I feel every day.

Zanny Steffgen

Steffgen says she can enjoy more personal time for hobbies like yoga as a freelance writer.

Zanny Steffgen

Any pressure I feel working now comes from myself, not from someone I work for or hope to please.

For the first time in my life, I can follow all my medical treatments and adapt my schedule to my physical and mental needs. When my chronic health issues landed me in the hospital last year, I was able to continue working between tests and doctor visits.

I was able to prioritize personal creative projects and find a rhythm of my weeks that suits me. I always stay up late and wake up after nine as I did during my restaurant years, take breaks between homework for hikes or yoga classes, and take two or three days off a week to spend time with my husband.

My new career has done wonders for my mental health. Transitioning from restaurant work to freelance writing boosted my confidence and reminded me of a feeling I had lost after years of customer service: pride in my work.

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