“The Most Insane Ad for a Restaurant Server I’ve Ever Seen”
Just about anyone who applies for a job has to meet the employer’s set of qualifications. Mostly, those are wrapped in corporate-speak: Do you have the “proven ability to communicate effectively” and a “track record of stellar organization?” But one California restaurant’s Craigslist job posting is going viral for its left field list of reasons not to apply—which read more like slam poetry than something you’d find on LinkedIn.
To be considered for the open server position at the Tonga Hut, a restaurant and tiki bar in Palm Springs, California, not only do you need to be able to navigate a fast-paced restaurant environment, work late shifts, and understand how to operate a point-of-sale system—you’re ideally also “closer to sane than not.” The listing goes on to say that potential applicants should avoid the job if they:
- “Have a cell phone battery that dies constantly, preventing you from contacting us”
- “Suddenly become deathly ill on Coachella and Splash House weekends”
- “Need nights off because your grandma poisoned you with her ham (again)”
- “‘Accidentally’ got on a plane to Vegas”
- “Haven’t surfed in a while”
- “Have a headache after going to too many garage sales”
- “Woke up in a good mood and didn’t want to ruin it”
- “Locked yourself in the house by mistake and there are no windows to crawl out of”
- Are “unable to accept the fact that you get PAID to WORK”
One TikToker based in Joshua Tree, California, first drew attention to the job listing after performing a reading of the post: “This is the most insane ad for a server at a restaurant that I’ve ever seen and it just made my day,” the video begins. “Yikes and wooow,” commented one user. Another summarized the role: “So don’t have a life except serving. Got it.” But some people were empathetic: “It sounds like that employer has heard every single one of those excuses and has a bit of trauma.”
In response, Tonga Hut owner and hiring manager Claudia Murphy tells me the post, which she intended as a tongue-in-cheek joke, came out of some genuine frustrations. As restaurants around the country struggle to fill open positions, she hoped the post would stand out in a sea of hospitality jobs. She also figured the focus on absenteeism might ward off workers who wouldn’t take the role seriously.
While some critics have argued that the labor shortage is a result of low wages and poor working conditions, Murphy thinks her servers are compensated adequately and make between $300 and $600 in tips per shift—and that people who call out frequently make life harder for reliable staff. “I spend a lot of time fearing that really great workers are going to get frustrated and burned out by those that aren’t showing up,” she says.
Here, Murphy describes her ideal candidate for the job, explains her thinking behind the viral post, and shares her perspective on the state of restaurant hiring.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What inspired the post?
It was born out of frustration. I don’t know if the pandemic created a situation where people would prefer to work digitally or from home, but they don’t seem to want to be out in the workplace anymore. In California, servers and bartenders also do quite well hourly [the average worker earns $16.24 per hour, according to Indeed], and owners and managers are just tired of employees who don’t take the job seriously. Absenteeism also means I spend a lot of time fearing that really great workers are going to get frustrated and burned out by those that aren’t showing up.
Was this the first time you’ve listed something like that on Craigslist?
I’ve actually used a version of that ad several times to hire for different positions; I think I wrote the first one about two years ago. Initially, I didn’t intend on posting it, I was just kind of venting. I started listing things I didn’t want in an employee, based on experiences that I’ve had. And then I went out on the internet and found all the excuses for not coming to work that other people had been given. I started feeling like, Wow, I’m not alone and this is something that a lot of hospitality employers are feeling. I was going to edit all the ranting out of the post. But suddenly I just thought, You know what? I’ll use humor.
What were you hoping that would achieve?
I thought it might speak to the person who maybe is burned out in this industry and wants to keep utilizing their skills in a fun and healthy environment. Or maybe it would attract the person who has never thought about working in restaurants. For example, I had a car salesman call me based on the ad and say, “I’m tired of selling cars and I feel like your atmosphere must be something that I would enjoy more.”
What I’ve learned over time as an employer is that people with the right mindset are very trainable for the most part. I’m an owner and also do all of the HR; we’re very mom-and-pop. I’m really busy and don’t have a ton of time for interviewing people. I figured this could be a good way to filter for the candidate I was looking for; if you get the tongue-in-cheek humor you probably have the right mindset.
Can you describe your ideal candidate?
I’m not just looking for a good work ethic or a high attendance rate, I also want to hire people with some emotional intelligence and maturity. This industry seems to be rife with chaos and people screaming at each other in the kitchen in not so nice ways. There’s a lot of pressure and it’s very easy for people to be abrasive and aggressive versus taking a leadership role over a situation. But I’m looking for people who can sit down and have a dialogue—who are proactive instead of reactive.
How do you currently compensate workers?
My servers start at $15.50 per hour [the minimum wage before tips in California] and they do well in tips; most earn between $300 and $600 per shift. Servers who have been with me longer get a higher wage. And I pay my kitchen staff between $17 and $22 per hour. Our servers also tip 20% out to the bar and 10% out to the kitchen.
Every payroll period, I also look at my entire staff and offer bonuses to at least two people who I think have been going the extra mile. And when I notice staff are overwhelmed or exhausted, I organize coverage for them and give them two paid days off.
I’m also trying to give my team an environment where they don’t feel like just another employee, where they feel like they’re valued. I talk to everyone about what kind of rock star they are to me, and make sure people know that the dishwasher is just as important, if not more important, than the cook or the chef. Everyone is also encouraged to contribute. One of our favorite desserts in the restaurant was created by our dishwasher.
Still, some critics have implied your expectations seem too high for an hourly worker. What would you say to them?
This wasn’t a set of required qualifications; I was just listing behavioral and work ethic things in a humorous way that I hoped would make applicants laugh. I mean, I would have used some of those excuses in my youth. I’m just trying to communicate to someone that this is probably not the best place for them if they’re going to call out on Coachella. With chronic short staffing at so many restaurants, the person who calls out often doesn’t realize how much pressure they’re putting on those who do show up.
I’m actually quite generous in my absences with my staff. For example, an employee recently had a death in the family. I gave them the time off with pay, as long as they felt they needed. They felt they needed three weeks. I do it because if I value my employee I need to show them. Another employee had a sibling she hadn’t seen in years reconnect with her but couldn’t afford to take time off to spend time with the family member; I gave her paid time off. If an employee seems burned out, I will approach them privately and give them additional days paid time off.
My bar manager suffers panic attacks and anxiety; she’s been with me six years. She knows all she has to do is call me and say “I’m having an episode” and she is excused from coming in. People who call out for frivolous reasons put more pressure on others to cover and that’s a hardship when we are short staffed, but my core staff and reasonable individuals know their loyalty is appreciated and I give them more grace and leeway compared to others, or so I’m told.
What have other reactions to the ad been like?
When I heard it went viral, I was scared at first, because the internet can be a cruel place. My intent wasn’t to harm, but just to make light of these employer and coworker frustrations and screen for the right person.
I mostly have people contacting me like, “Oh, that was funny. I’m applying for the job.” Others respond to me on Craigslist saying, “I’m not applying, but I just wanted you to know that I saw that and I thought it was funny.” Every once in a while it’s negative. This morning I got a text that said, “LOL, your ad. You are a psycho. I would fire you for posting this ad.” And sometimes I get emails where people are calling me “mean” or “a jerk” or whatever. But people take things differently from how you intend them and I can’t control that.
Have you thought about taking the listing down?
I’m still thinking about it, because I’m not sure if enough people are getting it. But some of my coworkers are like, “No, no, don’t take it down. This is what we like about this place, and we want these kinds of people to work here.” I could probably find workers without being sarcastic though, I guess.
So, did the ad work? Have you hired someone?
I’m still going through applications for this one. I don’t seem to get as many responses on these humorous ones as I used to on my regular style ads. But that is fine by me, because, so far, they’ve been more aligned with what I’m looking for. The ones who get it are the ones I’d rather interview.
That being said, I had a different ad for a bartender out, that was in the same style, and I found someone who is really great from that. And then I advertised recently in a similar fashion for a cook. I’m feeling like that employee is really strong. When they came to the interview, they said the ad made them specifically feel like they could fit in.