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I have worked at an ice cream place for the past two summers. Before I go any farther, I'll just say that I have worked at only one ice cream place in my life: J.P. Licks in Newton Center, Massachusetts. Obviously, anything I say about working at an ice cream place is derived from that experience and therefore may not be representative of working at all ice cream places. So don't blame me if you apply to work at an ice cream place, only to discover that it's actually some sort of crazy psychedelic whorehouse. That being said, if you're thinking about scooping ice cream, there are a few things to know about it.

Perks

  1. The other people who work there are mostly in their late teens or early twenties. If you're in the same age bracket, as I am, this makes them much easier to relate to than the middle-aged businessmen you'd probably work with at an office job. I’ve made some pretty good friends at work.
  2. Free ice cream! People who know I work at an ice cream place sometimes ask me if I get sick of ice cream, being around it all the time. I don't. Maybe it's because I still practice some degree of moderation in eating it; but, for whatever reason, I still relish the fact that I can have as much of it as I want. (And if you ever visit J.P. Licks, I highly recommend the coconut almond chip). A coworker of mine, upon quitting, took advantage of this policy by taking seven pints with him.
  3. Learning to clean efficiently and effectively. When you have dozens of buckets to wash and sanitize, you don't want it to take any longer than it has to.
  4. Increased muscle strength. Moving ice cream from one container to another doesn't sound too strenuous, but just imagine doing it hundreds of times a day. Beyond that, there's lugging 2 1/2 gallon buckets of ice cream from the back freezer to the freezers behind the counter. Where I work, this means carrying them up a set of stairs. And those buckets are heavy. Most people can carry three of them at a time, but I can only carry two because I'm a weakling. Then there's simply being on your feet for eight hours straight. All of this builds strong arms and legs!
  5. Constant human interaction. I am a somewhat shy person, so being forced to constantly interact with people -- both coworkers and customers -- has actually improved my people skills. It's easier for me to introduce myself to strangers now, and I feel like I'm more outgoing than I used to be. Work hasn't completely changed my personality, by any means, but it has had noticeable effects.
  6. Interesting people. I have served people with accents and people who speak foreign languages, I have served blind people, I have served deaf people, I have served people in wheelchairs. Once, when I was wearing my dog collar, a woman I served told me a story about a woman who had worn a collar decades earlier and caused a huge stir in the fashion world of New York. I once served the daughter of the woman who was in charge of the daycare I used to attend; I hadn't seen her for over a decade. I even served a crackhead of a guy who showed me how, if you fold a one dollar bill in the right way, George Washington's head looks like a mushroom. There is also the occasional celebrity: J.P. Licks has been visited by some people from “The Real World” as well as one of the actresses from “Melrose Place.”
  7. Frequent visits from friends. As long as you keep working as you talk to them, nobody minds. And who wouldn't want to visit a friend who works at an ice cream place?
  8. Good music (sometimes). When I first started working, the music situation was great. We were allowed to bring in our own cd's and play them as long as they didn't contain foul language. However, a woman complained to the boss one day and our music was forever banned. We had to resort to either the radio or Muzak, despite the petition that I wrote and that twenty-something other people signed.
  9. Decent pay. That's probably why you want to start working in the first place. And there's a tip jar, which adds about $1.50 per hour to your paycheck.

Drawbacks

  1. See #3 above. The downside of learning to clean really well is that you have to learn by doing it. Constantly. When you work in any area of the food service industry, cleanliness is key. There's doing dishes, sanitizing everything behind the counter, sweeping, mopping, cleaning windows, changing the garbage, and more. There's also the occasional vomiting child, but my boss usually takes care of the really bad stuff. Plus, when you have to clean up the garbage of people who are too inconsiderate or absentminded to throw away their dirty napkins and spoons, you get a little resentful.
  2. See #4 above. Lugging around ice cream and running around for eight hours tires you out. Surprisingly enough, the muscles that hurt most when you come home from work are the ones in your legs, not the ones in your arms. Additionally, you tend to get particularly energized when you work, so it takes about an hour after you go home to wind down enough to go to sleep, even though your body is tired as hell.
  3. See #5 above. While constant human interaction can be good for a number of reasons, it can become tiring, too. This becomes particularly hard to deal with when you're having a bad day. It doesn't matter if your parents just told you they were getting divorced, if you think your boyfriend is cheating on you, or if you think you're pregnant; you have to keep a smile on your face. This isn't always difficult -- in fact, on occasion, having to act cheerful has actually made me feel considerably better -- but it can be made really tough by...
  4. Bad customers. They’re rare, but they make up for their rarity with their overpowering personalities. No matter what you do, you cannot make these people happy. People have actually complained to me that their ice cream was not pretty enough. One man I served ordered a banana split and then complained about the little brown specks in the middle -- which are, I believe, the seeds. I tried to explain that all bananas have these, but he was so vehement that I cut another one open just to satisfy him. When -- surprise, surprise -- it had the same tiny brown specks inside, he huffily pronounced that he would not have a banana. There was also a customer we nicknamed the Serial Bitch. She would come in almost every day, harass and insult the workers about absolutely insignificant details, and invariably demand to talk to the boss. (He, of course, had the sense to listen to her and then disregard everything she’d said.) In a slightly different category, there are the people who come two minutes before closing and order the most complicated sundae they can think of. You have to serve them even if you reach closing time while you’re putting together the sundae. At this point, you are dying to get out of there as fast as you can.
  5. Taxes. You get paid for your hours of blood, sweat, and tears, and then you get over 25% of your money taken away by the government. It sucks, but that’s pretty much the case with any job. Tax-wise, you’ll get cheated out of a whole lot of money no matter where you work, so you might as well work at an ice cream place.

General things to know

  1. You should be able to do at least basic arithmetic. Where I work, the cash register doesn’t display the change you’re supposed to give back to the customer. You get used to it pretty fast, but basic subtraction skills are very helpful.
  2. People eat ice cream at all different times of day: anytime from 10:30 a.m. to midnight. You will be scheduled to work accordingly. This will sometimes take up the majority of your day, but if it’s during the summer you can usually just stay up really late afterward if you want to see your friends badly enough.
  3. Keep your hair tied back if it's long. Hair in the ice cream will not make the customer happy, and you well get fewer tips as a result.
  4. Keep your fingernails short, but not too short. Really long fingernails make it hard to do simple tasks, like comfortably holding the ice cream scoop. However, it’s good to have at least a sliver of nail in order to pry up stubborn bucket lids.
  5. Don't wear nail polish. It’ll chip off, get into the ice cream, and cause another bad tipping situation.
  6. Wear sneakers. You’ll be running around a lot, so you want your feet to be as comfortable as possible. Also, even if you don’t wear sneakers, never wear open-toed shoes. At my job, they send you home for this. There are numerous heavy things that can drop on your feet, and you don’t want to get a broken toe.
  7. If you start to bleed while you're serving a customer, immediately ask someone to take over. Wash your cut and cover it with a band-aid before returning to work. The customer might be slightly annoyed at the delay, but believe me -- a little annoyance is much better than a bloody ice cream cone.
  8. It is possible to argue with customers; you just have to do it in the right way. Remember to keep a smile on your face at all times. One woman I served was convinced that I hadn’t given her enough ice cream. Since J.P. Licks serves ice cream by weight, I politely asked if she’d like me to weigh it for her; when it turned out to be exactly the correct weight, I smilingly offered to add more if she would like to pay extra.

So that’s my experience. Do with it what you will.


update November 28, 2002 -- LaggedyAnne says, "re Working at an ice cream place: two more things: I used to find ice cream *EVERYWHERE* (in my socks, ears, etc) and a crowd *always* comes in 10 minutes before closing for last-minute binge :) "