October 29, 2012
New York Daily News
New York Daily News

I was watching Kitchen Nightmares last night, which, oof on me, I know, but I am a big fan of Gordon Ramsey’s awful TV shows, what can I say?  Predictably, the drama of the episode, set at Galleria 33 in the North End of Boston, came from a staff that didn’t care about their job. In this case that happened to trickle downward from the dipshit owners who have no idea what they’re doing, and don’t seem to care that they don’t.  A common refrain at the problematic restaurants on that show comes from owners who just can’t figure out why their employees don’t care as much as they do.

I posted about it on Facebook and Twitter saying “Weird how many restaurants are bad. You’d think an industry that pays its ESL staff $7/hr to cook the food and servers $2/hr to present it would have higher standards across the board.” It seemed to strike a chord among my many friends and colleagues in the industry. Go read the thread here, there are some interesting reactions and points that others have made, but it comes down to this: if you want people to invest themselves in the business that you own, maybe you shouldn’t do everything you can to pay them the bare minimum required by law?

In most states the wage for servers is something like $2.50/hr. OK, but don’t they make that up the difference in tips? you might ask. Most of the time, yes, but it’s by no means a given. It’s entirely possible for a server to show up for work, do manual labor for a couple hours before the place opens, stand around all night waiting for people to come in, then leave with nothing. It’s basically like the owners are saying “Here’s the deal: you work as a janitor for 1-2 hours at the beginning and end of your shift for $2.50 an hour, and we’ll let you take a gamble on possibly making like $15-20 an hour in between.” That’s before we get to the dishwashers and line cooks making under $10 an hour to break their balls all day before taking the bus to another job to the do the same thing on a later shift.

As if to accentuate my point, leading into today’s hurricane situation in the northeast, in which nearly everything in the city is closed, there are plenty of restaurants who have decided to open their doors.

Public transportation is suspended, by the way. We are literally in a state of emergency. My lady friend posted about her frustration with restaurants remaining open, saying “Unless you’re a diehard owner willing to keep your business open by actually standing inside the place and working today/tonight, I don’t want to hear that you’re open. I’m sure your employees are thrilled and not at all inconvenienced/scared of losing their jobs.”

That speaks to my larger point about the way restaurant industry workers are treated by their employers. Huge state-wide emergency? Disaster area? Sounds scary, but you better find a way to get all the way across town from wherever you live (trust me, the back of the house people live far) just in case some asshole who lives nearby is stupid enough to come in and pay us for food. No, it won’t be busy, and you’ll probably lose money taking a cab here back and forth, if you can even get one, but we certainly wouldn’t want to lose out on a day’s worth of receipts, just in case.

We talk about small businesses all the time in election seasons like this, as if opening a business makes you some sort of hero, providing work to people who need it. Fuck a small business. A small business is just a hypothetical future big villainous business only successful enough at this point to exploit the labor of like 3-9 people.

Speaking of which, here is a list of restaurants, compiled by Eater New York, that are open, mostly because they don’t care about the well-being of their employees.

I’m sure many of them gave workers the option not to come in, and more have provided plenty of leeway, but if this storm is going to be anything like they’re telling us it is, I think a better compromise might have been to say “Stay the fuck home, it doesn’t matter. None of this matters.”

Follow Luke O’Neil on Twitter.

A version of this originally appeared on my own blog, PTSOTL

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