Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Many Problems of the Restaurant Industry Part 1: Labor

Please note at the bottom of the page I have added a few links to several coop restaurant businesses and associations. I am still looking them over myself.
Here I will start listing the problems the restaurant industry currently faces. Problems I hope to work out the answer to on this site. I am writing it out in more of a shorthand format but I may flesh it out later. Labor is the single biggest problem area but there are others you may not initially consider.

1. Kitchen Staff are underpaid, work 60+ hour weeks without overtime, get no benefits, sick days, or paid vacation. Work in dangerous work environment, most restaurants do not bother to get serious about making sure their kitchen is safe for its workers. (Most likely because they cannot afford it). Kitchen staff are commonly expected to come in early OFF THE CLOCK in order to get their prep done. Staying late off the clock is also commonly expected. Most chefs would love to pay their cooks for these hours, but the simple fact is most times the restaurant doesn't have the money. In a later post we will discuss the economics of the restaurant industry as it is, and why the above happens.
2. Waitstaff are (in most states) paid much less than minimum wage with no guarantee that their tips will make up the difference. Some work 60+ hour weeks without overtime(but this is less of a problem in FOH), get no benefits, sick days or paid vacation. Also commonly have restaurant owners and salaried managers skim tips off the top. Let it be said though in a hopping busy restaurants some waiters easily make over $60k/yr or more up into six figures, while the kitchen still gets paid the same. (This is where it can become unfair, the whole team should reap the benefits of a crazy busy restaurant right down to the dishwasher. As it is the more successful the restaurant/bar the shittier things get for the BOH(more work, same pay) and the better it gets for the FOH(more work, more pay).)
3. Potential new employees are commonly made to work for days at a time without pay before being hired. (This is called trailing or staging) Legally, they are supposed to be paid at least minimum wage during this trial period. This practice has seen some decline recently though.
4. Salaried Managers and Kitchen Management are commonly paid fairly trivial salaries. Often if you break down a chef's salary by the amount of hours he/she puts in you will find that technically the linecooks make more or almost as much per hour (of course they probably aren't getting overtime pay.) It is quite common to find FOH managers who make far less money than their main waiters. Its no wonder then that they start to steal everything they can get their hands on including the waiter's tips. I've known many waiters who are violently opposed to ever getting promoted to manager because they know they will make less money and take more shit from the owners on top of it.
5. Kitchen staff are generally expected to drop $30000 to $60000 on culinary school just to get their foot in the door at a quality restaurant with noteworthy chefs. Once in the door these bright eyed wannabe Emerils can look forward to low to no pay while dealing with $600/month high interest payments on the fat student loans they took out. Culinary schools do nothing to inform their prospective students of this situation. This issue also brings up another severe inequality in the business between the front of the house and the back of the house. While kitchen staff pay big money to go to culinary school and generally have serious goals for their future in the business; the front of the house is mostly staffed by artists, college dropouts and actors with no proper training in wine and beverage knowledge or service and who generally just view waiting tables and bartending as a source for an easy buck. Why isn't there some sort of expensive vocational school for them? It would weed out the people who don't care. I really dislike people who don't care, but that is not the topic at hand. Also I am not sure this one belongs under labor. I might move it later.
6. Few restaurants actually have proper employee handbooks that details all of a workers rights as well the restaurants policies and rules of employment. I think there is one handbook floating around that every restaurant manager/owner has copy and pasted from and it is a bad handbook let me tell ya.
7. Fewer still have strong training programs especially in the FOH. People need proper training if they are going to excel.
8. There is a distinct culture of racial and other types of profiling in the restaurant industry. Why is it that (with the exception of ethnic restaurants) minorities are always put into what are perceived as the least desirable jobs in the restaurant? Granted someone working as a waiter in America should be able to speak fluent english, but I've met many Mexicans who speak fluent english and know the art of waitering better than most of the lackluster white waiters around and yet they have been working as bussers for 20 years.
9. TIPS. Tips need to go. They reinforce the perception that a waiter is a servant to be rewarded like a dog with a doggie treat for a good job. That is not the job of the customer. And waiters are not servants. You can define service industry and "waiter" all you want, the simple matter of the fact is that no human should be the servant of another. The waiter should be a professional who creates an experience for a diner not a slave schlepping food and drink to and fro. AND the restaurant should be rewarding the waiter for a job well done. Further tipping is what allows restaurant owners to get away with paying waiters nothing and on the other hand tipping is also what allows waiters to make much more than the kitchen staff at a busy restaurant which is unfair.

Thats all I got for now I'm sure I'm forgetting something. Please feel free to give me things to add on the list. Or feel free to dispute anything on the list.

1 comment:

  1. Totally agreeing with you on all points. That said:
    As I've shared with you before I think this whole idea of eating out has turned into an elitist practice and spawned all "foodies" and "food bloggers" of the world. Taking in no consideration to the fact that when you do go out to eat, you do to have a good time, catch up with a friend, spend your night. It's a little bit sad that we have agreed to pay 60 bucks for a bottle of wine, demand to be served from the left and cleared from the right and consider a shot of patron silver at $10 bucks a bargain.
    The idea of eating out has turned more into a "let's see if they fuck up", "I'm going to show my friends how much I can spend" and it drives me crazy.
    Kitchen staff has always been abused, but I think the restarant and owner set the client expectation, not the guest. If an owner feels the need to have 3 waiters per table, the meal better be impeccable. Restaurants should be known for their food...period and guests should pay for the ingredients used to make their meal, but I believe the bloating starts when the restauranteur wants to be a super star.
    Is the process of opening a restaurant in NY stupid expensive? Hell yeah! but everyone just pays it...
    So, the pp that own restaurants have money to open one or have enough friends to put together a partnership, most of them just want to bring their gfs on the weekends and have lobster risotto...they have no passion for it.
    We acquired this french service system and I think it's antiquated...

    True- Tips should not be considered your pay!
    It's the whole reason why owners don't invest in their staff- because they are replaceable and because they are costing them nothing.

    All I'm saying is that between Manhattan prices and owners not giving a shit about what they serve but how much money they make, it brings the whole system to a different stage and light.