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Zagat's for Revolutionaries?
December 7, 2011 7:34 AM   Subscribe


 
Great info, but I wish it were searchable.
posted by DU at 7:38 AM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Handy! Thanks for posting.
posted by orrnyereg at 7:43 AM on December 7, 2011


Odd they included ones that are ?, ?, ?, ?, which means they have no information on them at all.
posted by smackfu at 7:51 AM on December 7, 2011


Oh, a PDF. I'll have to wait until I get home to see this. Could be a fantastic resource though; I hope it is!
posted by Scientist at 7:51 AM on December 7, 2011


Interesting. I figured it was going to boil down to "avoid chain restaurants," but there really are some that are much better than others. Houlihan's, for instance, comes off looking pretty good; Applebee's, perhaps unsurprisingly, doesn't.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:54 AM on December 7, 2011


This really needs a [PDF] warning. Mods?
posted by narcotizingdysfunction at 7:55 AM on December 7, 2011


I used the Contact form to alert the mods that this needs a tag. Sorry and thanks for pointing it out.
posted by Miko at 7:57 AM on December 7, 2011


Glad to see that a couple of the places we frequent are favorably listed (and several places that we tend to avoid are not favorable.) Wish I could say that the way the employees are treated is one of the reasons we do, or do not, visit certain establishments. Instead, it's usually because of the quality of food and service. (Maybe they're related?)
posted by Man with Lantern at 8:01 AM on December 7, 2011


DU, it will be soon.

Also, ROC is a fantastic organization that was formed by former workers of Windows on the World (the restaurant at the top of the WTC) after 9/11. WotW was the most profitable restaurant in the world and was one of the *very* few unionized restaurants in New York. When its owner got a huge amount of money in donations to start a new restaurant, he wouldn't let the union back in, refused to hire any of his former employees even if they left the union. So they organized, and got him to back down and hire a few of former Windows on the World staff back. Those who he wouldn't hire started a worker-owned cooperative restaurant called Colors (417 Lafayette St, NYC) and do awesome stuff organizing and educating restaurant workers about their rights.

The restaurant industry is an awful, awful place for the vast majority of its workers, and they're one of the few groups out there who are working to change it.
posted by Jon_Evil at 8:01 AM on December 7, 2011 [28 favorites]


So, basically, my general urge to not eat at national chains is probably right? Outside of occasional health care, I didn't see any positive scores for national restaurants. Which is not surprising, since I guess to grow to be national through ruthless exploitation of your workers, but still....
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:08 AM on December 7, 2011


Outside of occasional health care, I didn't see any positive scores for national restaurants.

Five Guys Burgers gets three stars, and their burgers are also the best food ever, so...
posted by Rock Steady at 8:11 AM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I figured it was going to boil down to "avoid chain restaurants," but there really are some that are much better than others.

Well, sort of. That is basically what it boils down to. Of the forty-one restaurants to get some kind of award, all but seven are one-offs, and several of those are regional chains like In-n-Out or Chaya. More than that, all of the one-offs seem to be in NYC, LA, Washington, Chicago, or the Detroit area. I live in Indiana, so, not helpful. I like Five-Guys and all, but I'm not going to eat there all the damn time.
posted by valkyryn at 8:19 AM on December 7, 2011


In N' Out is decent!
posted by cmoj at 8:20 AM on December 7, 2011


I live in Indiana, so, not helpful.

I'm sure they're expanding, but I think the point is made about national chains versus local establishments where the person who makes the rules has met the employees. It would be very nice for this to be, as the post title suggests, a omnipresent Zagat type thing, though.

Plus, especially if you've ever worked in food service, it's not too hard to tell when you go there which restaurants treat their workers well in general. Fortunately, it usually seems to be the good ones around here.
posted by cmoj at 8:25 AM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Great idea. It needs more coverage (Boston here), and one of the best things they could do is make it available as a data set. I'm sure there are enough of people out there who can write SQL and can deliver better tailored info. For myself I would want to see 1) one-offs or small chains near me that are good, 2) among the big chains, which are particularly good and which are particularly bad.
posted by benito.strauss at 8:25 AM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Jon_Evil: "The restaurant industry is an awful, awful place for the vast majority of its workers"

Add distributors to that list. If I never have to work with another headstrong restaurant owner again, I'll be a happy man. (Actually, the distribution chain was a pretty nasty place in its own right. I've posted about my experiences there before, and don't really feel like reliving that experience once again.)

Actually, things may even have been worse in the distribution chain: Nobody paid taxes, safety standards were callously disregarded (oh, the warehouses), hours were terrible (most restaurants only take deliveries at crazy hours, which means even crazier hours for the warehouse and delivery guys), nepotism was the only way to advance, and wage theft was virtually expected. After all, going to the police would mean uncovering your own untaxed income, would possibly expose your illegal immigrant coworkers, and would certainly get you fired and/or laid off, and blacklisted within the industry.

The owners who bypassed the supply chain weren't much better (it's a symptom of being aggressively cheap). They'd go to the smaller warehouses, and load up their (unrefrigerated) van with dairy and meat, and then drive it 2+ hours back to the restaurant. We also delivered about 200lbs of beef to a guy each week who asked us to put it in an unrefrigerated shed out back so he didn't have to be there in the morning to receive it. There was also the guy who didn't own a freezer, and ordered 50lbs of chicken from us every other month; I never had the guts to ask him what he did with it, and politely declined the free food he'd offer me in the kitchen (the only perk of the job; there were only two places I felt comfortable accepting that offer from though). In hindsight, I should have made many calls to the health inspector after I quit.

I definitely support this effort, because this industry has been given a blank check for far too long.
posted by schmod at 8:30 AM on December 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


That settles it: in support of fair wages and worker's rights, I'll be eating Five Guys every day from now until I die in late February.
posted by saladin at 8:33 AM on December 7, 2011 [27 favorites]


Seems like it covers mainly chains and then jumps to really high-end places. The middle is the difficult place. I've worked with and dated a lot of super high-end restaurant workers and there is a reason competition for working at a place like Per Se or Craft is so high. The hours still suck, but you get paid much more and treated like a truly skilled worker. As a consumer, eating at those places is worth it because the way they treat staff and ingredients really translates to a quality product. I think it's worth not eating out most days so you can occasionally go to a restaurant like that.

Chains likewise are pretty good about handling ingredient safety at least because they are so vulnerable to food poisoning lawsuits and employ lawyers and food scientists. That's not to say that slip-ups don't happen. It's pretty sad a lot of them still don't have any sick leave. That means a sick person could be making your sandwich, but I think it's more likely they won't let them work at all and the person just doesn't get paid that day, which is also sad.

Like Schmod, I've seen some truly scary things done with handling meat and seafood that make me wary of eating at a lot of places. It's the mid-range places I'm really kind of afraid to eat at.
posted by melissam at 8:40 AM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Rock on. I've worked in restaurants from Alabama to Florida to Kentucky to two summers as a savage (server in Yellowstone National Park for the concessionaire Xanterra Parks and Resorts).

Working as a server in a nice restaurant like YNP was a great gig. Good money, cool co-workers, mostly happy customers. Working as a server at a place like Applebee's was pretty much the polar opposite in every regard. Anyway, it's a great college job but for people that are stuck making it a career I can see how it would definitely qualify for a 'not great place to be' type of job.

I honestly don't see how people could be surprised by any of this. Of course your waiter/waitress at Waffle House doesn't make good money. The same goes for the kitchen crew. This is what happens when you want to pay $4.95 for the All Star Breakfast platter of neverending calories.

My behavior guidelines as a person (in the USA anyway) who has waited tables before when I go to a sit down restaurant:

1) Do no harm. Even if it's the worst eating out experience of your life that does not give you the excuse to make an intentional mess of things or leave without paying/settling the bill somehow.
2) Tipping should be based upon performance with no floor or ceiling on the percentage. This could be touchy if you're not exactly 'in tune' with noticing what your server is dealing with. I can often tell if the server forgot to put our tables order in and then says "oh the kitchen is slow" or vice versa I can tell if the server is on his/her toes and the food is still slow coming out that something is probably up in the kitchen and they're doing what they can. That's one example but I'm just saying don't give 10% or 15% by default, tip great for great service, good for good service and don't give a dime if the server was awful or rude.
3) Don't be a grouch to your server. If you have a problem, ask for a manager. They get paid to deal with problems above the mundane/service level. Your server may or may not have been at fault, let the manager deal with that and with compensating you. If your server offers to get the manager take them up on it, it doesn't do them any harm and you can state their/your case to the person in charge so things get fixed and the right person gets talked to.
4) Be aware of the ramifications of your actions. Ordering a well done steak means that a certain amount of time waiting for food has been assured. Notify others if they complain that things have never taken this long before. Also, remember that you can order a steak less cooked and the kitchen will be glad to bring it up to temp if you're not ok with it, but the reverse requires magic that even the best chef can't accomplish.
5) If you have a toddler, baby, or other small person with you, please do not give them cracker packets or croutons then let them make a huge mess while you happily sit knowing someone else will be the one to clean things up. It's unbelievably rude. If your child does make a mess as a part of their meal that's fine, just remember your server will be the one to have to clean things up 9 times out of 10.
6) Remember, and be familiar, with what you ordered. A great server can, even in the busiest of lunches, remember what plate goes to what person at what table. Most servers aren't great but that doesn't mean you're excused from remembering what you ordered. I've even seen/experienced people say "I didn't order that" when I know they did or when they don't recognize the etouffee they ordered when they see it. If I'm eating out with people that do this I hang my head in shame and feel awful for the server having to deal with someone who has been told too many times "the customer is always right". The customer is always right, unless they're wrong. If I'm the server I automatically alter my behavior to deal with your obvious mental deficiency, for better or worse.

Most of these may seem like common sense/decency. Sadly, you'd be surprised how often deviations occur. My heart goes out to servers but, as dad used to say, all in all "it's better than a hit in the head with a dull axe" with regards to other jobs.
posted by RolandOfEld at 8:43 AM on December 7, 2011 [12 favorites]


In the immortal words of Achewood the Restraunt industry ethics and scruples are somewhere in between three card Monty and straight up daytime flashing.
posted by The Whelk at 8:49 AM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I just found a new burrito place! Thanks!
posted by orme at 8:50 AM on December 7, 2011


Thanks for the context, Jon_Evil. That adds a lot to the post and I wish I'd taken the time to do the research, so I'm so glad you knew about the background of ROC.

I agree that it's a great idea that should grow even more comprehensive. I figured that its regional coverage would not be totally saturating the nation yet, but also that it would help to share info about its existence in order to increase the likelihood that a guide like this could have the opportunity to grow.

On page 4 of the PDF you can read about the methodology, which is pretty enlightening as to who is included and why:
Working with students from Tulane University and the University of California at Los Angeles* we asked restaurants about their practices with regard to:

a) wages for tipped and non-tipped workers;
b) paid sick leave and other benefits; and
c) opportunities for workers to move up the ladder.

We asked this information from all of our ‘high road’ restaurant partners in our eight current affiliate cities and from the top 150 highest revenue grossing restaurants in America. Using the Restaurants & Institutions Top 400 list, we identified the top 50 highest revenue-grossing restaurants in each of the industry’s three segments.

QUICK SERVE: fast food, delis, and any establishment without
waiter service
CASUAL: full service restaurants with casual service
FINE DINING: higher-priced full-service restaurants2

Some restaurants did not provide us with all requested information. If any of these restaurants–or any other in America–can provide us with this information, we would be happy to update the Guide.
So, if you like the idea, one potential thing you could do is approach one or two of your favorite restaurants and say you really love the idea of this guide and would love to see them listed, and suggest that they submit. If they have something to be proud of vis-a-vis their working conditions, they might be willing.
posted by Miko at 8:52 AM on December 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'd also add that, for places you're going to go to (or get delivery from) regularly, tip for the service you want and not the service you get. They know who tips well and your service will improve dramatically if they know you give good tips.

I'm glad, here in Minnesota, restaurant workers are paid at least the state minimum wage with no differentiation between tipped and non-tipped workers.

I'm really surprised the Fogo De Chao doesn't treat their workers better. That place is really expensive ($50/person for lunch, $100/person for dinner).
posted by VTX at 8:57 AM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]




VTX: Your sentiment regarding tipping for what you want instead of what you get is well received but that's more like bribery than tipping to me. I know, I know, very fuzzy grey area but I was never a server who gave bad service until proven otherwise. I just couldn't do it. I was always good/great until reason was given for me to not try as hard. I'd rather reward the latter instead of the former.
posted by RolandOfEld at 9:00 AM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Honest question from a Brit who would rather not get into the old tipping vs not tipping culture argument: has anybody in the US ever set up an explicity anti-tipping restaurant? i.e. one where there's a big sign at the door – or on the menu – which says something along the lines of "We at No Tip Eaterie operate under a standard no tip policy. Our prices may be slightly higher than the place across the street, but this is because we pay our staff proper wages, rather than a pittance that they need to make up through their tips. Overall, since you're not tipping the standard 15-20%, you'll probably find yourself coming out a few dollars ahead. However, if your service or experience was out of the ordinary, then feel free to tip. But don't feel obligated because you worry that your server is going home tonight without enough money to catch the bus to work tomorrow."

And if anyone has done, did it work?
posted by Len at 9:03 AM on December 7, 2011


Well, it totally works to turn good service into bad but the practice seems even better at turning good service into great service.
posted by VTX at 9:04 AM on December 7, 2011


Also, it cracks me up that there's a restaurant in LA called The Gorbals (seems it's one of the good ones, though). I await the opening of the Compton diner in Glasgow's west end with relish.
posted by Len at 9:08 AM on December 7, 2011


Another restaurant guide for revolutionaries.

I really like that. At the same time, I worked in restaurants as a second job throughout my 20s and 30s, and I really liked it. I chose small, good-quality owner-operated places. I liked having control over my hours, being around and learning more about food, interacting with the public and helping orchestrate their experience. I always considered it good, dignified work and learned a lot from it, directly and indirectly. I'd never want to "abolish" restaurants as I think they're a wonderful way to be convivial in a third place, discover new things about food, and nurture your relationships with your companions and your community.

But I'm all in favor of improving working conditions in restaurants. None of my employers, despite creating otherwise nice places to work, offered paid sick or vacation days, health insurance, or fair wages for all the staff (lower-end kitchen staff, often immigrants, got rooked). Things need to get better.
posted by Miko at 9:16 AM on December 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Honest question from a Brit who would rather not get into the old tipping vs not tipping culture argument: has anybody in the US ever set up an explicity anti-tipping restaurant

I know the restaurant Ingredient in Lawrence, Kan., has a no-tipping policy:
While tipping is normally part of any dining experience, at ingredient restaurant we have a different philanthropic take on it. In order to maximize the value you receive from your visit to ingredient restaurant, we do not allow tipping. Instead of tipping, should you feel the need, we recommend one of the following:
Give a few dollars to charity...
Say Hello to a stranger...
Pet a dog...
Perform a random act of kindness
Put a quarter in an expired parking meter...
Do something nice for yourself!
They've been expanding into the Kansas City area and other towns in northeast Kansas so they must be having some success.

The prices are a little higher, but it's not a deal-breaker at all for me. (My mom, on the other hand, didn't like the higher prices, but I'm not sure she factored in the no-tip measure.)

I really miss their Thai steak salad and their roasted red pepper gazpacho now that I've moved away.
posted by rewil at 9:26 AM on December 7, 2011


has anybody in the US ever set up an explicity anti-tipping restaurant?

In the sense you describe: I don't know, but probably.

But in broader terms, there are places in the US where servers are paid at least minimum wage regardless of tips. Not sure which; I want to say Oregon?

Whether that qualifies as "proper wages" is debatable (spoiler: it doesn't) but at least it's not written in the law that you're allowed to underpay your workers and hope they can make it up through the magnanimousness of strangers.
posted by penduluum at 9:26 AM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


rewil: I know the restaurant Ingredient in Lawrence, Kan., has a no-tipping policy:

That's exactly the kind of thing I was thinking of. Sounds cool, and in the unlikely event of me being in Lawrence, Kansas, I'll definitely stop in for a Thai steak salad.

The prices are a little higher, but it's not a deal-breaker at all for me. (My mom, on the other hand, didn't like the higher prices, but I'm not sure she factored in the no-tip measure.)

Yeah, I wonder – if you assume that 15-20% of your staff wage packet is coming from customers, can you up the prices enough to still pay a decent working wage and yet at the same time undercut the factored-for-tipping prices elsewhere?
posted by Len at 9:32 AM on December 7, 2011


Washington State pays servers minimum wage - $8.67 per hour.

That's a pretty sweet job if you're getting decent tips on top.

It did make me wonder about tipping 20% though. Does a server really deserve that much more than a dishwasher?
posted by scose at 9:44 AM on December 7, 2011


Obligatory reference to Nickel and Dimed.
posted by yoHighness at 9:48 AM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Does a server really deserve that much more than a dishwasher?

Someone with experience in the industry can correct/confirm this but I believe that a common practice is to pool tips. If so, when you're tipping your server, you're tipping the dishwasher too.
posted by VTX at 9:54 AM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


YAY ZINGERMAN'S! Servant leadership FTW!
posted by leotrotsky at 9:56 AM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Overall, since you're not tipping the standard 15-20%, you'll probably find yourself coming out a few dollars ahead. "

I don't really see how that follows. It's a zero-sum game. If my total bill is less, than someone is getting less money at the restaurant.

"However, if your service or experience was out of the ordinary, then feel free to tip. But don't feel obligated because you worry that your server is going home tonight without enough money to catch the bus to work tomorrow."

The American reaction to that is, "But what if the service is worse than normal?"
posted by smackfu at 9:57 AM on December 7, 2011


The American reaction to that is, "But what if the service is worse than normal?"

the same as you would at any other business: complain to management or stop going there.

tipping puts an emotional burden on the customer and I wish it would go away. Restaurants should pay a fair wage, good service should be expected as a common sense business practice and diners shouldn't have to be put in the position of having to worry about how best to reward/punish another human being.
posted by sineater at 10:18 AM on December 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


smackfu: I don't really see how that follows. It's a zero-sum game. If my total bill is less, than someone is getting less money at the restaurant.

Not necessarily, because it's not just your bill that's paying someone's wages, it's every customer. Operate without tips, and every customer pays the same price, rather than some kicking in more, and some less, percentage of your wages, that percentage being at the whim of each customer.

This insulates waiting staff from quiet/fallow periods, customers who don't tip for whatever reason, and other factors. So overall, they might come out a little ahead too.

me: "However, if your service or experience was out of the ordinary, then feel free to tip. But don't feel obligated because you worry that your server is going home tonight without enough money to catch the bus to work tomorrow."

The American reaction to that is, "But what if the service is worse than normal?"

Then you speak to the manager/management, and they either resolve the situation – a friendly discussion of what was sub-standard; maybe a discount off your bill if you feel it's merited – or don't, in which case you never darken their door again.
posted by Len at 10:20 AM on December 7, 2011


Washington State pays servers minimum wage - $8.67 per hour.

Every restaurant in Canada pays servers minimum wage- that's $9.40/hr here in Alberta. Some provinces have a slightly reduced minimum wage for "alcohol servers" ($9.05 in AB, $8.75 in BC vs their $9.50 standard there), but I was shocked to find that the least you can be paid for being a restaurant server in Canada entails a minimum wage that's more than 400% higher, penny for penny, as the US minimum wage.

And this report only reports sick days, not health insurance. Every server in Canada (aside from those resident illegally, of course) gets health insurance because it's universal here, eh.

And we STILL are expected to tip 18% here, just as we are in the US. Canada must be the best country in the world for restaurant servers.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 10:21 AM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


At least in New York, pooling tips is only for the "front of the house": servers, hosts, bartenders, etc. "Back of the house" workers like cooks and dishwasher get paid minimum wage, or (if the owner really sucks) "shift pay", where they'll pay somebody 60-70 dollars for that day's work, regardless of how long it takes.
posted by Jon_Evil at 10:21 AM on December 7, 2011


"Overall, since you're not tipping the standard 15-20%, you'll probably find yourself coming out a few dollars ahead. "

I don't really see how that follows. It's a zero-sum game. If my total bill is less, than someone is getting less money at the restaurant.


Not everyone tips 15-20%, so those people who would be tipping 10% (or less) could be picking up the difference.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 10:22 AM on December 7, 2011


It's still zero-sum across all the customers. So you can't say "you'll probably save a few bucks" when it could be plus or minus a few bucks.
posted by smackfu at 10:30 AM on December 7, 2011


Also, there's a *big* class divide between tipped workers and not; where the folks who interact with the paying customers (and get much more money) are most often people from backgrounds of class privilege (race, education, native language, familiar and comfortable with the mannerisms of the clientele, etc). Regardless of the name of the chef on the menu, the people actually making the food are immigrants, ex-cons, and folks to whom it is made very clear that their labor is not valuable and there's not any room to move up. Even in the fanciest restaurants, with the best line cooks in the world, they're only making 3-4 dollars an hour above what they'd be making at a casual dining joint, and often this is less what cooks make at Applebees or some other chain that employs enough people nationally that they're unionized or get audited by the IRS.
posted by Jon_Evil at 10:34 AM on December 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


smackfu: It's still zero-sum across all the customers. So you can't say "you'll probably save a few bucks" when it could be plus or minus a few bucks.

Granted, it will vary from customer to customer depending on how much they generally tip, but I wasn't intending to write a legally-binding document; it was a request for info more than anything else – I was just wondering if there were any American restaurants which worked on that model.
posted by Len at 10:39 AM on December 7, 2011


It's still zero-sum across all the customers. So you can't say "you'll probably save a few bucks" when it could be plus or minus a few bucks.

Fine, then you might come out ahead if you usually tip properly.
posted by cmoj at 10:53 AM on December 7, 2011


Thanks for this post, Miko.
posted by box at 10:57 AM on December 7, 2011


Austin's Black Star Co-op is a cooperatively-owned brewpub, and they pay their workers a living wage and explicitly state that they do not accept tips. Also, they make damn good beer. More. This is where we ended up at the last Austin meetup, and I'd be happy to make it a regular thing.
posted by fiercecupcake at 11:12 AM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh, and I meant to add -- I'd love it if restaurants and bars would just adjust their prices up to compensate workers fairly, even though as an hourly-paid kitchen worker it wouldn't affect me directly. Food service is HARD work and there is no excuse for someone who works that hard to not be able to pay their bills while they're trading their long-term health for a paycheck. I tip well but I know not everyone does.
posted by fiercecupcake at 11:14 AM on December 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Honest question from a Brit who would rather not get into the old tipping vs not tipping culture argument: has anybody in the US ever set up an explicity anti-tipping restaurant?

It's not exactly what you're talking about, but there is a high-end seafood resturant in Minneapolis, Minnesota (the Oceanaire) that was remarkable for paying its waitstaff a good wage and treating them like professionals. Like around 10 USD/hour starting pay (and this is several years back) with regular if modest raises. As a consequence many of their servers were in their forties and fifties and had been there for twenty years or more, which is unheard of. They still accepted tips though, and I imagine between those wages and tips it meant a server could actually live a comfortable middle class existence. I don't know if the kitchen staff was treated well also.

I believe this has mostly changed with corporate acquisition of the restaurant, but don't hold me to that.
posted by werkzeuger at 11:18 AM on December 7, 2011


So I scrolled through the list to find the last restaurant I worked at (Elephant Bar), and I find it hilarious that the "Advancement" box is ticked. Here is the story of my friend...

He got me a job as a server at Elephant Bar while he was Shift Lead (their version of Manager-in-Training), which is basically a training ground for learning to assert your authority by yelling at employees. Once that three month probation period was over, he was finally promoted to Assistant Manager. His new role? The black hole of restaurant management -- in charge of front desk staff.

Working the host stand at Elephant Bar is demonically stressful. The first person people confront when they walk in upset, brimming with emotion. Having to answer phones. Take-out orders. Cleaning bathrooms. Constantly running around. During downtime, having to hang out alone at the host stand while everyone else is having a hoot in the back. The list goes on...

All for minimum wage. And no tips. While everyone else walks out with wads of cash by the end of the night. But the good ones hold on, for they, too, would love a taste of the sweet nectar that a promotion to waiting tables could entail.

But that's where the Catch-22 comes into play. If they're good at their job, the hosts aren't going anywhere. The turnover rate is ridiculously high; the average person lasts two weeks. I was there for three months and so no less than a dozen hosts come and go through the gauntlet. So they hold onto the really qualified candidates and make empty promises of promotion if they just work another couple months -- for the fifth time.

So back to my friend -- he's in charge of front desk staff. With such high turnover, he basically hires ANYONE who walks through the door looking for work. The hope is that it's their first job and they're really naive, because then they'll probably stick around longer. But all he can promise them is minimum wage. Working rough Friday and Saturday nights. To a 19 year-old.

So you're not getting the cream of the crop here. Or happy employees. Naturally, people abandon the job and leave two weeks worth of shifts uncovered. And who's got to cover them? My friend! So he gets taken off salary and is forced to come in on his days off to cover and earn minimum wage. Worse, his card is taken away and he has virtually no authority in the restaurant. (But at least he's dressed to look a bigger part.)

Often, he'll work 70-80 hours in a week. One of his first 12-hour shifts, he was using the 3pm downtime and his break to have a quick bite, and the GM walked by to berate him, "Are you really taking a break? You realize all the other managers work round the clock until they finish their shift before taking personal time!" Not a requirement, of course, but "encouraged". All for less than $30k/year. (But in three years, that might jump to $40k!)

They treated us servers like shit, too. Probably the worst waiting job I've ever had, but also the only time I've felt more sympathy for those above me.
posted by Christ, what an asshole at 11:32 AM on December 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


but there is a high-end seafood resturant

Aren't high-end waitstaff jobs pretty lucrative anyways?
posted by smackfu at 11:33 AM on December 7, 2011


I agree that class privilege does outfit a person better for a job as a server, but servers have and use skills that dishwashers don't have (yet). It is harder to succeed as a server than as a dishwasher. There are some simple economics to this - it is not that hard to fill the ranks of dishwashers who can create the needed outcome, clean dishes, but it is pretty hard to assemble a really good service staff who can create the needed outcome, a satisfied clientele. One of these jobs is more skilled than the other - just like line cook is also more skilled than dishwasher, and pays better.

(I've done both).
posted by Miko at 11:55 AM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Don't even get me started about hosts and managers. To reply to those who asked, here's my viewpoint of various positions in an average (up to and including $30-40 a plate) restaurants:

Server: Usually the desired position due to the wages being anywhere from good to extremely lucrative, the shifts being relatively reasonable in duration (the rush+sidework then go home), and the responsibility moderate. Caveat, you have to have the people skills, micromanagement skills, memory, and physical balance/speed to handle things. Regarding the last one, for example, my record for carrying things on one of the larger oval trays to a table was 10 entree plates (with covers), 2 bread baskets, and a bottle of wine. After that the tray bends too much and things are already sketchy.

Host: As CWAA said just above, this position is the black hole. No offense to his friend but what I've seen is that people who are inexperienced, incompetent, lazy, or attractive get placed here. The trouble is that it's a really important position as they pretty much govern the flow of tables to the servers which trickles down to affect everything else. When you're on a two hour wait-list it get's hectic. They also have the power to, on purpose or inadvertently, screw a server totally. If you get sat with 3 or 4 tables at the same time, you just went from whatever busy level you were on to run like a maniac while cursing everyone around you busy. Often very young and female, go figure.

Manager: These are the overworked, semi-wellpaid lifers. They're often bitter, they've been there/done that and made the choice or got swindled into moving up the ladder. Until you hit the upper management or district manager level, your life sucks. Sometimes they sleep with the staff to make up for it. 35-50k salary (maybe more, not less) for long weeks and no college degree required.

Line cooks: The bread and butter of the whole place. A good one will earn all the beers they want from the servers. A bad one is a nightmare. Often a 'colorful' lot. In nice places well paid, else minimum wage.

Expiditers: These are the intermediatries between the Front of House (servers/hosts) and Back of House (cooks/washers). Most servers don't understand the proper manner in which to address the kitchen, these people are the cross-overs. Kitchen staff are busting their ass in heat and sweat and oil and a pretty server man/woman comes up demanding to know what the butter content in the Bearnaise sauce is or if they could get an order of green beans on the fly (read: quick,quick). You can imagine how that back and forth goes.

Dishwashers: Often the scariest looking person on staff and/or an immigrant. Usually a stolid worker or a cheerful character. High incident of smoking, ditto for line cooks and servers now that I think about that. Pay: minimum. Hours: long but not overtime.

Head Chef: The man. God incarnate. Be on his good side 'cuz he probably knows/takes his/her job better than anyone else in the place.... and they have their own knives.....
posted by RolandOfEld at 11:59 AM on December 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


I forgot,

Prep Cooks: These guys/gals come in early to get stuff/portions ready for the day. Often not as skilled or stressed as a line crew that works during a rush. Sometimes they'll work both positions. Very monotonous work, similar if slightly worse pay than line chefs.
posted by RolandOfEld at 12:04 PM on December 7, 2011


"Seems like it covers mainly chains and then jumps to really high-end places."

The ones in LA, Gorbals especially, are pretty mid-level. Also, the places in Detroit. I was really glad to see so many, and so many good ones. Detroit often gets shit on, but it has some seriously delicious food at reasonable prices.
posted by klangklangston at 12:42 PM on December 7, 2011


I'd rather not get into the old tipping vs not tipping culture argument: has anybody in the US ever set up an explicity anti-tipping restaurant?

From my young and hungry days, I just want to comment that there is an excellent reason to have tipping be the norm in US restaurants. With exceptions, being a waiter/waitress is scary-level low paid. Tipping makes up for that some because it is necessarily not completely reported income. I.e., some amount of the tipping ends up being tax free. This makes a huge difference for poorer people. That is one reason money under the table is also a popular arrangement for people who, for example, provide unlicensed jack of all trade, car repair, or landscaping services.

One great book that is still on target about the horrid treatment of most workers in the US food industry: Fast Food Nation. Another (fictional) great book about how it really feels for the staff who work in many chain restaurants these days: Last Night at the Lobster.
posted by bearwife at 1:33 PM on December 7, 2011


bearwife: I just want to comment that there is an excellent reason to have tipping be the norm in US restaurants. With exceptions, being a waiter/waitress is scary-level low paid. Tipping makes up for that some because it is necessarily not completely reported income

Which is also the case with everyone who waits tables in the UK, and plenty of other countries, all of whom mandate that people are paid a decent wage. I know that when I worked behind bars, the tips were a completely non taxed bonus, on top of my six quid (in 1998; prob equivalent to at least $12 now) an hour.
posted by Len at 1:53 PM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Isn't bartender considered a much better job in the US than the UK? Mainly because of the tipping, I assume.
posted by smackfu at 2:10 PM on December 7, 2011


The problem of the working poor seems to be particularly acute in the US, which even before our recession and government cutbacks was low on the level of social services available in many other countries. E.g., compare the cost of health care in the UK and the US. Another good book on the inability to meet basic needs on a working person's income in the US: Barbara Ehrenreich's still accurate Nickled and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America.

Just saying that I know how very low in resources many US food workers are. Tips are vital.
posted by bearwife at 3:01 PM on December 7, 2011


bearwife: Tips are vital.

Yeah, this is exactly my point. For a whole load of structural/legal/cultural reasons, many of which Ehrenreich gets into in Nickel and Dimed, they are, but they shouldn't be.
posted by Len at 9:46 PM on December 7, 2011


restaurant server in Canada entails a minimum wage that's more than 400% higher, penny for penny, as the US minimum wage.


In Australia, the minimum wage for servers is about $20USD an hour. We have universal healthcare here too.
Visiting Americans often complain that dinner at a restaurant is expensive, and it can be, but you can usually find a nice cafe or pub that will do you a steak or similar for around $20.
We usually tip waitstaff if the service is better than bad, but only pocket change. 10% would be a fairly sizable tip in most places.
posted by bystander at 12:04 AM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


They really need to combine this with a Zagat's style restaurant rating. That way, I can make a decision that also involves the quality of the food and service. I can be like, "Let's go to Bob's for dinner. They have great food even if they're shitty to the workers" and the wife can be, like "No, how about going to Le Gran Pumpf... their prices are lower, the food is only slightly worse, but their employees get one day sick leave."
posted by twoleftfeet at 12:10 AM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


In Australia, the minimum wage for servers is about $20USD an hour.

Of course, the high Australian dollar is really helping that comparison at the moment.
posted by smackfu at 6:35 AM on December 8, 2011


From my young and hungry days, I just want to comment that there is an excellent reason to have tipping be the norm in US restaurants. With exceptions, being a waiter/waitress is scary-level low paid. Tipping makes up for that some because it is necessarily not completely reported income. I.e., some amount of the tipping ends up being tax free. This makes a huge difference for poorer people. That is one reason money under the table is also a popular arrangement for people who, for example, provide unlicensed jack of all trade, car repair, or landscaping services.

I may have read this incorrectly, but you are advocating tax fraud over paying workers a living wage? I think that the system might be broken here and that what you're talking about is just symptomatic of the problem. We should pay waiters well enough that they can be taxed, and we should force restaurants to quit using tipping as a loophole to pay servers substandard wages.
posted by 200burritos at 12:16 PM on December 8, 2011


I may have read this incorrectly, but you are advocating tax fraud over paying workers a living wage?

You did indeed read me incorrectly. I would never advocate tax fraud OR not paying workers a living wage. I was responding to some sentiment in this thread for no-tipping restaurants. I am a strong advocate of adequate tipping in US restaurants, for the reasons I stated.
posted by bearwife at 3:52 PM on December 8, 2011


The thing I liked about tipping was that I felt I could exert some control over my level of pay. In my last nice restaurant job I could average $25-30 an hour on a good weekend night, and I noticed the difference between when I really focused and worked on increasing my wages and when I slacked a little. I learned a lot about sales and how to communicate the value of service, and I liked that I could influence my rate of pay to some degree for the better, rather than accepting a base wage that didn't vary regardless of my performance. I definitely used my tips percentage as a metric to judge how well I was doing. T

here's something about this direct pay from customer to service person that I really liked - it was almost like being in business for yourself, gaining from the value you added to the overall restaurant experience.
posted by Miko at 8:57 AM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Late to the thread but:

Young Workers United creates a similar guide on a smaller scale in San Francisco, celebrating the best restaurants for workers: Dining with Justice: A Guide to Guilt-Free Eating (website, pdf guide) Like Colors, the worker-owned cooperative Arizmendi Bakery gets high marks.
posted by ioesf at 4:55 PM on December 19, 2011


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