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July 18, 2021 2:37 PM   Subscribe

Nobody Wants To Be a Serf Anymore

Satire (for now, anyway) .
posted by queen anne's remorse (114 comments total) 51 users marked this as a favorite
 


There once was a liberal Tsar
Who said, ‘it’s better by far
‘Serfs should be free,
‘To enjoy, like me
‘Women, wine, and black caviar’
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 3:21 PM on July 18 [16 favorites]


Whenever we hear the voices of medieval serfs in historical documents, it turns out that they didn't want to be serfs, either. It seems that no one has ever shed a tear for the struggles of an oppressive overclass. Sad.
posted by clawsoon at 3:25 PM on July 18 [9 favorites]


My sister in-law recently came back from visiting her sister in Florida. She went to Clearwater for a couple days while there, and was appalled that some of the restaurants and bars she was dining/drinking in were short-staffed. She's telling me this story and I say "The restaurants should just pay more." She looked at me with disgust and grumbled something about how lazy the people there are.

Her husband has been a VERY proud Union Iron Worker for the last 30 years. They raised 3 kids and own a house in the suburbs, two SUVs and a boat.
posted by SoberHighland at 3:52 PM on July 18 [98 favorites]


"How can they value their lives so much when we’ve always valued them so little?"


Here's to raising the Federal Minimum Pittance!
posted by darkstar at 4:03 PM on July 18 [51 favorites]


We went to Hooters for lunch after church today, and were greeted by a sign declaring that they are short-staffed and only have 10 tables available. Along with a "we're hiring!" sign. So far this is the only place we've gone to that has had an issue.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 4:16 PM on July 18 [8 favorites]


Where I live, in a popular UK tourist destination, they have been asking the holiday makers if they will put in a shift to clean the toilet block at £10/hr.
posted by biffa at 4:25 PM on July 18 [5 favorites]


We went to Hooters after church today

What?
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 4:31 PM on July 18 [150 favorites]


I just love the irony of "Hooters" after church.

I went there with a few ladies one time after a opera performance (almost as weird) and it was pretty dead, but the waitress was happy to have lady customers.
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:40 PM on July 18 [8 favorites]


Capitalism did to the people of Europe first, what it would later do to native populations all over the world. Read up on the enclosure movement, it was basically 500 years of killing the animism out of the native populations in Europe, and brutally subjugating them to the whims of capital.

The "peasants" of the time basically worked only as much as they needed, and had a rather self sufficient life. This wasn't any good for the capitalists. When DeCart came up with dualism, the capitalist and the religious leaders loved it, the monarchs encouraged it, and 500 years later, we have lost our connection with nature, and are good capitalists. It wasn't quite that easy though, they also had to kill hundreds of thousands of them. The serf's didn't want to be serf's back then either.

Capitalism really gets going when it has some external thing it can snatch up for free. In Europe it started with enclosing the commons, when that wasn't giving returns, it moved to stealing "free" land/gold/slaves/etc elsewhere. America became the biggest capitalist powerhouse in the world because it was built on free land and free labor (native land/slaves).

I used to say "burn it all down" but capitalism seems to be doing a pretty good job of that on its own. Lately I have been thinking a lot about how to stop capitalism from burning it all down.
posted by stilgar at 4:49 PM on July 18 [71 favorites]


SFGate: Lake Tahoe is out of workers, too.

The article blames rent prices that have jumped 25-30% because of the hot real estate market, and the NIMBYs are turning down lower cost housing projects. It's like the perfect storm of karma.
posted by JoeZydeco at 5:07 PM on July 18 [16 favorites]


Oops, I meant 25-50%
posted by JoeZydeco at 5:14 PM on July 18 [4 favorites]


Where I live, in a popular UK tourist destination, they have been asking the holiday makers if they will put in a shift to clean the toilet block at £10/hr.

Skip to the loo, how darling.

Lake Tahoe

That labor problem is being temporarily ameliorated by way of the area being literally on fire, if also figuratively.
posted by snuffleupagus at 5:18 PM on July 18 [15 favorites]


SFGate: Lake Tahoe is out of workers, too.

It's like watching capitalism eat its own tail in real time.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 5:42 PM on July 18 [15 favorites]


Here on Martha's Vineyard it is slamming summer season, and everyone is of course short staffed. Most people have been understanding, just happy to be here with everything open again and no restrictions. Where I work we are lucky, we never stopped so were able to keep lots of kitchen staff and just enough FOH staff to do almost all of what we could do. But LOTS of restaurant people I know here found other careers or at least jobs during the pandemic and will likely never return to the F and B industry.

We just got back from driving my SO's sister, bro in law, and nephew to a ferry back to the mainland. They got here Thursday night. First houseguests since the Thanksgiving before the pandemic.

Over the last six weeks there were 12 new cases on island, then this past week 13 just from Monday-Thursday. I might start masking up at work again.

Stay frosty and don't work for assholes.
posted by vrakatar at 5:48 PM on July 18 [42 favorites]


SoberHighland: Her husband has been a VERY proud Union Iron Worker for the last 30 years.

Any chance there's some (internalized?) misogyny going on there? Ironwork is men's work, therefore it deserves to be well paid, while making food is women's work, therefore it should be done for free (or as close as possible thereunto)?
posted by clawsoon at 6:06 PM on July 18 [18 favorites]


The short staffing is real and seems to be almost universal. The obvious solution would seem to be to keep raising wages (and therefore food and drink prices) until things balance out. Maybe we are headed that way but so far the wage increases here haven't been enough to fill the gap. I like that the meansprited "cut the benefits" Republican approach hasn't done anything to solve the staffing issue -- people just aren't wanting to work for those wages and in those conditions.

I also like that (around here at least) fast food and other places are advertising starting wages on their signage -- the sudden wage transparency can only be good for pushing wages up.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:16 PM on July 18 [26 favorites]


The article blames rent prices that have jumped 25-30% because of the hot real estate market, and the NIMBYs are turning down lower cost housing projects

Around here, the usual cry to that is "If I can't afford to live where I work, I just move where it's cheaper!" With little to no awareness of, uh yeah that's what people are doing ya dingus.
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 6:16 PM on July 18 [17 favorites]


"Where I live, in a popular UK tourist destination, they have been asking the holiday makers if they will put in a shift to clean the toilet block at £10/hr."

And here I was thinking "That's a lot of blocked toilet..." or at the very least a major blockage... Maybe there is one too many "f"'s in that sentence.
posted by IndelibleUnderpants at 6:24 PM on July 18 [2 favorites]


Where I live, in a popular UK tourist destination, they have been asking the holiday makers if they will put in a shift to clean the toilet block at £10/hr.

I love it. Touristing is extra-bonus consumering. This is an opportunity to give back.
posted by aniola at 6:34 PM on July 18 [2 favorites]


The best thing about that toilet-cleaning thing:

It comes after Mother Ivey's Bay Holiday Park in Cornwall sent an email to guests to adopt the 'Dunkirk spirit' and pitch in when it comes to looking after the toilet blocks.

brb, pitching Dunkirk II to Christopher Nolan
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:08 PM on July 18 [14 favorites]


Dunkirk II: Messy Portaloo.
posted by loquacious at 7:16 PM on July 18 [43 favorites]


Dunkirk was all about evacuation.
posted by Pouteria at 7:52 PM on July 18 [64 favorites]


I have noticed a couple servers and baristas lately who thanked me for my "patience" waiting for an order, when they weren't even taking that long, and I was just...waiting like a normal human would do. Which is just like...exactly how huge of assholes are people being?!
posted by nakedmolerats at 8:00 PM on July 18 [59 favorites]


exactly how huge of assholes are people being

Imma let you finish but I'm guessing you haven't worked in retail or food service that much.......
posted by thelonius at 8:04 PM on July 18 [54 favorites]


Why, I believe I have been subject of a satire—perhaps the author even is one of these self-proclaimed "serfs" referenced.

SMITHERS, RELEASE THE HOUNDS! AND tell those lazy engineers to double the power output of the plant, even if they have to work through "Labour Day". And ... who's that in Sector B, sleeping in break room with his head in a box of Donuts? BRING HIM HERE AT ONCE. He shall be the new President of the United States!

Yesss.... it's all coming together....
posted by not_on_display at 8:08 PM on July 18 [8 favorites]


Stilgar: Read up on the enclosure movement

Or "up the bottom history".

Or Carry on Revolting.
posted by Buntix at 8:24 PM on July 18


Major staffing issues around here in Washington State, too.

I've talked about this already how so many people I know that were working in the industry went on to try different fields of work or income over the course of the pandemic so far.

I am someone did bar and restaurant work during the entire pandemic when we weren't fully shut down and I definitely don't want to go back unless it's for someone/something I absolutely love and even then I want a fair wage.

As time goes on I'm pretty sure I have some kind of legit long term stress PTSD from wearing a mask and working in a dangerously hot kitchen and washing dirty dishes during this whole thing. I basically had to fire myself from cooking and promote myself to dishwasher because I non-figuratively just couldn't deal with the literal heat of being on the line in the kitchen any more.

After the last re-opening in Q1 2020 I was supposed to step into it again and be #2 to our temporarily visiting minor celebrity Chef and as she started revealing and training us on the new and much more high end and complicated menu and prep I pretty much burst into tears right there in the kitchen.

That and PTSD from dealing with totally insane customers and having to ask people to mask up all the time or stick to their tables or to just please try to stick to the rules and mandates in place about stuff like limited tables, sticking to one table with their group or household and so much stressful bullshit.

I'm pretty sure I've had covid at least once if not twice and I seem to be having major long haul effects like brain fog and excessive fatigue and this is in addition to pre-existing conditions like chronic depression and cPTSD and so on.

Thankfully my friend and boss managed to sell their bar which is bittersweet given all that we've been through, and that now things are opened up again and we can have live music again but I'm just kind of over it and still not interested in being around a bunch of drunk rowdy people or putting on my own shows, at least until after I finish getting fully vaccinated and taking stock of what's next.

Like, I'm very much no fun at all these days. I can barely even remember how to have fun. I used to DJ and make people dance themselves sweaty and I loved it and now it just sounds stressful and gross and too much and I hate it.

And I'm absolutely sure the new owner would love to put me to work, but I just can't. It's too raw and it's been too much.

I can barely put into words how stressful it has been over the last year, even just working the dishpit and washing dishes and bathing in the steam of people's dirty dishes and feeling like I was playing Russian roulette with each dirty dish.


Side rant: I will fight anyone that says dishwashing is unskilled labor. It's the most important job in the house at a restaurant. To do it well you actually do need to think a lot. A busy small restaurant might turn over all of their dishes and serveware a half dozen times in an evening.

And all of the best dishwashers I've met have started as cooks or prep or even front of house. And it's actually not uncommon at all they're some of the smartest and most diverse staff in the house.

The workflow of a good dishwasher looks like this. They lean forward and are aware of their place in time over a "service" and how to stay ahead of the work. They know where every last item goes. The watch the racked clean stock for what they're low on and provide that ASAP. The also have to know the flow and pulse of the kitchen and how to safely move through the line cook's workspace to restock things and never, ever get in the way, sometimes while carrying 40+ pound loads of plateware in tight quarters and people running around with knives and hot pans.

It even helps a LOT if your dishwasher knows the prep and cooking of a given menu. When to wait for a chef or line cook to complete a task before taking away a saucepan to be washed, or move into their space to delivery clean wares.

And in most small places the dishwasher is out there bussing tables, wiping things down, cleaning bathrooms, cleaning up accidents or broken glass, mopping floors, handling deliveries and stocking and may even get tapped for prep or some cooking - or being pulled up to the bar to catch up on barware and barback.

A really good dishwasher is usually the one person who isn't the lead chef who knows where everything is from cleaning supplies to dry goods and back stock, and often may even interface with the cooks and front of house staff about anything and everything going on, like passing messages from servers to cooks or vice versa or when or if a table's order is ready to go out all at once.

They have to also be able to deal with being totally disgusting and gross doing stuff like scraping plates and physically working their ass off keeping the pulse and beat of the kitchen going and running smoothly.


So, yeah pretty much every restaurant I know of is having staffing issues. The smart ones are luring people back with higher pay and raising prices and making smart moves like limited hours so they don't burn out their staff.

There's just a couple of takeout places I like to go to, and it's a rare treat because I'm on a tight budget. When I go I make sure to be extra, extra nice and polite to the people working. I always try to express my thanks and take a moment to leave them better than I found them because food service work was already a huge mountain of physical and psychological bullshit and it's even worse now.

And at the start of this year I lucked out into some decent remote tech work and it quickly became my primary job, and it's really nice to be able to work from home on my own schedule and not have to show up somewhere. My boss is super chill and he hates meetings and we just do everything on cloud working suites like Basecamp and text clients and emails.

It's not a ton of work and if anything it's been a pay cut compared to restaurant/service work because of the tips but in the end I'm working less hours and I'm spending a lot less money on working supplies like caffeine and hydration, ibuprofen, transportation and laundry and such because I don't have to make compromises like running late for a shift and having to fuel up on the go with coffee, fast food or energy drinks just to survive the hustle and heat of a kitchen.

The pandemic has been totally insane for me as far as work and I'm still trying to figure out what the hell happened with me. There was a moment where I was technically working three jobs that still didn't add up to full time or a truly living wage and I've never done that before in my life. It's like I suddenly stated becoming a workaholic as an escape mechanism or something.


Something I've seen lately that's totally ridiculous is that there's a local McDonald's where before the pandemic they had a sign up for years offering $15 starting wages because no one wanted to work there.

A couple of weeks ago that sign was replaced with one offering 14.50, and it's TOTALLY INSANE to me that they're doing this and also wondering why they're having staffing issues. Like they're also on a limited schedule and hours still and I think their drive through and pickup has been open the entire time during the pandemic.

In closing I have strong feelings that the general food service industry has been abusive and fucked up the entire time and it's been thrown into sharp detail with the pandemic, and things need to change. Most people who have never worked in the industry have no idea how bad it is back there in the kitchen or behind the scenes how much work it is.

I feel even some of my nicest, most polite, most aware and respectful friends that are fans of going out - even my friends that are also super into home cooking and culinary arts, people who admire celebrity chefs and appreciate it as the art that it is - really have no idea how bad it can be or how much stressful, skilled hard work it is to actually be on the line in a commercial kitchen.

The hustle and struggle of working a hot line and menu and doing all the prep is totally insane. People have no idea how rough it is even without a pandemic to clean up a dirty bar bathroom, or getting the mop bucket out to clean up puke the third time in an evening from the same person or group of people. Or hauling out 40-60 pound bags of trash and recycling every night. Or the stress of trying to get everyone to go home and get out when you're trying to close a bar and you just want to sit down for the first time all day and nurse a shift drink.

And at this point I'm not sure I care if it kills off the entire restaurant industry from the lowliest fast food restaurant to high end fine dining. If the industry (and customers!!) can't survive without treating staff like... serfs then maybe our culture is long overdue for a profound change.
posted by loquacious at 8:28 PM on July 18 [264 favorites]


Who buses the tables in Galt’s Gulch anyway?
posted by nickggully at 8:33 PM on July 18 [18 favorites]


Jfc can we please crowd fund a Rave Museum or traveling exhibit or something. Loquacious, curator par excellence.
posted by snuffleupagus at 8:34 PM on July 18 [11 favorites]


So it turns out E.P. Thompson is as lovely as one would imagine. And there is
video evidence.
posted by Buntix at 8:42 PM on July 18 [1 favorite]


Which is just like...exactly how huge of assholes are people being?!

Oh my sweet summer child.

Even before the pandemic this was a thing but some people are absolutely horrible and bad at sharing or not saying shitty things to other people. I mean I would guess that something like 30% or more of the customer base at any place I've worked at is kind of an entitled and abusive jerk or otherwise impatient or even just generally unpleasant.

There is a thing that happened during the pandemic with the food service industry where the mostly rational and polite people generally stayed home and the customer base plus the cash flow of the stimulus and unemployment brought out some of the worst, most entitled and rudest people I've ever had the misfortune of meeting.

There was also the issue locally of county by county closures and status so as soon as things would be shut down in a major metro area people were flocking in droves and just traveling to the places that were open within driving distance.

And a lot of those people were just going nuts and overdoing it and otherwise drinking too much and generally being really immature and thoughtless.

Or even revealed that some people that were previously considered ok were actually jerks. We had to ban/86 so many people.
posted by loquacious at 8:44 PM on July 18 [63 favorites]


So it turns out E.P. Thompson is as lovely as one would imagine

Insanely good hair also.
posted by Buntix at 8:47 PM on July 18 [1 favorite]


w/r/t the culture of what restaurants are, Aaron Timms in N+1 Salt Fat Acid Defeat.
Of course, people will still need to eat, they will not always want to cook for themselves, and the restaurant will survive. But in what form?
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 8:59 PM on July 18 [4 favorites]


loquacious you magnificent bastard you nailed it. The zen of the the dishpit is strong with you.
posted by vrakatar at 9:00 PM on July 18 [10 favorites]


Serfs up?
posted by evidenceofabsence at 9:35 PM on July 18 [7 favorites]


I just learned that in western Colorado there are gas stations with no fuel to sell because of a driver shortage. Wild.
posted by medusa at 9:43 PM on July 18 [3 favorites]


The zen of the the dishpit is strong with you.

Oh, it's a particular kind of sickness. I had to draw on the zen concept of effortless effort on an hourly basis. I'm not sweeping the floor, I am sweeping the floor. I'm not even actually here except for the form of sweeping the floor.

You learn to really think about and meter every step and effort and get in the zone. Less is more.
posted by loquacious at 10:14 PM on July 18 [18 favorites]


I have been doing volunteer food prep for 12 years now, and after a single shift I still have no idea how someone does this full time without dropping at some point on the job.

And, at least, unlike the cook I am 6 feet away from the oven and blocked a bit from the heat. During the recent heatwave cooking and serving among many other jobs should have qualified for danger pay the conditions were so horrendous.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 10:40 PM on July 18 [8 favorites]


Of course, people will still need to eat, they will not always want to cook for themselves, and the restaurant will survive. But in what form?

My totally uneducated guess is that high class restaurants will be fine. The ones with Michelin stars or would have one if the Guide covered their city usually have customers that aren't price sensitive/can pay their staff more and still make enough.

Sole proprietor restaurants are a little shakier. But from what I've seen, some are still keeping on a takeout/delivery, while others offer partial to full service. I think the good thing right now is everything is still in transition, so they can adjust the service model to something that works for them.

The question mark is what will happen with middle-class chain restaurants: Your Chili's, Applebee's, Denny's, etc. A lot of them were already on shaky ground pre-Covid, and of course millennials were being blamed for that. It's probably a little more difficult for them to raise prices to cover higher wages, since they have more administrative costs due to corporate structures and their customers are usually more price sensitive. And in my opinion at least, generally their food isn't that much better than fast food, so I don't know if they would be able to successfully pivot to takeout/delivery only model. They seem like dinosaurs and I have no idea how they're going to keep afloat.

Beyond that, there's probably going to be more kinds of things where the customer orders up front and picks up your own food/buses their own dishes. More food stands, pop-ups, food trucks, food carts, etc. Ghost/Virtual kitchens are a thing now too, though I wonder if the delivery apps are also facing labor shortages too.
posted by FJT at 11:37 PM on July 18 [3 favorites]


It's not just restaurants, but the trucking industry is experiencing a major driver shortage. The hours are long, the work is grueling, and the pay sucks. Local or long haul, it's a tough way to make a living. A lot of drivers lost their jobs during the lock-down, and now they don't want to go back.
Here's an example of a knock-on effect: this short video describes how a lack of qualified hazardous delivery drivers could have a major impact on aerial firefighting in California. The rural airports used by firefighting aircraft can't get reliable jet fuel delivery because so many certified drivers have found other jobs. It's a critical issue over the entire West.
posted by Metacircular at 1:03 AM on July 19 [20 favorites]


This tweet pops into my head pretty often:

Seeing a lot of posts like, “And what of the man I call Filthy Gulliver who cleans my feasting hall while I pelt him with eggs??? Does HE deserve $15/hr?!?!?”

Especially by Metafilter's standards, I don't think I'm a very left-wing person... I think there are ways in which moderated capitalism can be very efficient, and I'm generally averse to tearing down systems without a clear sense of how we're going to improve/replace them.

The thing that I can't wrap my hand around though, is how some people seem to translate the value of wages assigned by labour markets into the value of human beings. Like, I can accept that there are arguments that perhaps CEOs should make a lot more money (maybe not several orders of magnitude...) than entry level workers... but that a CEO is a better, more valuable person? I mean really, if I would ever call Elon Musk a piece of shit to his face, I can't imagine he'd care, and anyway he could wipe away his tears with thousand dollar bills. But doing it to someone who's busting their ass for minimum wage is just cruel.

Of course, it's not surprising. As much as I hate to admit it, some people seem to feel that one of the benefits of success and power is being able to abuse people without the means to fight back. I think this is as much of a psychological and spiritual problem as a material one.
posted by Alex404 at 1:03 AM on July 19 [53 favorites]


loquacious you magnificent bastard you nailed it. The zen of the the dishpit is strong with you.

I agree - I've never done the kind of work loquacious describes, but I understand it a lot better for having read that post. Hope the mods give it a slot in the sideblog bar so more people can see it.
posted by Paul Slade at 1:07 AM on July 19 [10 favorites]


I can't throttle the fav button enough loquacious.
Said my life in about 3 minutes but we ain't got no chef. I know a dishwasher makes.70¢ an hour less, then a starting GM job. WERES your Union now, Shee, yeah all the skilled trades folk with their 1.6 houses, 3.2 cars, and 5.2 RV/watercraft have receded into whatever mode behavior, an attitude of "worked mine!"s like the guys in dualies complaining about the breakfast special. Had a customer who requested burnt toast from a blow torch for Caramelization.
Serfs works but pre Covid I worked for Russians for about a year. 3 generations and I fucking learned. I saw things most anyone would quit and I mean nothing illegal. So I get the serf and had to explain the Beachboys, Tsar, UAW thing to a Molodavian prep cook. You became family but not really though in a sense when the owners kid is not pulling his weight, get the American to Sling 700lbs of potatoes with you then the other Tonne of stuff, as an example, yelling in Russian KNOWING I can here the drill fucking sergeant Hartman from grandpa. we cooked in 102° kitchens. ETC.
I fucking hated truck day.
The bosses were on the line the other day because you can always pay one person 24$ and hour then 2 at 30$ for the same amount of work. Boss was literally writhing in pain, had to be relieved like he was 🌽 EL Kurtz. One dude couldn't sweat, etc. heat exhaustion another called in. Those are the days I'm glad I worked in that horrid kitchen.
80% of restaurants are just assembly houses of low angered drudge and the only real good you make is for yourself and the other Tovarishch.
posted by clavdivs at 1:26 AM on July 19 [9 favorites]


Side rant: I will fight anyone that says dishwashing is unskilled labor. It's the most important job in the house at a restaurant.

I did some time with the Auto-Chlor; we're cool
posted by thelonius at 3:11 AM on July 19 [7 favorites]


Serfs up?

Two knouts for every boy
posted by thelonius at 3:11 AM on July 19 [3 favorites]


I've heard that a rule of thumb is that a restaurant spends about a third of its turnover on wages: a third on wages, a third on rent, a third on ingredients; and the owner gets the rest. Whatever the figure is, an increase in wages would only increase the cost of food by that fraction. A 15% raise, say, would be huge for many people – but would only increase the cost of a meal by 5%.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:35 AM on July 19 [8 favorites]


loquacious,

As someone who worked dish at a busy Outback Steakhouse for 3 years... thank you.

I don't think I could PHYSICALLY do that job again. 9-12 hours of nonstop work, heat, sweat, filth, heavy lifting, etc. I've never worked that hard before or since.
posted by Chronorin at 4:17 AM on July 19 [7 favorites]


I've rarely worked food service jobs, and never minded leaving them, voluntarily or otherwise. Being a janitor is better than any restaurant job I've had.
posted by Halloween Jack at 4:36 AM on July 19


(Don't forget - a huge chunk of the workforce DIED. I know you all know that but articles tend to talk more about workforce "reluctance" to return to horrible, low-pay, back-breaking jobs.)
posted by tiny frying pan at 5:23 AM on July 19 [65 favorites]


Not just died - some statistics showed anywhere from 14-18% of people with covid had serious complications, which could translate to long haul and constant exhaustion. So it’s not just those that died, but the great many that are likely still suffering. And there’s no discussion of addressing that.
posted by glaucon at 5:33 AM on July 19 [46 favorites]


Yes, what makes me hopping mad about the propaganda around the current labor shortage has a lot less to do with the way people talk about people not wanting to work or even cutting off the federal UI bump than it does the stubborn refusal to acknowledge that a significant fraction of the labor force has literally died or become disabled because of the pandemic and employer's refusal to implement reasonable a safety measures for those who couldn't work from home.

Employers aren't entirely responsible for their current inability to find workers, but they damn well are responsible for a lot of their current predicament. Simply acknowledging that fact would go a long way towards making me less angry about the whole situation.
posted by wierdo at 5:47 AM on July 19 [13 favorites]


One restaurant near me reopened as a co-op. That might be a more sustainable model as well. https://www.wypr.org/post/joe-squared-worker-owners-say-co-ops-can-provide-stability-struggling-restaurants
posted by postel's law at 6:09 AM on July 19 [11 favorites]


A medieval historian friend saw the McSweeney's piece when I posted it on Twitter and said, "Part of me loves this and part of me wants to shout from the high heavens that serfs usually murdered or left lords who were particularly bad, a fact of which lords in general were acutely aware." He recommended Bond Men Made Free and "The Moral Economy of the English Crowd in the Eighteenth Century" as readings (I've now read the latter and by gum in the eighteenth century the "mobs" enforced the moral obligations of the grain farmer and grain processor to provide grain at a fair price, and the authorities were cautious about offending them).

The "moral economy of the crowd" has for a long time been explicitly on the side of capitalism in the US and I wonder whether a shift might be coming--or at least that capitalists might be slightly less likely to treat their workforce as disposable.
posted by Peach at 6:23 AM on July 19 [33 favorites]


I live in Rhode Island, and work at Johnson & Wales University (which is known for its degree programs in culinary and hospitality).

Where I grew up (MN) I worked in food -- like lots of people. I always said that everyone should have a year or two of "national service" waiting tables or as a line cook or a delivery driver, just to learn some humility and to teach lessons about patience and service.

But with the way that diners and business-owners are treating food & bev workers these days, I can't tell if my idea is dangerously out of date (because of the risks they're being forced to take for so little compensation), or more timely than ever (because *gestures broadly at the headlines*).

I just keep thinking of Vonnegut's line:
"There's only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you've got to be kind.”
posted by wenestvedt at 7:36 AM on July 19 [18 favorites]


It's not just restaurants, but the trucking industry is experiencing a major driver shortage. The hours are long, the work is grueling, and the pay sucks. Local or long haul, it's a tough way to make a living. A lot of drivers lost their jobs during the lock-down, and now they don't want to go back.

Yeah, I was talking with a friend who is an admin for a truck driver training program. She said there’s no driver shortage, there’s a driver retention problem and it’s for the reasons you mentioned. Add to that the way drivers are often treated by their companies, being pushed to do more runs, be away from home longer, and getting reamed for any mistake no matter how small, and it’s not a fun line of work at all. She said that companies would be well served to do everything they could to make the job better, because the “shortage” that’s been going for decades wouldn’t be such an issue if people wanted to stay behind the wheel instead of “fuck it, I’m done with this bullshit.”
posted by azpenguin at 7:41 AM on July 19 [7 favorites]


I've never done the kind of work loquacious describes, but I understand it a lot better for having read that post.
I have and he makes it sound so much better and more important than it seems and anyone treats it while you are actually doing it, which is a wonderfully positive thing.
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:50 AM on July 19 [10 favorites]


The question mark is what will happen with middle-class chain restaurants: Your Chili's, Applebee's, Denny's, etc.

Agreed—it's these middle-class, middle-of-the-road restaurants that are in trouble, whether they realize it or not (and I think they are starting to...).

The fact is that in an equitable society, anything that involves having someone wait on you like a servant is going to be very expensive. As well it should. The story of social progress is the story of human labor becoming progressively more valuable.

What Chilis and Applebees offer is a premium service—including being able to treat the staff like shit—at an economy price. And that only works when you have a nigh-infinite, easily exploitable workforce to shut up and take it. Without that workforce and its baked-in inequality, the whole arrangement stops making sense.

Food preparation in general doesn't have this problem—cafeterias can serve lots of people efficiently, meaning with relatively small amounts of labor inputs—but the specific incarnation of sit-down restaurant service we've gotten used to in the US really can't, and probably shouldn't, survive without major changes.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:26 AM on July 19 [42 favorites]


loquacious: "...something like 30% or more of the customer base at any place I've worked at is kind of an entitled and abusive jerk or otherwise impatient or even just generally unpleasant."

One time the local newspaper's high school sports columnist came in to pick up his order. He was Super White Man Angry about having to wait like ten minutes. He yelled at tiny Amy when she told him, and then shouted at all of us, "Don't you know who I am?!" (We did, and no one cared.)

He snatched up his pizza and stormed out the door. He tried to slam it, but it had an auto-closer arm on it so it wouldn't slam. *sad trombone* So he kicked the glass door.

(A cherry-on-top coda that I just discovered: his "DYKWIA?!" rant makes perfect sense in light of the second sentence of this biography, which he undoubtedly dictated.)
posted by wenestvedt at 8:27 AM on July 19 [9 favorites]


WHERES your Union now

I'm a Frito-Lay Factory Worker. I Work 12-Hour Days, 7 Days a Week

The workers at a Frito-Lay plant in Topeka, Kansas are striking over 84-hour weeks and "suicide" shifts with no raises in sight. Contract talks broke down over an offered 2% raise and 60-hour cap. But this line stands out:
"The last several contracts have featured lump sum bonuses most years, leaving wage rates stagnant for most classifications. Drapeaux-Stewart said he’s only gotten a 77-cent increase over the last 12 years."
Where the hell was the union over the last decade? It took a pandemic to get to this point?
posted by JoeZydeco at 8:28 AM on July 19 [29 favorites]


Okay weird the article (from 1971) that my friend recommended is by E. P. Thompson.
posted by Peach at 8:31 AM on July 19 [1 favorite]


Where the hell was the union over the last decade? It took a pandemic to get to this point?

The waves of teacher-strikes in '17-'19? I don't know about them all, but I know of two that were actually wildcat strikes. One of the most pernicious slurs against unions in the past 30-5- years has been how corrupt and useless they were. When wildcat strikes (and, inshallla, solidarity strikes) are effective, it shows people the original, unadulterated and unstoppable power of organized labor
posted by eclectist at 8:34 AM on July 19 [11 favorites]


So far no one's mentioned the viral story about a restaurant in Maine that shut down for a "day of kindness" because the recent abuse by customers made some staff cry.

(snip)
"As many of our guests and patrons treat us with kindness and understanding, there have been an astronomical influx daily of those that do not, swearing at us, threatening to sue, arguing and yelling at my staff, making team members cry," wrote the owners on Facebook. "This is an unacceptable way to treat any human."
posted by aleph at 8:42 AM on July 19 [20 favorites]


(Side note: Cape Cod is actually in Massachusetts.)

>What Chilis and Applebees offer is a premium service—including being able to treat the staff like shit—at an economy price. And that only works when you have a nigh-infinite, easily exploitable workforce to shut up and take it. Without that workforce and its baked-in inequality, the whole arrangement stops making sense.

+1 to this. Customer behavior tends to get ugliest when the business caters to this "king for a day" impulse.

The pettiest bullies I ever encountered were ~10% of the clientele at a regional theatre where I worked in my late teens/early twenties. They'd buy season tickets not so much to get their fill of art and culture, but so they could go out one night a month and make-believe they were some kind of fancy. The temper tantrums were unlike anything else I've seen -- one woman didn't want to stop yelling slurs at the staff, but she also didn't want to stop eating the snickerdoodle she'd just bought at concessions, so she literally did both at the same time in the middle of the lobby. Crumbs were spraying everywhere.

Now that a third of the country worships a man who pretends to be rich by bullying everyone in sight, I have to figure these aspirational aristrocrats are a much bigger share of the customer base. I'm sure a lot of them really do have plenty of money, but I guarantee you they're insecure about it, because they got it in their heads that by now they should have more. The power they want is always more than they could afford, so they buy what they think is a license to piss on someone with less.
posted by armeowda at 9:24 AM on July 19 [30 favorites]


Where the hell was the union over the last decade?

Not to be overly glib, but... it's been in Kansas, which is right-to-work and has been systemically gutting labor protections for the past hundred years. The rest of the world just pretended like it wasn't happening, and now we all get to watch as the country's media outlets feign shock and dismay at decades of GOP policies coming back to bite us in the ass.
posted by Mayor West at 9:27 AM on July 19 [21 favorites]


Aleph, I hadn't seen that story -- thanks for pointing it out!

It's in Mass., not Maine, but whatever: the important thing is that the owners reacted to the the sense of entitlement of the customers, and chose to protect their staff. Cape Cod is crowded with tourists in the summer, but most of them go away by autumn. It's smart and compassionate and responsible for the owners of Apt Cape Code to take care of their own.
posted by wenestvedt at 9:28 AM on July 19 [2 favorites]


the "mobs" enforced the moral obligations of the grain farmer and grain processor to provide grain at a fair price

The rich countries still generate mobs to maintain cheap gas.
posted by clew at 9:32 AM on July 19 [1 favorite]


One of my favorite things to say to food service staff is to smile and say: Thanks! I'm not in a hurry. More often than not there is a palpable sense of relief.
posted by pol at 9:38 AM on July 19 [15 favorites]


A 15% raise, say, would be huge for many people – but would only increase the cost of a meal by 5%.

Many (if not the majority) of independent restaurant owners would be worried that even a 5% increase in food & beverage prices would cost them customers 'turned off' by such an 'outrageous/usurious' move. Better to go to that 'other place' where the prices remain 'reasonable.' This is the reality of the business. These same owners are also happy to apply explicit surcharges for employ health insurance mandates to the bottom line of a check rather than rolling them into the price of individual food & beverage items, thus giving patrons the opportunity to complain to the staff who benefit from this small additional charge.
posted by Insert Clever Name Here at 10:10 AM on July 19 [2 favorites]


Curious if the drop in J-1 visas is also having an impact folks in this thread are seeing in restaurant/hospitality/tourism (I've read articles that say its having an impact but that J-1's are still coming so not sure if we are really feeling an impact or no).

I only ask as I live in a ski town, and I am waiting for the wonderful combination of people expecting ski resorts to be fully open this season (people barely tolerated the reservation system last year and I saw several take frustration out on ski resort employees - though the prospect of having your season pass removed thankfully kept a lot more folks inline), ridiculously high rent/cost of living increases in mountain towns, combined with people (rightfully) seeking higher pay - and the ski industry relies heavily on the J program. So that all makes for fun times.

I hadn't heard the "tip your liftie" thing really before until I lived here, but then again I only recently found out a lot of ski patrol make minimum wage or only just above it (including you know - the folks who go take explosives' out at 0'dark 30 in the morning for avalanche patrol - and get people down the mountain quickly and efficiently when they get injured - which happened to one of my kids last year, while ski patrol pulled the other kid out of a gully they'd fallen into). So now I'm planning on tipping last liftie each day.
posted by inflatablekiwi at 10:19 AM on July 19 [4 favorites]


I recently donated a car, and the people who were supposed to come tow it off were no-show, no-call. I had to get on the phone with them and the agency that arranged it and poke at them to come get it. I made a big effort to remind myself to be pleasant to everyone and not ruin their day - they were probably volunteers, and they knew their org had screwed up, and there was no need to get snide to anyone to make the thing happen. All this was after I was a bit curt to the Whole Foods cashier as I declined to donate to their brand-washing micro loan charity, and it occurred to me to be more mindful about trying to be nice to people I don't really want to interact with* but need to interact with.

*I mean, I give the money, I take the groceries, "have a nice day" is fine with me, no need to try to become besties at the checkout line. I did stop short of ranting at the guy about how people don't like or trust his employer and about how not everyone thinks micro loans are as clearly wonderful as they have been made out to be in neoliberal media.
posted by thelonius at 10:21 AM on July 19 [1 favorite]


I think I've commented before that my family mostly does not eat out. Once we stopped eating out when our kids were small, starting up again was just kind of weird. I really like great food and was fortunate in my prior career to get to eat a lot of really sublime things.

But having gotten off the 'get your menus, be seated, make your choices, etc. etc.' wagon I just...haven't loved going back to it and find it stressful. I can't afford the kind of Michelin-level food I like (or at least, don't choose to prioritize it.) After that -- I don't actually like being waited on, I don't like the ritual of choosing from the menu, I wonder what cartwheels people are doing at the back to get us our food when I would prefer they be okay.

It was a weird day when I realized I no longer considered eating out a fun thing to do. We still get takeout because I want my kids to have broad palates and to support local business but my new ideal outside food source is a tiny takeout counter with long lines because it's so good.

I feel like some of the pandemic experience and existential trauma really is resulting in a period of time when a lot of people are reconsidering what a good life looks like. At my work we are going through that in our own way, because we deliver services directly to people and that involves a lot of The Public. For us, because we're small and scrappy, I'm not sure where we will land financially but we have been doing a lot of talking about making things work better for everyone.

One interesting thing is I've offered a couple of people promotions from part time to full time, people who in the past I think would have leapt at the opportunity...and they say "no, I'm happy here, I'm good." It's intriguing. I think part of it is the real estate market...they are at the age that I was starting to save for a down payment, and they can't afford anything. I'm not sure though.
posted by warriorqueen at 10:28 AM on July 19 [12 favorites]


.......shouted at all of us, "Don't you know who I am?!" (We did, and no one cared.)

That's sad and comical and cringe all together. Throwing your weight around as a high school sports columnist?

It reminds me of when I had a night job at a University library. I was a temp. One of my few job duties was signing out reserved reading to students. They couldn't check out reserved books; only faculty could. One night I explained this to a woman who puffed herself up like an angry cat and said to me "I am a graduate student". Wow! Never met one go those, here in this....University library. The people who pay me $8/hr to tell you no, you can't check this out, should hear of this.
posted by thelonius at 10:43 AM on July 19 [12 favorites]


A massage therapist recently told me that here in Washington State, over 1,000 massage therapists didn't renew their licenses so far this year. She's getting cold calls from businesses asking her to come work for her, which is new. Being a massage therapist isn't serfdom, but it's physically tough and requires a lot of training.
posted by The corpse in the library at 10:50 AM on July 19 [7 favorites]


Oh, pish-tosh! My chair isn't golden. That would be far too heavy and impractical! It is merely hand-carved from exotic tropical hardwoods.

There is a good deal of gold filigree applied to it, along with rubies and other assorted gemstones, which is where I think some of the confusion might be coming from. But let me tell you, you don't get to be Archbishop Prince-Elector of Augsburg without having a chair befitting of the status!
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 11:01 AM on July 19 [7 favorites]


We had a cool diner close in a nearby (very small) town. It's an historic east coast dining car (was at the 1939 NY World's Fair and has been kept historically accurate and in glorious art deco shape despite being moved cross country to Utah). It's super unique - I've never seen another like it - and anyone travelling to the Uintas mountains would likely know it.

The sort of people who stop it at (and it was busy whenever I went passed) are there for the experience and frankly would and do likely pay a little extra for that. I just wonder how much the comment from the owner in that article that "No one will work, just a total lack of help" weighed against his other comment that "I’d love to pay people $15 an hour, I’d love to give them (health) insurance. It’s the first thing we’d do if we had the money for it". Like if people are stopping for the experience and happily paying $8.95 for a grilled ham and cheese - would they likely pay $10.50 or whatever the cost now plus required amount to attract staff is? I just wonder how many businesses have a mental block about raising prices and testing the market to allow them to pay more.
posted by inflatablekiwi at 11:24 AM on July 19 [7 favorites]


Like if people are stopping for the experience and happily paying $8.95 for a grilled ham and cheese - would they likely pay $10.50 or whatever the cost now plus required amount to attract staff is?

Not sure you can judge from the BlogTO comments for Toronto, but they ran a piece on a restaurant raising their prices and commenters completely flipped out.

The same is true in my industry; any change is pretty fraught.

For one, all the economic churn has made people even more price sensitive if they're not in like, IT or online conferencing or something. My generation has been through two crashes (dot com, 2008) and we are like "as soon as Q2 results slip, pink slips go out."

For two, most people have a price point in their minds that is the 'value' of what they are getting. For us, our business is not quite back to normal. People have to mask up, we have limited availability due to facility limits and social distancing requirements. And there's a risk factor involved. Plus people are shaken out of their regular every day routines.

You put all that together and there are a lot of humans who are questioning whether they can be bothered paying for XYZ and if you do XYZ+10% they are upset. I'm not saying business owners don't have to do it. I'm just saying handwaving the rise in prices doesn't match the reality for a lot of us on the ground.

Also for my family of 5, $2.50 extra for sandwich, plus tax, plus tip, results in $16.63 more each trip - not a dealbreaker but it actually doesn't feel like nothing to me, even on a trip -- maybe especially on a trip -- although I loooove art deco, probably would pay for that.
posted by warriorqueen at 11:47 AM on July 19 [1 favorite]


"Don't you know who I am?!" (We did, and no one cared.)

"Well, we already know you're a jerk but there's rumors floating around that you're also moonlighting as a two bit high school sports writer because you couldn't hack it anywhere else."

Why is it that the people who always pull the do you know who I am line are always not very important at all? Congratulations, you're the Sausage King of Chicago. I don't give a fuck. I'm a nobody and I volunteer at the food bank and feed hungry people.

My favorite at my last restaurant gig as described above was when people tried to pull the "I know the owner" card in any way to pull rank or be a jerk*. "You mean my friend and housemate? The one I live with? The one that loves me because I sometimes do 5 impossible things a day? Yeah, she trusts me enough to tell jerks like you to get the hell out of our bar. You're 86ed. Don't come back. No, seriously, one more word and I'm calling the cops and getting you officially and legally trespassed."

*There are people who come in and say some legitimate variation of "I'm here to meet the owner" but they're very easy to identify because they're usually sales reps with an appointment and they're super polite and not pulling that shit after being a jerk customer.
posted by loquacious at 11:54 AM on July 19 [14 favorites]


But let me tell you, you don't get to be Archbishop Prince-Elector of Augsburg without having a chair befitting of the status!

Sire, that appears to be a chamber pot stool.
posted by loquacious at 11:58 AM on July 19 [8 favorites]


86ed

A late friend and I were drunk one night; he was very drunk. We were bar-hopping. The last one we were at, the bartender cut him off, and he started to argue. I intervened: this is a ship, I explained, and that right there is the captain. The only valid response, if you ever expect to drink here again, is to settle the tab, over-tip, and leave. He knew this when he was in his right mind.
posted by thelonius at 12:08 PM on July 19 [16 favorites]




The short-staffing and limited-seating and long-waiting situation was abundantly evident in my recent travels. We spent a lot of time assuring staff that we didn't mind waiting, we'd come back tomorrow (and always did), of course we understood, we'd make a reservation, no problem at all, to an extent that made me cringe thinking of how much jerkery they'd probably had to endure.

I'm probably a monster because it turns out I don't love anything on earth as much as I love a fantastic meal in a charming restaurant, but I am at least willing to pay for it -- my rent and my restaurant budget are the same percentage of my income, because I'll live in a hole if I'm well-fed --and to fight for the better treatment of everyone working to create that sublimity. I don't understand how someone can think of the person who just brought them a tiny piece of edible heaven as a serf. How are they not a thousand times more skilled, dedicated, and creative than me?
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 12:17 PM on July 19 [8 favorites]


One of my favorite things to say to food service staff is to smile and say: Thanks! I'm not in a hurry. More often than not there is a palpable sense of relief.

This is one of my go tos, and I make the time to mean it. Like, if there's no one in line behind me but they're swamped with take out orders I've even offered to let them take a break first, go get some water or hit the bathroom or otherwise use my food service empathy to help them chill out.

There's a local burger joint that is legitimately blue collar in clientele and staff and they had not one but two deaths in the family at the start of this year, and they've been having a hell of a time with, well, everything, particularly staffing.

Food quality was really suffering from their usual honest but unassuming menu and it was a bummer, but understandable all things considered when I found out about what was actually going on.

Then one day I went back with a friend visiting from out of town and it was back up to what it was, but we walked in in the middle of a major staff blowup in the kitchen about someone not even showing up or pulling their weight and tensions were super high.

My friend and I sat on the patio and enjoyed the heck out of our meal and the whole time I could hear the owners/staff just stressing the fuck out about staffing and it's a sound I know all too well.

When they came by our outside table I stood up and said something like "Hey, I just want to say something..." and even before I could finish my sentence with "...nice" I could see the visible terror on their faces at first, and then softening when I finished my sentence.

"I know you guys have had a really, really hard year. I just want to say I seriously appreciate you guys still being here, and I also want to say the food quality is definitely back up to what it was and I love it. I know you all have been working really hard trying to just keep things afloat with everything going on." and by the time I was finished complimenting them I had the attention of everyone on staff, including the current family owners and they're just like dumbfounded and in awe that someone is being nice to them and had nice things to say.

While kind words and compliments don't pay the bills like a fat tip, they sure do help morale in the kitchen and can totally make someone's day.
posted by loquacious at 12:26 PM on July 19 [36 favorites]


A late friend and I were drunk one night; he was very drunk. We were bar-hopping. The last one we were at, the bartender cut him off, and he started to argue. I intervened: this is a ship, I explained, and that right there is the captain. The only valid response, if you ever expect to drink here again, is to settle the tab, over-tip, and leave. He knew this when he was in his right mind.

Yep, and what a lot of chucklefucks don't realize is that bar staff or owners all talk to each other and have each other on speed dial. It's really common that especially problematic customers invoke a response that involves calling the other local bars and letting them know someone is a total jerk and is cut off or 86'ed and then said chucklefuck is surprised when they're cut off at every bar within walking distance and their reputation is non-figuratively preceding them.

A lot of bar patrons have no idea how stressful it is to be a permitted server and why bartenders are no fun about cutting someone off or dealing with someone intoxicated. They don't understand that someone who holds a permit is personally and legally civilly liable for overserving or other issues.

In many/most states if you overserve a customer and they go off and drive drunk and crash into a busload of school children or whatever, that every single family group can individually sue them for damages with no limit or cap to the damages.

It's incredibly stressful and financially risky to be a licensed server in most places in the US, and "bartender insurance" isn't a thing for a reason because no insurance company will touch that pile of liability with a hundred foot pole.
posted by loquacious at 12:34 PM on July 19 [18 favorites]


For one, all the economic churn has made people even more price sensitive if they're not in like, IT or online conferencing or something.

You're probably right - though if I was a business owner (I'm not), given consumer-price inflation (in the US) is running north of 5% and is on the news broadcasts seemingly every night I would think raising prices now in consumer services/hospitality, to the extent its needed to adjust wages to fair living wages etc., is probably at its most explainable point in a long time. Safety in numbers in raising prices etc - you're certainly not the only one doing it. Tell your staff what you are doing and show them how it benefits them (where show includes that they actual feel it in their paychecks), so they can help explain to customers if queried. But telling a reporter your Vegan restaurant is jumping prices 15% so they go write a piece on that - that seems pretty likely to bring out the crazy.....as those comments reflect.
posted by inflatablekiwi at 12:35 PM on July 19 [1 favorite]


Also, not to abuse the edit window:

If you ever witness a bartender cut someone off or 86 them completely from a bar, pay attention to what the bartender does next.

If they immediately get on the phone or start texting someone even if there's a line of people at the bar - they're probably not slacking off or venting to a friend or something. It's likely they're calling or texting the bars or bartenders they know who are on shift around them to warn them about the cutoff and that said patron and/or chucklefuck should not be served.

You can also witness this and/or deduce this from the other end. If a bartender or door person immediately denies them entry or service they've probably already been warned about said patron.

I for one think this is utterly hilarious and very rewarding to watch. A couple of times I've followed cut off patrons around just to watch the shit show from a safe distance, or even communicate with little more than a subtle head nod to a bartender or door person that yes this is the person who just got 86ed from our bar, because we all know each other.
posted by loquacious at 12:44 PM on July 19 [10 favorites]


Not sure if it's widespread, but I've also been noticing on Yelp an uptick of people complaining about restaurants skimping or cutting down on portion sizes or the pricier ingredients in a dish. I haven't seen it myself, so is this a real thing, and does it actually save that much money?

And if the owner does the right thing and raise wages, hires more staff, staffs sane hours, etc., is this just kind of a reflexive belt tightening?
posted by FJT at 12:52 PM on July 19 [2 favorites]


loquacious: Why is it that the people who always pull the do you know who I am line are always not very important at all?

A close relative to these are the The Customer Is Always Right people.

At the same job, our manager Frank always stood up for us -- he was a quality human. (Think of Bob Ross with tinted eyeglasses and a cigarette holder. He was so awesome.) One time someone actually yelled TCIAR and Frank slowly began "Not always..." but the person stomped out before Frank could elaborate any further.

(Looks like Frank's most-recent gig in Nashville closed down: story here. And I am just discovering that he died in January -- RIP, you goofy dude.)
posted by wenestvedt at 12:52 PM on July 19 [6 favorites]


I wondered about the portion size thing, too. Never mind how many restaurants serve way more food than an average person needs to eat in one sitting (or one day).

It's weird how, when the shrink-ray hits our groceries (priced the same, scaled-down packages or fewer items per box), people just shrug and accept it, if they notice at all. Heaven help us, though, if people can't leave an obscene amount of prepared food on the table, or schlep home a "doggie bag" that will just rot in their fridge anyway.
posted by armeowda at 1:02 PM on July 19 [4 favorites]


In many/most states if you overserve a customer and they go off and drive drunk and crash into a busload of school children or whatever, that every single family group can individually sue them for damages with no limit or cap to the damages.

This is why I stopped working in food service when I moved to Oregon.
posted by aniola at 1:16 PM on July 19 [2 favorites]


Everyone reassured me that I was being over-the-top and that nobody would ever actually blame me for someone else's death. I was not reassured.
posted by aniola at 1:30 PM on July 19 [6 favorites]


I spent 15 years in restaurant kitchens. I worked every job from dishwasher to executive chef, and even got a Culinary Arts degree along the way. I worked in everything from small college town pizza places where you hosed out the bathrooms at the end of the night to the kinds of places where people were making reservations six months in advance and arrived in tuxes.

Nothing would make me happier than to see the restaurant industry (in the US, at least) just burn to the ground. I think that's the only way to ever see it rebuild in a way that wasn't exploitive by default. I don't have much hope in that happening, though.

I've been out of the food service industry for almost 25 years now, and sometimes I'll have a random memory pop into my mind of something just so totally fucked up that I know the people I work with now, most of whom have never worked food service or retail, would ever believe happened. I read comments here from people who have worked in the business describing something totally fucked up, and I realize that there are people reading those comments and going, "...there is no way that happened," while I'm reading them going, "..oh, you too? I remember that one time where..."

About the only good thing to come out of that time in my life was that the woman who hired me for my first IT job said that she liked to hire people coming from retail and food service, because, "...nothing that happens here will ever be as stressful or as crazy as where you're coming from. All those skills you learned but didn't realize you were learning - sense of urgency, how to work under pressure, how to be organized, how to deal with people - will be the things that make you stand out in this field, especially compared to your coworkers who have never once gotten their hands dirty." And to be honest, that's been true throughout my IT career. Whenever I hear someone complaining that something is stressful, I just think..."you have no idea.."
posted by ralan at 1:54 PM on July 19 [41 favorites]


There is indeed insurance against dram shop liability, and employers are often required to indemnify employees for acts within their scope of employment (depending on the particulars of the incident) but getting into it is probably a derail.

It's definitely a potentially serious liability, whether for the bartender or the bar, and not something to take lightly.
posted by snuffleupagus at 2:10 PM on July 19


(Here's an Oregon lawyer's explainer -- in that state, the bar is required to be insured against it for at least $300K and this guy says $1M is common.)
posted by snuffleupagus at 2:17 PM on July 19


Yeah, you can cut off visibly drunk people, but..... people with a high tolerance for alcohol are your bread-and-butter bar customers. Some of them could probably compose a villanelle with a BAC above .2%.
posted by thelonius at 2:21 PM on July 19 [6 favorites]


Then you don't violate the prohibition on serving a perceptibly intoxicated patron and will not be liable for harm to the hypothetical DUI victims. State law will vary, in some states serving some number of drinks to a person over a certain amount of time could be probative of negligence or recklessness without visible intoxication. That doesn't appear to be OR's law.

What OR does have, as well as many other states, is equivalent social host liability. Something to be aware of when hosting parties, but not really pertinent to this thread.
posted by snuffleupagus at 2:41 PM on July 19 [1 favorite]


I came away from an OLCC alcohol serving permit class very unconvinced that I would not be liable. I'm great at following rules, and the whole class was basically "if you do this, it's your fault. If you don't do that, it's your fault. We think these frequently-imperceptible details are perceptible. It's your fault, it's your fault, it's your fault."

All I did was ace the class and learn the lesson they taught me. If I want to serve alcohol in Oregon and the person I served a single serving of alcohol to goes and kills someone because they were drunk, it's my fault.
posted by aniola at 2:54 PM on July 19 [4 favorites]


Then you don't violate the prohibition on serving a perceptibly intoxicated patron and will not be liable for harm to the hypothetical DUI victims.

OK, but I could do without the part where a jury has to agree with that
posted by thelonius at 3:01 PM on July 19 [4 favorites]


To aniola's point, the default behavior for 99.999% of every place I worked would be to try and push the responsibility off onto the bartender / server, even if they had been instructed by the employer to serve the customer, even if the restaurant had insurance for just this scenario.

The only way that the owner would assume responsibility would have been if a court had ordered them to, and no bartender or server is going to have the ability to fight their employer in court to get to that resolution.

Hell, I had a former employer try to claim (after I quit) that I was personally financially liable for the produce I ordered as part of my job, because they were tight that month and couldn't pay their bills. I had the produce company calling me at home trying to collect, but once I told them what was going on they backed off and went after my former employer.

The point being that I had an employer try to foist off about $600 worth of tomatoes, carrots, and lettuce on me. Imagine what they would have done if it had been a dram shop case...
posted by ralan at 3:09 PM on July 19 [9 favorites]


It's rare, but people sometimes get arrested for serving alcohol. Even if I knew I'd have an insurance company covering the payout if I got sued (assuming there wasn't obvious gross negligence, anyway), I'd still not be willing to take that kind of risk. I prefer not to be one particularly reckless or just unlucky dipshit away from prison time.

Financial liability is one thing. It sucks, but it won't completely ruin your life as long as you attempt to deal with it to the best of your ability and isn't even that much bother (relatively speaking) if you don't have significant assets. Possibly getting locked up is another matter entirely.
posted by wierdo at 3:23 PM on July 19 [1 favorite]


I met my hairdresser the day I landed in Portland, OR, the first Saturday in January of 2015. We've had great conversations every six weeks since then, talking about our families, politics, our lives and our plans. One year when I was unemployed she only charged me half of what I owed at every appointment.

During the pandemic she took a second job grooming dogs to make ends meet (she loves dogs and has bred and showed her own). In April she decided to move full time to dog grooming since there's a constant demand for it, way more than hairdressing which she's been doing for decades. She was kind enough to give me her very last hair appointment.

It's felt like a breakup.

What OR does have, as well as many other states,

One of the few things I appreciate about Portland is that bars are required to serve food until closing time. Presumably a stomach full of greasy tots in a drunk person could slightly mitigate DUIs and accidents.
posted by bendy at 8:26 PM on July 19 [5 favorites]


Why one can't have a hooka bar and restaurant just baffles.
posted by clavdivs at 9:36 PM on July 19


...and it occurred to me to be more mindful about trying to be nice to people I don't really want to interact with but need to interact with.
posted by thelonius


One of my favorite things to say to food service staff is to smile and say: Thanks! I'm not in a hurry. More often than not there is a palpable sense of relief.
posted by pol


Coming up to my 7th decade I can say for sure that one of the golden rules in life is:

Don't piss off the frontline staff.

It is rarely their fault. Got a complaint? Take it to the manager/owner, or your lawyer.

That rule applies across the board. Eating at a restaurant, buying a carpet, getting the car serviced, being a patient in a hospital, booking a plumber, talking to your kid's teacher. Whatever. All the same.

Doesn't mean accept shit service/product/attitude, or lay on the syrup thick. Just show a little basic respect for them, and that you understand that they are operating under constraints they can do nothing about.

Apart from anything else most frontline staff appreciate it and will go the extra step to help you, and with a smile. And vice versa, if you disrespect and mistreat them there is usually some way or other they can pay you back. (I used to work in a hospital, and trust me, you really really don't want to piss of the nurses.)

What the vast majority of frontline staff want is an efficient and productive interaction with their customers/clients. They don't want to waste your time, and they don't want you to waste their time.

The customer is not always right. Sometimes the customer is an obnoxious self-entitled arse rag of a nobody, who deserves only to be told to fuck off and never return.

And teach your damn kids this too, from day one. Neither you nor they are special.
posted by Pouteria at 10:18 PM on July 19 [10 favorites]


"The "moral economy of the crowd" has for a long time been explicitly on the side of capitalism in the US and I wonder whether a shift might be coming--or at least that capitalists might be slightly less likely to treat their workforce as disposable."

It's already happening. There are too many people in the world not to maintain kind clients or managers.

I don't know why someone would believe their employee or client would continue to work with them, while they don't maintain at least basic decency. They don't need to be best friends, but there's literally no reason to implement any additional unkindness. The employer has nothing without the employed.
posted by firstdaffodils at 11:36 PM on July 19


I don't know why someone would believe their employee or client would continue to work with them, while they don't maintain at least basic decency.

Because they know that employee has very few alternatives to that one shitty job, I guess. Hopefully, that will change as service sector employers begin to realise the balance of power between them and their workers has shifted.
posted by Paul Slade at 1:26 AM on July 20 [3 favorites]


Throughout the pandemic, anytime I read about essential workers or shortages of service employees I always think of the restaurant scene in Fight Club, “ We cook your meals. We haul your trash. We connect your calls. We drive your ambulances. We guard you while you sleep. Do not fuck with us.”

I’ve done restaurant work and I hated every minute of it because of the customers. I would rather be a roofer in the hot Florida sun than deal with those assholes ever again.
posted by photoslob at 12:37 PM on July 20 [2 favorites]


I don't know why someone would believe their employee or client would continue to work with them, while they don't maintain at least basic decency.

Clients? Usually it's clients who are apt to treat the provider of a personal service like a servant, demanding more and bemoaning every cent as unearned. Clients are functionally employers, and too often it's the only relationship in their lives that makes them feel empowered, with predictable results.
posted by snuffleupagus at 12:45 PM on July 20


I think "the customer is always right" is an idea that had good intentions but becomes really pernicious when it's taken up by entitled assholes, as it often is. For me, the quickest way to find out if someone is a jerk is to see how that person treats restaurant employees.

It just makes me sad to read all of these stories. It just seems like such a no brainer that people who do these tough jobs deserve decent pay, health insurance, and kindness. A local restaurant got a lot of praise when they were encouraging people to donate for health costs when one of their employees got cancer, and all I could think was why the fuck didn't they provide health insurance? I would gladly pay more for restaurant meals for employees to be compensated fairly. I know not everyone feels that way, but I just don't understand it.
posted by FencingGal at 1:43 PM on July 20 [1 favorite]


I did not expect to come into this thread and feel impostor syndrome about my time in the dishpit almost 30 years ago.
posted by majick at 2:54 PM on July 20 [8 favorites]


Late thread late night anecdote. Tuesdays are brutal for us. The Atlantic steakhouse is closed, Oceanview in OB is closed, and one or two other places are closed on Tuesday here. We close Sunday and Monday to give ourselves a break, these places must do it Monday Tuesday? I just don't know.

Tonight we got swamped. I went on a 18 party wait list. The kitchen could not keep up even though we set the curbside pickup time at over an hour. Yes, curbside is still cranking. We opened the outside seating section, but only one busser to cover ten lanes, the inside, and the outside so if I wanted to clear the waitlist I had to bus and turn tables myself.

It sucked. At one point I was so busy just dealing with people at the podium, and the ringing off the hook phone, I barely had time to call the people on the waitlist. We did some damage control for people who waited for too long for curbside, we even had one cranky old couple walk away from their outside table mere seconds before there Alfredo entree and pulled pork pizza came to the pass.

Sure we put up a big sales number. BUT IT SUCKED. We need a better plan for Tuesdays. Maybe just do curbside from 5-7, maybe not open outside on Tuesday even if the weather is great.

end rant.
posted by vrakatar at 10:00 PM on July 20 [7 favorites]


And the killer thing is, vrakatar, that the business is so mercurial that any extra staffing or hours of planning or meticulous staging that you do can get thrown out the window if it rains, or when the busy season ends in a few weeks, or if COVID spikes again, there's an E.Coli scare that recalls all your veg, or if some dude in a Boston Whaler crashes into the ferry dock and blocks inbound visitors, or or or....
posted by wenestvedt at 8:06 AM on July 21 [2 favorites]


The lead-off question in this week's chat with Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsema was about service:
The thing I miss most about the before times is the feeling of being "taken care of" by restaurant staff. I was welcomed and wanted from the minute I walked in until after I paid my check. My meal was as much about ambience as superb food, and the staff treated me like a guest in their home. Lately I feel like a bother. Choices are limited, and no one wants to answer questions about the menu. I have to ask for condiments two and three times before they're grudgingly dropped off without a word. There's always a wait, even with a reservation, and no one is sorry about any mistakes. Do you think the old style of being pampered when dining out will ever come back?
I think that person should try being a server for a while.
posted by fedward at 1:13 PM on July 21 [7 favorites]


I've also been noticing on Yelp an uptick of people complaining about restaurants skimping or cutting down on portion sizes

Assholes are always complaining on Yelp - and from what I can see they only got more entitled and more angry during the pandemic. If they think the restaurant industry was going to come out of the last year with no effects and still serve then heart-stopping portions for a pre-pandemic prices, then they are just plain stupid.

The thing I miss most about the before times is the feeling of being "taken care of" by restaurant staff.

Same for this fucker. He expects to be pampered! What a dip shit.
posted by See you tomorrow, saguaro at 2:50 PM on July 21 [1 favorite]


Eh, it depends. If you are spending a couple hundred on a high end meal and tipping $40, it's reasonable to expect a certain level of service. But if you are in your basic local restaurant, don't expect to be fawned over anymore.
posted by tavella at 3:17 PM on July 21 [4 favorites]


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