Restaurant Workers and Fair Pay

I recently read a story in Time discussing how the average restaurant worker makes just over nine dollars an hour which is below the national poverty level for a family of four. They point out that six of the ten lowest paying jobs in the country are restaurant jobs and quotes nearly the whole story from this guy Saru Jayaraman who just happens to run an organization (which I can only assume pays his salary) whose goal is to point out how awful the big mean restaurant industry is and how they should stop sucking. I wonder if Mr. Jayaraman has any employees who make less money than him…and why?) The thing that bothers me is that there were no alternate views or opinions offered, so here are a few of mine.

Let’s just go ahead and double or triple staff pay, I think we all know that cost isn’t going to be swallowed by the restaurant …it’s going to be placed on your tab. I know it’s easy to think well geez I’d be willing to pay a few extra bucks to know my wait staff was making a living wage but it’s never that simple or inexpensive. You won’t just be paying extra for your waiter, but also the prep cook, dishwasher, runner, porter, bartender, bar back and other assorted staff.

You choose your station in life, and nobody asked you work in a restaurant. If you chose to work in one, you may either need a check-up from the neck-up…or you may want to choose wisely.  You see you could work in a diner forever, but expect diner pay forever.  Conversely you can work your haggis off and start in the diner, work your way into the full serve restaurant and make your way up the food chain into a higher paying restaurant. It’s been done by folks who didn’t have two nickels to rub together, and it can be done again.

Also the poor wait staff…ask any line cook who’s worked a night with five to six hundred covers how bad the wait staff has it. Working a six or eight hour shift and walking out making more money than the people who cooked the food and worked double the hours…boo hoo poor you. When was the last time you went back and tossed the cooks a twenty spot for making you a few hundred bucks? I’m guessing Jesus was wearing short pants, because I can’t remember it either.

Averaging all restaurant workers wages is like averaging all stock brokers’ wages, some of them aren’t very good at what they do and some are but the bottom line is the shittiest stock broker is going to skew the numbers much lower than it actually is. That being said the restaurant industry with a better than 60% failure rates probably has more than its share of non-productive, unmotivated work force which skews the number far lower than it is. If you don’t believe me check out a local coffee shop and the barista sprawled out across the counter talking about the sweet blueberry kush he scored last night, and how beat it is that you have to pay for Phish tickets.

Now as far as Tom Colicchio being the industry champion and paying sick days and great wages I think that’s great.  I’m guessing when you charge a bare minimum of 45 bucks a head (that’s assuming the customers only order water and don’t tip) it makes it a bit easier. But just because you charge that much doesn’t mean people are going to eat there. I know restaurants serving delicious local, seasonal, sustainable food for big bucks and they’re going broke doing it. Why don’t we tell those chefs that they’re an overbearing slave master and they should pay their staff more, even though in a couple situations the chefs hadn’t paid themselves in months.

In the story Mr. Jayaraman talks about how women and minorities don’t have the opportunity to get the really sweet jobs in the industry. This is where I think Mr. Jayaraman is as crazy as a shithouse rat, because anybody in the industry will tell you you’re high when you ask “where are all the sweet jobs at?” In a goodly number of restaurants I’ve been in all over the country “non-minorities” are the minorities. Chefs/owners aren’t stupid, the faster, better and more efficient you work the better the position you get. This isn’t a union job where seniority makes the person, seniority here doesn’t mean shit.

I know it’s wonderful to think all things in life are fair, that everybody wins and there are only blue ribbons and marshmallow clouds… but we all know that’s bullshit. There is no such thing as fair. Sometimes the lion catches the zebra and sometimes it doesn’t. Life serves up a barrage of alternating kicks to the balls and shit sandwiches. Everyone gets a little of both , but some work more and get less…and some work less and get more. Raising the wage a hundred fold isn’t going to change a person’s motivation; it’s only going to raise the price of the cheeseburger.

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Podcast with Chef Julie Cutting

Ok so I’m a moron… this will not come as a surprise to most… the “cookbook” I was trying to reference in the interview is by Nathan Myhrvold and the title is Modernist Cuisine http://www.amazon.com/Modernist-Cuisine-Art-Science-Cooking/dp/0982761007 

I had a great time with Chef Cutting and hopefully you will as well… we discuss how to wipe cow noses, what not to wear on your first day of culinary school and get down to the serious business of whether or not chef Cutting owns a banana peeler. Enjoy. 

http://k003.kiwi6.com/hotlink/8g6afdu909/chef_julie_cutting.mp3 

http://kiwi6.com/file/8g6afdu909

 

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New Modern Mexican

When I was in junior high, or middle school, or whatever the hell they’re calling seventh grade now… I had my first taco. I wasn’t lucky enough to be born in a Texas border town so I had the misfortune of my first taco being served in one of those crunchy yellow taco shells, with what I am hoping was orange greasy hamburger. (If it was zebra/kangaroo I don’t want to know) This taco also had shredded lettuce, tomatoes, yellow cheddar, sour cream and of course taco sauce.

Fast forward 18 years and I am going to eat for the first time in a real Mexican restaurant. Imagine my shock when my tacos arrived and someone had apparently forgotten my crunchy shell, lettuce, cheese, ground beef, chopped tomato, yellow cheese and what’s up with this soapy tasting green stuff? No Taco sauce? I thought this place served Mexican food!

Yep I was that gringo but not for long, on weekends I’d eat bowls of menudo when I was hung over, or was invited to a lunch or dinner with a Mexican friend, because he knew I was so far from my family and home. They were almost always simple meals, yet somehow amazingly complex in flavor. I was in Houston for 4 years and because of it am spoiled to the point of being a Tex-Mex snob.

Now back in New England I’m fortunate to be within twelve miles of a decent taco place that actually knows the difference between a flour and corn tortilla, and has lengua on the menu. The place is great if you want tacos but if you want something more substantial, there is nothing to be had for quite some distance.

I’m not looking for something you’d find in Oaxaca and I don’t need to have huitlacoche on the menu, but just don’t piss on my head and tell me it’s rain. I mean seriously one place in town charges twelve dollars for bagged tortilla chips and microwaved toppings, or 17 dollars for a frozen pepper stuffed frozen chicken & garbage from a can and authentic frozen margaritas with sour mix.

The Mexican food that I love is like most cultures, born out of poverty and availability.  It’s hard to get a sour mix tree to grow in Jalisco all they could get were stupid lime trees. Cheap meats cooked for a long time with simple fresh local ingredients for maximum calories and flavor. How do the people running these restaurants sleep at night? I’ll tell you, because people like us frequent these places because we’re not smart enough to say no thank you. It’s not just Mexican it’s most restaurants and we’re too stupid to notice or even worse, care.

We’ve been trained to think this way with things like precooked bacon, frozen egg squares, canned sauce, fake cheese, “scrod”, dinosaur chicken fingers, canned soup, black olives and fake feta on your nothing Greek about it salad.. Don’t you ever get tired of not knowing where your food is coming from, or of someone putting a steaming pile of rhino droppings on your plate and smiling when they put it in front of you?

I say all this because I saw where a “New Modern Mexican Restaurant” is coming to my town in the near future and have figured out New Modern Mexican is code for “Food Mexican’s Wouldn’t Eat.” As for me, I’m tired of seeing these places and the sheep that eat in them. I don’t mean you shouldn’t ever eat something bad, but at least make it real food.  90% of all restaurants in the United States are garbage and you know it. Think about that next time you’re tucking into a cool ranch taco.