HOME > Chowhound > Not About Food >


Beelzebub has a devil put aside for me

  • 9

Are All Restaurants Lousy Employers?

I write this in the wake of Monday’s decision by Judge Lamberth of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia refusing to dismiss the complaint by current and former employees of Galileo and BEBO Trattoria. Among the allegations: that paychecks frequently bounced, were void or were unreasonably hard to cash; that female employees were paid less than their male counterparts; that employees were not paid overtime; and that employees were sometimes paid less than minimum wage. (C.A. No. 08-00621-RCL -- the documents in the case are all public record and, with luck, I have attached the decision correctly.) While I have no direct knowledge of the facts of this case or the truth of the specific allegations (which remain to be proven in court), they do jibe with my understanding of restaurant life in general.

Anyone out there have any special restaurant/food service horror stories they would like to share?

Also, was the thread title reference too obscure?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
    1. Not restaurants specifically, though I've worked for a few chefs who I enjoyed envisioning someplace very warm.

      1. Not obscure at all, no. Probably one of the best known rock songs ever.
        As for the restaurant question, absolutely not. Quite a leap to connect a few lawsuits you hear about to assuming all of the thousands of restaurants in this country are bad employers.

        1. Lots of restaurants (esp. national chains) are notorious for some of their, ahem, "employment practices".

          Heck, in one very well publicized case invovling Cheesecake Factory an employee alleged that he was sexually harrassed by his gay supervisors.

          But really, it's not just limited to restuarants. Lots of companies have employment issues - it's sort of a fact of life, unfortunately.

          1. There are good, honest restaurant employers that treat their staff well. And there are those with no regard for anyone but themselves and their bottom line. I believe you will find this true in any industry.

            My favorite restaurant boss was one who on a very slow day got down on his hands and knees and started scrubbing baseboards. When I offered to help, he refused. He said he couldn't let me do that when I was making $2/hour.

            1. I don't want to complain too loudly; I use my real pic in my profile and don't make too much of a secret about where I've worked... but yes, restaurants (and other food service jobs) are pretty lousy employers. Even with the best intentions and the purest, noblest devotion to food and service, food jobs are harsh.
              Much of this comes from a few common threads.
              People don't want to pay too much for food, therefore it has been built into the system that labor is only a quarter to a third (if you're lucky) of a restaurant's expenses, though labor is arguably the most important thing other than customers. Cooks are not well paid- any carpenter, plumber, electrician, roofer, craftsman of any type starts I'd estimate $2-5/hr more, even at an apprentice level, but cooks in mid range places will never really earn more than $15/hr in their whole career.
              Kitchens and service jobs are dangerous and taxing. kind of self explanatory... no matter how nice the place is overall, kitchens are hot, cramped and full of danger and serving is all about carrying heavy loads on your feet for an entire shift. this links in well to:
              Cooks are masters of "cognitive dissonance"- they can convince themselves over and over again "I wouldn't be doing this if I didn't love it." Just read some Bourdain, Ruhlman, Buford, etc: the phrase "you can call in dead" is pretty much the only reason a cook would ever not show up to work. Now that I'm out of kitchens, I cannot believe how constantly, persistently injured I was for months and still showed up for work, eager to do it again. I still, however, will spend a day off on my feet from dawn until midnight to put together "a casual dinner party"
              Even in this age of celebrity chefs and the newfound passion for home cooking, service workers are still regarded as a different, lower class citizen; they work when you play, their hours are weird, and they can't compete financially with their peers: a 25 yr old assistant advertising clerk could be bringing home 40-60k, a cook will be struggling to bring home 25.

              You asked for a horror story:
              In the early spring of 2005, I was working for one of Chicagoland's best full service caterers. I was nominally just a member of the Hot food production line, but my duties included preparing the food for our guest tastings (2-5 a day), and acting as an on-site event chef for parties of 8-50. I typically worked 12-15 hour days in the shop m-f with one day off, then would run a party on the weekend. It was typical for me to work 60 hours in a week for $10.50/hr, party pay was 13.50. during the period I am describing, I was at the peak of my game- learning more about food and cooking than I thought possible, getting more skillful at leading, directing, cooking, etc. I had a strained back, and wore a brace from the moment I woke up to the moment I went to bed, I had a walking cast on my right foot from a stress fracture in December '04 that didn't heal fully until August '05, I had an ingrown toenail on my left foot that was so infected, i had to have the nail removed, blisters and calluses would peel off of my feet and hands every week, and our "insurance" wasn't covering any of it (except my back, not the brace just the one doctor's visit).
              Meanwhile, my roommate at the time, an assistant salesman at the company, was bringing home 45k for sitting at a computer and making phone calls, then attending the events in a suit and doing a lot of talking. The saleswoman he worked for was one of the best, and when they hit $1million, they got a day at the Peninsula Hotel's Spa. The top sales team of the year could win a 5 day vacation. The kitchen made breakfast once a week for the whole company, and lunch every day on top of our usual daily tasks. Then the company decided they were spending too much money, and hired 2 more unskilled cooks, split our team into 2 shifts, and banned all overtime. My biggest concern at the time was I hope I work the Morning shift, because I have too many tastings to prepare before noon.

              Like I said, this is one of the best caterers in Chicago: the food is top notch, the facilities, though getting crowded, were in good repair and full of if not top-of-the-line, at least decent equipment. We had bilingual executives that were as fair to our Latino coworkers as the gringos, and men and women both had ample opportunities to climb the ranks. This was the best cooking job I ever had in terms of personal development, but looking back, I CANNOT BELIEVE I was willing to put up with that for 3 years.

              Sorry for the rant.

              I can't believe I'm back; I just wanted to say, I liked this job, too! I was friendly with my bosses and the folks in the offices. Everyone in the company was among the hardest-working most productive people i have ever met and it is still my basis for what "hard work" means. I have a college degree, I CHOSE this career path (before I realized line cooking is a dead-end). I still work in food service, albeit in a different capacity, for slighlty better pay.

              1. Very long time lurker but first time poster on this site. Without saying too much, I know for a FACT that at least some of those allegations are true (checks bouncing being the one that stands out in my mind).

                It seems in this case that the chef cared more about money in his pocket and keeping his legacy alive than the welfare of his employees, and it has started to become apparent through the many service issues his current restaurant is having. Bottom line: people who are not paid do not stick around. Those that do don't care about the restaurant.

                Love the Queen reference, by the way!

                1. I worked at a yuppy counter service backery, soup, sand, and pasta place. Minimum wage...($4.50 or so at the time). Called down to the office and I was informed that my drawer was off $400, and they would be keeping my checks until it was covered. I was very upset, since this was more than 1 months wages and I didn't know that was illegal at the time. Once I stopped crying and got back to work I received a phone call ... the manager had kept the total running at the end of the night, so they had tried to balance for 2 days not 1. No apology for calling me a thief. The same place didn't know how to write a schedule either. I had another job with a set schedule, which I routinely reminded mgmt. of, but I was often scheduled for that time, or else when my shift was over there would be nobody to relieve me. This cost my attendance bonus at second job. They would also change the posted schedule on Tuesday after I worked Monday so that I would have an additional shift Wednesday, when I left thinking I didn't work til Thursday. No phone call though. About a week before I quit I got a 10 cent raise.

                  1. Wow. Some really thoughtful and interesting responses. Unfortunately, my effort to link the decision to the original post failed. I want to point out that the restaurants in question are in the Washington, DC area (to those who haven't figured it out), with B.T. in Northern VA and the now-closed Galileo in DC. The original post was moved here from the DC/Balt. board, presumably because it did not directly relate to "food", but rather to the people who make and serve it.

                    Fortunately for me, my last restaurant employment was more than 30 years ago. While I did not love it, it was not because I was treated unfairly by the boss. The same cannot be said of others I have known in the trade.