UnderCover Waitress: May 2012

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Competition on the Dining Room Floor

Ask the Waitress!

Competition between waitresses on the dining room floor is bad enough without complicating the issue.

I learned the hard way that safety goggles were necessary while keeping my back to the wall. I have seen competitive waitresses sabotage others, and the result sometimes is perfectly competent waitresses no longer have shifts. There are people who will scratch eyes out over the best shifts, the good section, and the big parties. It is sad and difficult, because the very people who are your co-workers and colleagues are also competing with you for resources.

There are two ways to keep these "Lord of the Flies" -esque shenanigans to a minimum. One is to have objective management set firm and consistent boundaries. The other, in keeping with this, is to have well-defined job descriptions. People at work need to know what behavior is expected of them, what behavior will be punished, and who is in charge.

Received a question from Florida about a husband and wife team who own a restaurant. He is the head chef, she is the front of house manager. This owner/manager chooses to take on an additional role: she is also a waitress.

It seems the situation is that the owner takes all the good tables and leaves her staff with the rest. I don't doubt the accuracy of the question-asker's observation that the owner is hogging all the good tables for herself, and therefore making more in tip money.

The staff at this restaurant perceive that the owner is taking advantage of her power and treating the staff in a less than equitable way. However, to the best of my knowledge, in Florida this owner/manager is not breaking the law by taking tables.

It is usually legal for a hostess or manager to make a judgement call that the restaurant is busy, the waitresses are in the weeds and she must take a table. The dynamics of this may be different from restaurant to restaurant. Most important, however, is that if it is a common occurrence the restaurant needs another waitress.

We had a new hire working as a hostess who, thankfully, didn't last long. She took my table without telling me. In other words, I fell behind and she got a table started for me. I said, "thanks," caught up and did my job. Funny, every time I approached that deuce they said the hostess had done x, y, or z already. If we weren't so busy I would have recognized the red flag, but it was still my table. After all was said and done, the hostess said she just kept the tip on that table because she did all the work.

Her legitimate choices were to either tell me she was keeping the table, or not. If not, I wait on the table. Instead, she decided to not communicate with me, do my job for me when not necessary (which is insulting) and, essentially, steal my tip. She should have been reprimanded and required to give it back, but that didn't happen.

When waitresses fight over who gets a table, the hostess or manager is in a position to decide. A good manager will make clear that you will abide by her decision if you wish to work in that restaurant. I don't mean that a good manager doesn't listen to employee concerns; just the opposite. A good manager is interested in what her employees think. But the buck has to stop with someone, and that person is the manager.

When that very person decides to work as a waitress while managing the restaurant, the manager gives herself a conflict of interest. She puts herself in the position of allowing her staff to perceive that she will take advantage of them. This destroys employee morale and causes employees to distrust management.

I am sorry to report to the question-asker that the situation you are in is unpleasant and must feel very unfair. The manager, however, is not breaking any laws that I know of. What she is doing may be "penny wise and pound foolish." She may be making tip money now, but by alienating her employees she may be hurting her business in the long run.

Best of luck to you.

My disclaimer: I am not a lawyer and I don't give legal advice! If any readers have a situation in which they need legal counsel, please do find a lawyer in your area to speak with. I'm just a stupid waitress. ;-D haha.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Sidework in Florida

Ask the Waitress!

An overworked waitress in Florida is wondering which additional tasks she can be required to do. It seems her employer has cut bus staff and has no hostess. Her "waitress" job duties now include:

* clear tables
* scrape and stack dishes in kitchen
* clean table (and I assume set the table for the next seating)
* seat customers
* take payment.

She doesn't mention answering the telephone, but I wonder who is doing that...?

I am assuming that she still has the typical waitress side work, such as polishing silverware, polishing glassware, putting clean dishes away, and the various and sundry cleaning tasks in the dining room.

Welcome to the gulag. Any employer can figure out that paying waitresses to do the work of bussers and hostesses savess him money. Waitresses make less than minimum wage, but bussers and hostesses must be paid at least minimum wage. So, if waitresses are doing the work of bussers, the employer saves money.

On a slow shift this may actually be preferable, because bussers must tipped out. If it is slow and the waitress can handle the extra work, then she saves money by not having to share her tips.

Before I get into the legalities of non-tipped work, the question included concern about hygiene and food handling. I shouldn't have to tell anybody who is already working in a restaurant this: WASH YOUR HANDS. There is no cleanliness reason that a waitress can not scrape food off of plates. There is, however, a reason to wash hands afterward.

The Department of Labor requires that tipped employees spend no more than twenty percent of their time doing non-tipped work. If they spend more than twenty percent of their time performing non-tipped duties, such as cleaning, then the employer must pay them full minimum wage for the non-tipped work hours.

For example, let's say a waitress works a five hour shift. She spends four hours waiting tables and one hour cleaning. The employer pays her $4.65 per hour for five hours, and she also takes home her tips. Everything is legal and good.

Another example: a waitress works a six hour shift. She spends four hours waiting tables and two hours performing other duties, such as mopping the floor, cleaning the bar and cleaning the bathrooms. She has a spent a full third of her time performing non-tipped work, or thirty three percent of her time. The employer must, by law, pay her full minimum wage for two hours, and $4.65 for four hours. As always, she takes home her tips for the four hours of tipped employee work.

Make sense?

So, not hiring bussers and requiring waitresses to bus and turn their tables does not break any laws. It does put extra pressure on waitresses to move faster. And it puts them in a position of working harder for less money, because if they can't get the table cleared it can't get sat.

The federal government does not mandate which job duties a waitress can and can not be required to do. Some states have rules that state all sidework must relate to the dining room. In California, New York, and Massachusetts, waitresses may not be told to go outside to wash windows or to clean the bathrooms.

On the other hand, which sidework relates to the dining room is a bit of a gray area. For example, the bar is situated in the dining room. So, can a waitress be required to clean the bar? It's a good question.

In Florida, to the best of my knowledge there are few to no regulations regarding what sidework a waitress may be required to perform.

So, in the end, the answer is that requiring waitresses to bus their tables is perfectly legal.

And, my disclaimer: Remember, guys, this is not legal advice. This blog is for information and entertainment, but I'm not a lawyer -- I'm just a stupid waitress! ;-D

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Decaf Coffee Confusion

A friend and co-worker couldn't stop giggling and shaking her head. I asked her what was up, and she told me that "that guy" (and, of course, she pointed him out) had wandered in for a cup of coffee to go. She had asked him whether he wanted regular or decaf, and he responded, "Drinking decaf coffee is like having sex with your clothes on. What's the point?"

Probably not the response she was expecting on a Sunday morning, but the guy made a compelling argument! It got me thinking recently about the "Instant human, genius, or insert identity here, just add coffee" craze. I love my coffee. Heck, I need my coffee. One pot for me, one pot for everybody else to share. Keep your hands off my pot of coffee...

Feeling inspired, I created an "Instant Confusion: Just Add Decaf" design now available in the Under Cover Waitress Shop. I know if somebody slipped me decaf in the morning the results could be disastrous...

Enjoy browsing, if you are so inclined. 

Monday, May 21, 2012

Darden, Dignity, and Racism

ROC United is the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, a restaurant workers' advocacy group here in the states.

They have penned a petition aimed at Darden Restaurants. Darden Restaurants owns the chains known as Olive Garden, Red Lobster, Longhorn Steakhouse, The Capital Grille, Bahama Breeze, Season's 52 and Eddie V's. Darden claims to be the world's largest restaurant company; I don't doubt the claim.

There is good and bad in most things. Darden donates unused food to impoverished school and child care programs and, in doing so, feeds children who would otherwise go through the day hungry. While I commend Darden for finding a humanitarian use for unused product, I fault a society that allows the very few to sit on fortunes and relies on charity to feed the masses. (IE: Tax the rich and support social programs so all school kids eat.)

Darden does some pretty nasty things, as well. Unfortunately, lots of restaurants are equally guilty of some of Darden's sins. "Everybody does it" is never an excuse; if everybody were jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge to their deaths, would you follow suit? Darden, like other restaurants, denies food workers and food servers sick days, so they touch your food while sick. Darden pays minimum wages to their workforce while, according to ROC United, "their CEO, Clarence Otis, enjoys $8.5 million a year with over $20 million in stock options."

The divide between the greedy rich and the working poor is bad enough. But it gets much, much worse.

Charges of Racism

ROC United's petition to Darden Restaurants states that

"Workers charge that Darden:

- Fired black servers because they did not “fit the company standard” at their Capital Grille fine dining restaurant in Chevy Chase, MD

- Prevents people of color & immigrants from accessing living wage positions, such as server and bartender, at their Capital Grille fine dining restaurant

- Makes employees work through their breaks, work off the clock, & work overtime without compensating them

- Overworks employees by forcing them to fill two or three different positions at the same time without any additional compensation

- Sources food from companies that exploit their workers

I believe this treatment of workers is unacceptable. Employees at all of Darden Restaurants and all along Darden’s supply chain deserve to be given equal opportunities, to be fully and fairly compensated for their efforts, and to enjoy a safe and healthy workplace. Darden – have the courage to be a real leader and lift up industry standards."

So, Darden is willing to get all the feel-good publicity for feeding poor kids, and at the same time, creates the poverty they are supposedly trying to alleviate.

I have no patience for racism. If Darden fired black people because they were black, I hope and pray they are held accountable for racial discrimination which is against federal law.

Preventing people of color and immigrants from working as servers and bartenders goes hand-in-hand with that type of racism: only white people can be seen by our (mostly white?) customers.

Lots of restaurants may get away with making employees work through breaks, off the clock, and deny them overtime pay. All three behaviors are illegal. All three behaviors should be punished, but will not be if the victimized employees do not complain. Complaining against the giant means for too many people that they will lose shifts and their children will go hungry. Ironic, no?

Making people work harder to save money via understaffing is despicable. Who needs 8.5 million dollars a year? Seriously? If a fraction of those profits were put back into the business, could the restaurants afford to hire a few more people? Trickle down doesn't work -- the rich just keep it.

The last allegation, that Darden does business with other companies that exploit workers, comes as no surprise. They seem to be rather comfortable around exploitation.

I signed ROC United's petition, Dignity at Darden. Perhaps you would care to do so, as well?

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Ontario Dine and Dash

Ask the Waitress!

Crystal left a comment on Legal Advice and Dine and Dash:

"so it is my understanding that by Law in ontario, the manager is not allowed to deduct the unpaid bill from our wages, but is however allowed to make you pay for it out of your tips?

Im asking because I live in Ottawa, and I went for lunch at my restaurant where I work 6 days a week, hadlunch with my son, left my money on the bar for my server/co-worker and a regular customer who comes in daily took my money while my server was in the back dropping off dishes ( we caught him on camera) and the boss made my co worker pay the 32$ bill even after seeing that our customer had stolen it.

I felt bad, so I gave my server another 26$ which was my bill amount,so he didnt have to pay for it, no tip this time lol. But man, that is an expensive lunch! LOL"

Can't argue with you about the fact that you enjoyed a rather expensive lunch! ;-)

Anyway, my caveat here is that I know little about Canadian laws. However, I will do my best to answer the question. If any readers have additional information or corrections, please do let us know!

The Ontario Ministry of Labour's website states that minimum wage for employees in Ontario is $10.25 per hour; student minimum wage is $9.60 per hour. Searching around on that website, I did not find discussion of tips. This may be because, in Canada but unlike in the states, waiters and waitresses are paid full minimum wage. Therefore, tips are a "thank you" and not necessarily obligatory. Tips may be expected by Canadian servers, but at least without tips the servers are making minimum wage.

Ontario has seemingly strict laws about what may be deducted from an employee's paycheck. Before deducting costs from an employee's paycheck, the employer must receive written authorization that the employee agrees. For example, if your employer requires you to pay for your uniform, he must get you to sign a form saying that you agree that the cost of the uniform may be deducted from your paycheck. Verbal authorization is not enough.

According to the Ontario Ministry of Labour:

"Even with a signed authorization, an employer cannot make a deduction from wages if:

the purpose is to cover a loss due to "faulty work." For example, "faulty work" could be a mistake in a credit card transaction, work that is spoiled or rejected, or a situation where tools are broken or company vehicles damaged; 
the employer has a cash shortage or has had property lost or stolen when an employee did not have sole access and total control over cash or property that is lost or stolen. A deduction can only be made when the employee was the only one to have access to the cash or property, and has provided a written authorization to the employer to make the deduction."

So, Crystal is absolutely correct that Ontario restaurant owners can not deduct the cost of dine and dash from server's paychecks.

Food servers working in Ontario (and other employees) should be aware of the Unauthorized Deductions Worksheet available online from the Ontario Ministry of Labour.

The situation Crystal described, however, indicates that any deductions came from the waiter's tips. This may still be perfectly legal in Ontario. Michael Prue has reintroduced a bill to make server tips the property of the server. The FaceBook Page contains information about action people can take, right now, to help get this bill passed.

Thanks again for Asking the Waitress!

ADDENDUM: Anonymous made some thought-provoking comments to this blog post. Regarding wages, I had gone by what I found at the Ontario Ministry of Labour. (Again, I am no expert on Canadian laws.) Anonymous claims that wait staff earn $8.60 per hour, a lower wage than I stated.

Anonymous also points out that tips are expected in Canada. So, if you are eating out up in Canada, tip well! :-)

Friday, May 18, 2012

Say Happy Father's Day With A Chef or BBQ Apron

Father's Day is Sunday, June 17, 2012.

My dad loves to BBQ in the summer, and I know some dads take pride in their culinary endeavors. I am creating a set of aprons for gifts for Father's Day. There is a new section in the Under Cover Waitress Shop featuring Aprons for Father's Day.

"My Dad is the Best Chef Ever!"

"BBQ King"                                      

"Happy Father's Day" and more.

If you have a personalized message you would like on an apron, let me know. I can create an apron with your message on it and let you purchase it. This would NOT cost any extra, so don't hesitate to contact me.

In the meantime, have fun browsing: Happy Father's Day Aprons.


You may also enjoy: Shop Amazon - Father's Day Gifts.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Funny Sign

Found this on Reddit.

It's true.

Have a great day, everyone. 

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

When Regulars Do Not Know How to Tip

Ask the Waitress!

Received one of the most difficult questions to answer: How do you tell regular customers how to tip?

The question-asker said they have regulars who only tip ten percent; but then, she went on to mention $4 on an $80 tab, which is only five percent. For a five percent tip, the waitress ends up paying to work. She still has to tip out on her sales and pay taxes on assumed income that she did not earn.

Is the system unfair? Of course it is. Billionaires stash fortunes in offshore bank accounts to avoid paying taxes, while struggling waitresses pay taxes on tips they didn't earn. We bleed the poor and middles class dry in this country while refusing to tax the rich. It's ridiculous.

But let's talk about tipping culture.

Restaurants are big, dysfunctional families. All around the dining room, there is a great, big purple elephant wearing a pink tutu and dancing and swinging her trunk around. She is waitress tips. Only the waitresses can see her, so they must deftly avoid being knocked over and work around the elephant. Meanwhile, the customers do not have to see the elephant.

In, "Shoosh! Don't Say Tip" I discussed customer outrage at the mere mention of tip during payment. The attitude being that if I had misunderstood her directions and, therefore, did not get a tip, too bad. Based upon her reaction, I could have said, "You have horrible body odor." Instead, I said, "Did I follow your instructions correctly?"

Tip of the Iceberg touches on power dynamics regarding tips. Customers like to think that they are paying for their restaurant visit when they pay the bill. A tip is a "thank you," or worse, a bribe to ensure decent service. If a customer recognizes that the restaurant industry depends upon tips to pay waitresses, it takes the power out of their hands. When we acknowledge that tipping is obligatory, we remove the illusion of customers as gracious benefactors and all-powerful kings and queens away from them.

Waitresses can make thirty bucks or more per hour waiting tables, depending upon the restaurant and other factors. They can also end up with less than minimum wage by the end of the shift. Working as a waitress has similarities with gambling.

Some states, such as California, have handled the situation by getting rid of the tip credit. They simply pay tipped employees the same minimum wage as any other employee. Customers who know this may cease to feel obligated to pay a tip; however, the federal government still assumes tips are earned and expects taxes to be paid on them.

It is hard to believe that in the year 2012 people still don't know how to tip because the internet has made it so easy to give and receive information. Still, bad tipping continues and the dysfunctional family that the restaurant industry is continues to deal with the issue indirectly, or not at all.

So, what is a restaurant manager to do? This place has regulars who seem like perfectly nice people, but nobody wants to wait on them because they don't pay for service. I don't like working for free, either.

Many restaurants have an automatic gratuity of fifteen to eighteen percent in place for larger parties; a large party may be as small a five people. Another good policy is to include an automatic gratuity on separate checks. In my own experience, people who want separate checks are cheap; they are trying to avoid paying for their companion's soda when they only drank water.

I am brainstorming here, but I wonder if one option is to change the automatic gratuity policy. For example, add a ten percent tip to every bill. Put up a sign informing customers of this policy, and print it on the menus. For such a small tip (ten percent,) include in the notification that a good tip is fifteen to twenty percent, and please feel free to add to the gratuity accordingly.

My guess is most restaurants won't want to do that, so we are left with leaving articles about tipping practices lying around in easy to find places, which is passive-aggressive. People who are not allowed to communicate directly often develop passive-aggressive tendencies to get their needs met. We are not allowed to draw direct attention to the dancing elephant because that will offend customers.

Personally, I hate passive-aggressive behavior. On a side note, I had a very passive-aggressive manager for a few years. We had a late night customer order a cup of coffee after we had run out. It seems silly to make a huge pot of coffee to sell one cup; this manager said, "Tell him we'll have to make another pot. Then, he'll say not to bother." WTF? I told him we'd have to make another pot and he said, "That's fine. I don't mind waiting." The moral of the story is either say, "no" or make the darn pot of coffee. This passive-aggressive attempt at manipulation was extremely annoying.

Back to tipping. I wish I could offer more concrete suggestions for fixing the situation, but there are none. I have done a 180 degree turn around regarding my opinions about tips. When I first started waitressing, I loved the adrenaline rush, the crap shoot, and playing the game of separating people from their money. I'm good at it.

These days, I recognize that many waitresses work hard and struggle to make ends meet. Dealing with self-important, cheap customers is a slap in the face. For some, which customers she gets can make or break her ability to get rent paid this month.

Waitresses who do well in fine restaurants will likely disagree with me, but I think the time of relying on customers to compensate waitresses should end. Restaurant owners may make a bigger investment in training and taking care of front of house employees. Pay them decent packages and expect them to perform good work. Of course, the cost of a meal will go up, but if you are already adding twenty percent to your bill, that shouldn't bother you. When the prices go up to pay wait staff, you won't have to add anything.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Under The Table

Ask the Waitress!

Got a question about a restaurant owner's lack of bookkeeping. Here are the relevant details:

  • Employees do not receive a W-2 or a 1099.
  • Shift wages are paid in cash.
  • Flat fee as opposed to hourly wage per shift, plus tips. 
  • Fee for shift is $20; shift may last 9 hours. 
  • Restaurant owner has recently decided that waitresses must pay tax on their charge tips. 
Creative bookkeeping and broken laws, let me count the ways...

W-2 or 1099

Employees receive W-2 forms; independent contractors receive 1099s. If you work for an employer who gives you your hours, meaning your employer tells you which shifts you will work, and the employer determines where the work will take place, you are an employee. Employers must give employees W-2s, and the IRS have heavy penalties for those who fail to do so. 

Independent contractors are self-employed. If a self-employed person makes $600 or more from one client, then that client must send her a 1099. 

Based upon the information you sent me, the restaurant owner is breaking the law by not providing W-2s. 

Flat Fee or Hourly Wage

We have minimum wage laws in this country to protect employees. An independent contractor may accept a flat fee for a specific work product; for example, I may agree to write an article for a publication for a flat fee of $20. Whether it take me two hours or ten hours to write the article is a moot point. Hourly employees must be paid a minimum wage per hour worked or the employer is breaking the law. 

Let's look at the numbers. I don't know what state you work in, and some states allow employers to pay tipped employers a lower minimum wage. The federal minimum wage for tipped employees is still only $2.13 per hour. 

$2.13 x 9 hours  = $19.17. 

If you live in Connecticut, the minimum tipped employee wage is $5.52. 

$5.52 x 9 hours = $49.68. 

California law does not allow tip credits. This is the same as saying that tipped employees make the same minimum wage as everybody else, which is $8 per hour. 

$8 x 9 hours = $72. 

So, you can see that in all likelihood you are being exploited by an employer who is breaking the law. 

The restaurant owner may be breaking overtime pay laws. I do not know because laws vary from state to state, and I don't know how many hours you work per week. 

You didn't say whether you get any breaks during the 9 hour shift. If not, labor laws regarding breaks are most likely being broken. 

Tax on Tips

These days, tips are considered income and all tips are taxable. Cash tips and tips left via credit cards are to be reported as income.

If you are being paid under the table, then you are not paying taxes on any of your income. Your employer is also cheating on his taxes as an employer.

Based upon the information you gave me, your employer may be worried that the IRS will see the tip income and know that the law is being broken. The restaurant owner wants you to pay tax on charge tips so he doesn't get caught.

If the IRS realizes that there is income to the restaurant and taxes were not paid, the IRS may choose to audit the restaurant owner. If he gets audited, the fees alone could break him, to say nothing of the back taxes he will owe. Based upon the information you gave me, the restaurant owner could, at worst, serve jail time if caught.

Technically, you are also breaking the law because you are not claiming your income. If the IRS audits the restaurant owner, they may or may not decide to audit all of the so-called "employees." My advice, at this point, is to look for a job with a more honest employer.

Best of luck to you.

My disclaimer: Hey, I'm not a lawyer and I don't give legal advice. I am also not a tax consultant. I'm just a stupid waitress! :-D

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

When People Get Angry

I almost titled this post "Why Women Get Angry," but then I remembered an incident many years back during a high school level class I was teaching. I said something about "pregnant people," and was immediately corrected by a self-important white boy: "Women get pregnant!" The underlying assumption being that women aren't people. This should make us angry.

There are plenty of valid, reasonable, and perfectly legitimate reasons that people get angry. Misogynists and those who cater to them like to chalk up women's anger to pre-menstrual syndrome, because women are nothing more than our reproductive systems. For example, I blew up the other day on this blog over somebody trying to say that she just can't understand why a women would be uncomfortable having a business lunch at Hooters with the waitress hula-hooping in a tank top and skimpy shorts nearby. The attempt at playing ignorant, the denial, and the audacity that somebody would pretend to be so blind and expect to be taken seriously got to me, and I blew. Check out one of the comments on that post:

If you want people to take you seriously, please refrain from the PMS hysterics.

My expression of absolute outrage had nothing whatsoever to do with my reproductive cycle. If this blog were titled,  "Under Cover Waiter," I dare say the post would have been taken at face value. Instead, I am accused of "hysterics." It takes a misogynist to assume that any display of self-righteous anger is simply the result of menstruation. 

Accusing an angry woman of just being a slave to PMS often has the desired effect. It makes her more angry, thus "proving" his point. 

So, why did Under Cover lose her cool and blow up? Let me count the possible reasons: 

* PMS? Nope. Not this week. And for the record, I seldom suffer with it much these days. 
* My cat died? Nope. Haven't had to bury a pet for about six years. 
* Full moon? Nope. Not superstitious, and wrote the post during daylight hours. 
* Legitimate anger? You're getting warmer. But women aren't allowed to get angry. 

This post is not about Hooters. This post is about society's responses to women's anger. Accusing me of "PMS" was a great example of people who invalidate anger in women. We are not supposed to get angry, and when we do, it is because we are slaves to our hormones and our reproductive cycles. It is never because any reasonable person would be feel anger in the same situation. 

Jezebel has a well-written article about Latina anger. In the case of the Latina, it is not her menstrual cycle that controls her emotions, it is her DNA: 

"And one of the most well-known and perpetuated stereotypes is that of the spicy Latina, which makes it, in effect, impossible for a Latina to express anger in our society. If she does, her anger is not an emotional problem, but rather a genetic one. Latinas can't help but be angry - it's in our DNA, right? This stereotype strips away any sense of human individuality and replaces it with something less human..."

The white woman is told she is suffering from PMS, the Latina is just spicy. In both cases, we can't help it. In both cases, our anger is never legitimate. In both cases, we are invalidated. 

What about angry men? Susi Kaplow describes the angry man: 

"An angry man: someone has infringed on his rights, gone against his interests, or harmed a loved one. Or perhaps his anger is social--against racism or militarism. He holds his anger in check (on the screen we can see the muscles of his face tighten, his fists clench) and then, at the strategic moment, he lets it go. We see him yelling, shouting his angry phrases with sureness and confidence--or pushing a fist into his opponent's stomach with equal conviction. In either event, the anger is resolved; our hero has vented it and is content with success or accepts what he knows to be unmerited defeat."

Nobody tells him to go to bed. Nobody assumes he is just having a bad day. Nobody assumes he is physically ill. Both his anger and even his physical violence is seen as self-righteous, and therefore, acceptable. 

I recommend Susi Kaplow's Getting Angry. Here is the last paragraph from the same, written to women: 

"In the second phase of inturned anger, women can support one another in their attempts at self-definition and change, change which others will try to forestall. And, at the same time, they can start to move together to create new social forms and structures in which individual changes can come to fruition. Controlled, directed, but nonetheless passionate, anger moves from the personal to the political and becomes a force for shaping our new destiny."

Anger is a real, human emotion. We are supposed to get angry; it is part of survival. As a matter of fact, Depression Stalks Women Who Can't Get Angry was published in November of 2010. Heh. I'm not depressed. And I'm not PMSing, either. 

Monday, May 7, 2012

Barbie Defends Hooters

Some days, a blog post just drops in my lap like manna from heaven. 

As my regular readers are aware, I received a serious question recently regarding Hooters lunches and sexual harassment. Person wanted to know if being taken to Hooters for a business lunch qualified as sexual harassment. Without more details, I thought we could all agree that it was, at best, poor judgement, and at worst, actionable. 

Barbie Bobbity-Boop, proud Hooters girl from Alabama, has written in to let me know how sorry she is for people who aren't comfortable in the wonderful, family atmosphere that Hooters creates. 

Why am I not surprised that this vapid creature is from Alabama? I never get "Me love Hooters" emails or comments from Washington, or Oregon, or Maine. It's always some bible-belt state, which is confusing, because I thought Christian types thought boobs must be covered (especially if a hungry baby is around) and sluts must be stoned to death. 

Anyway, ready for some fun? As usual, her words are in italics, my responses in bold. 

As a Hooter's girl, I don't see why this would be considered sexual harassment. 

That's because you are an idiot. 

No one, and I mean no one, should have to explain to you why some women will experience a restaurant with scantily clad "waitresses" bouncing around as a sexually hostile environment. Get a grip. 

Hooter's is a family restaurant, NOT a strip club. 

I'll agree that it is not a strip club because you are not required to remove clothing completely and show nipples. It is, however, a tits-and-ass business. If it is a family restaurant, however, it loses it's BFOQ. A family restaurant may not discriminate on the basis of gender; therefore, if Hooters is a family restaurant it must start hiring male waiters. 

I've worked in several restaurants, and the only difference is that Hooter's has a very stress free atmosphere, with better-looking people. I actually get to sit down with customers & talk to them about their day (if they want me to). Everywhere else I have worked does not allow you to do that. I do not flirt with people, I do my job just like anywhere else. 

"with better-looking people." Appearance discrimination, anyone

Thank you, Barbie, for showing us all how vapid and shallow you and your bosses are in four words. Ugly people must be hidden from sight so the beautiful people don't have to look at them. Ugly people do not deserve employment. Ugly people must be shamed by the Barbies of the world. You just accomplished in four words what I have been saying on this blog ad nauseum about Hooters. Thank you! 

We have as many females eat there as males. 

Hogwash. Check out the review from TripAdvisor

We're not advanced enough as a species for a place like this. Maybe they're on the leading edge, I don't know. There were not very many women customers. Hooters struck me as a convenient place for men to ogle pretty women. And the waitresses seemed harried and distracted. There is a kid's menu, yet none was brought. The two checks that were supposed to be separate WERE split, but printed on the same paper. You get six onion rings for $5. The food was okay, but not enough to make up for the other dissatisfaction.

We give the children crayons & balloons. I've even hula hooped with the kids before. If you feel uncomfortable eating there, then you must be self conscious, & I am sorry you feel that way. 

I must be self-conscious about what? Not being pretty enough to be in your "better-looking people" environment? 

Did it ever occur to you that not everybody wants to look at your body? Especially while trying to eat? 

People come there to discuss business everyday. If your boss will think differently of you because you disagree with eating there, then maybe you should rethink working for that person! 

Really? Well, gosh Barbie, that just solves everything! People should just re-think working for that person! 

Hooter's also has a strict sexual harassment policy. Society has a bad perception of Hooter's. Yes, we are in a small uniform, but it actually covers more than you think...I am not ashamed to work there, and I feel sorry for people who are ashamed to eat there.
-Hooter's Girl Trussville, AL

Can you discuss what is stated in the "strict sexual harassment policy?" Or are you just trained to say there is one? 

Hooters has earned the the way it is perceived. It has been around long enough that if it deserved to be thought of as a nice restaurant, the majority of people would not see it as the tits-and-ass joint that it is. 

And nobody gives a rat's ass about your pity. 

We also raise money for charities...such as the Kelly Jo Dowd breast cancer fund. http://www.hooters.com/orangepride/charity.html

I am going to rob a bank and donate the money to charity. That makes it okay. 

Working at Hooter's is also helping me through Nursing School, so maybe one day I can help others who need me. I hope that you change your mind one day about Hooter's =) Have a great day!

You don't want to be a nurse! Hospitals are full of yucky looking people! Do you really think nurses only treat the better looking sick people? Or that all doctors look like the beautiful people on Gray's Anatomy and other television shows? Get out of nursing school while there is still time! 

Fine, maybe I'm cranky today. But I am getting so sick and tired of idiots defending their right to work as sex toys and saying "family restaurant" in the same breath. If you want to work in soft porn, go for it. But don't piss on my leg and tell me it's raining. 

Friday, May 4, 2012

Appearance Discrimination

Ask the Waitress!

A question about a difficult and complicated situation came my way. In short: can employers be held liable for only hiring pretty women for certain jobs? So, if a woman is hired as a cook, and wants to wait tables, let's say she is told they are not currently hiring waitresses. Shortly thereafter, a buxom blonde who turns heads is hired to wait tables. Discrimination?

First, let me make clear that this discussion is in no way an attempt disparage attractive people. This is a discussion about worker rights.

The Federal government protects workers from discrimination on the basis of race, religion, sex, color, and national origin. Some states add categories to this list. For example, in Michigan a worker may not be discriminated against on the basis of height and weight. This is the basis for a discrimination case at a Hooter's restaurant in Michigan. 

The Pennsylvania Human Relations Act states clearly in Section 2(b):

"It is hereby declared to be the public policy of this Commonwealth to foster the employment of all individuals in accordance with their fullest capacities regardless of their race, color, religious creed, ancestry, age, sex, national origin, handicap or disability, use of guide or support animals because of the blindness, deafness or physical handicap of the user or because the user is a handler or trainer of support or guide animals, and to safeguard their right to obtain and hold employment without such discrimination..."

I notice that "familial status" is listed in the document, but not in this clause specifically relating to employment.

Silverglate and Choi wrote a good online article about the legal status of appearance discrimination. I will focus on the relevant parts in this blog post. Bear in mind that "appearance" is too general for the law. If you claim appearance discrimination, you must clarify if you were not hired because you are fat, have tattoos, or are missing front teeth (or anything else.)

Silverglate and Choi began by discussing a 20/20 television show episode from 1994 in which the show producers sent out four people on job interviews. Two men and two women with identical resumes were sent to the interviews. One man was handsome, the other, ugly. One woman was pretty, the other, ugly. The good-looking job candidate was hired each and every time. We know that appearance discrimination happens.

And it is still happening today. Obese women are less likely to get hired than their trimmer counterparts. Fat women make less money than skinny women for the same work.  The comments in this article  show how prejudiced, cruel, and judgmental people can be.

The problem is what to do about it?

Obesity may be argued under the Americans With Disabilities Act ("ADA"), according to Silverglate and Choi. To qualify for coverage under the ADA, however, a person must be heavy enough that the weight "substantially limits one or more major life activities." "Being regarded as having such impairment" is also covered. So, if your employer says, "you are too fat to work as a waitress" you may have a claim.

I remember working with a woman who was missing some teeth. She washed dishes; she wanted to be on the floor with us making more money. The bosses never let her be in sight of customers. Ironically, she was saving her money to get her teeth fixed.

Silverglate and Choi discuss a similar situation in which a manager hired a man with missing teeth to work the counter at a KFC restaurant. The boss told the manager to get the guy off of the front counter and into a position out of sight. The manager refused. The courts did not allow the suit to go forward under the ADA because the facial disfigurement (in this situation) did not substantially limit the employee's major life activities.

In both of the above "missing teeth" situations, it seems that the employers could decide which jobs were appropriate for which employees without fear of being sued under the ADA.

What about appearance discrimination that is not interpreted as disability? Claiming gender discrimination may work. For example, if waiters are not required to fit certain appearance standards but waitresses are, then women are being discriminated against on the basis of gender.

If a waiter can be overweight but a waitress can not, you need to try to demonstrate that for your claim. If waiters can be short, or tall and lanky, but all waitresses must fit a certain body type, you need to show that.

Sometimes employees who can be seen by customers are told to remove facial jewelry and cover tattoos. If you are willing to comply with these restrictions during work hours then you shouldn't have a problem. Sometimes, employees fight these requirements; for example, Silverglate and Choi discuss a case in which a woman claimed her eyebrow piercing was part of her religion.

If you feel you have been discriminated at work on the basis of personal appearance, it couldn't hurt to have a chat with a lawyer in your area. My personal opinion is that case law will continue to form the foundation for how we treat these cases in the future. If nobody complains about appearance discrimination, employers will be able to get away with almost anything. The courts need to look at each case and try to balance an employer's desire to create an image with worker rights.

Of course, I will include my usual disclaimer. Please know that this blog can not and does not give legal advice. I write for entertainment and information purposes, but I am not a lawyer -- just a stupid waitress! ;-D

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Breaking News: Ontario Bill Protecting Server Tips

This just in via Contact Under Cover Waitress:

Hi I am a waitress I am trying to get support for a Bill they are trying to pass in Ontario.  It will prohibit our owners/managers from any of our tips.  This is a huge deal b/c right now there are no laws regarding tips in Ontario so the owner can do what ever they want.  The first time the bill was put through our Labour Minister shot it down.  We have a new Labour Minister and have a good shot at getting it passed.  Here are some links explain it all better than I do I need some help getting the word out.  If there is anything you can do or some advise I would appreciate it :  

Michael Prue to Re-Introduce Bill to Ban Unfair Tip-Outs

No matter where you live, you can show your support for servers to keep their hard-earned tips by liking the FaceBook page:


Seriously, if people want to tip management, they can get up and hand the manager a handful of money. When people leave money for the server, the expectation is she gets to keep it. Unfortunately, this expectation is often incorrect. 

Let servers keep server tips. And when people hand cash to management, we won't expect management to give it up, either. 

Thank you for supporting waitresses and waiters!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Allergies and Critical Reading Skills

I've been shot with "friendly fire" by someone who seems to lack critical reading skills. One of the many bizarre things is that she is lecturing me on issues I have written about; she has no clue that she agrees with me.

When I first wrote her back, I tried to tell her that she had misinterpreted my blog posts. That disintegrated into a "you're angry, you didn't read my letter thoroughly!" (I wasn't angry in the beginning, but at this point I started to become so.)

Let's test out Under Cover's critical reading skills. Game on.

Her words are in italics, my public responses are in bold. Why do I feel like some spinster schoolmarm is lecturing me? I picture glasses on a chain and pinched nostrils...

While we can certainly understand your frustration regarding allergy issues in customers,

We? I love the royal "we!" 

But seriously, I don't have issues with people with allergies. I have made clear on many occasions that 1) allergies are serious, therefore 2) people with allergies should tell the server. The server can then make sure you are not served anything that will make you sick or kill you, and 3) people should not lie about allergies. If you don't like tomatoes, say you don't like them. Don't pretend to have an allergy. 

it is obvious that your expectation is that people lie about them and made this more than clear in a recent blog. [Name of website withheld]  has published your words, and the community is pretty upset with what you have written because it is, quite frankly, dangerous. 

I don't expect people to lie to me, but I get annoyed when they do. If you think I "made more than clear" an expectation that people lie, then you did not understand what you read. 

I do hope  my copyright has not been violated. 

While this blog may seem trivial to you, or a personal journalisation [sic] you don't really believe others read or are affected by, you need to understand that words have implication that may go beyond a rant written after a particularly frustrating day. 

Thank you for assuming that my writing is trivial to me. "Journalisation" is a French word, rarely used in English. Here in the states (and I know you are in the states) it is spelled "journalization" when it is used. 

Such rants are better written on your personal facebook [sic] page or written in a private diary. 

I will continue to publish where I see fit; if you don't like my blog you don't have to read it. Perhaps you should stick to expressing yourself in a private diary. The answer to reading something on the internet that you do not like is not to say that it shouldn't be there in the first place. 

If you wish to know what a real "rant" reads like, please meet my good friend, Springs1 Ranch Dressing.  Don't miss the comments, they are the best part. 

Three members of our family have life threatening allergies and we write for several groups that advocate for those with rare disease, such as severe and life threatening allergic conditions. 

So, you "journalisation," too? We have so much in common. 

Chen Efrat was killed by a restaurant "mistake." If you think I don't take allergies seriously, you lack critical reading skills. 

Unfortunately, your blog has gone viral - 

Don't tease me. 

Thank you for saying that any popularity my blog may enjoy is "unfortunate." I love being insulted. 

this, too, is life threatening for customers who are unaware that your words have affected their situation by encouraging others who are employed in the hospitality industry to doubt the veracity of their customers. 

Did I stutter? I have never encouraged anybody to assume that a diner with an allergy is lying. It will be a very cold day in hell when I do. 

I have said that when people lie about allergies, and some do, it is bloody obvious. Don't tell me you are allergic to shellfish, so hold the mussels, and then eat shrimp. Just tell me you don't like mussels. 

Because allergies are serious, the kitchen will go out of its way to not contaminate surfaces with allergens. They are happy to help allergic customers enjoy a good meal; they detest being lied to and made to perform extra work unnecessarily. 

Many people who deal daily with deadly food allergies may not know the true extent of the allergies and cross-reactivity, so it is very important that restaurant staff be aware of the signs of anaphylaxis and be able to react quickly especially if a diner is alone. In other words, once wait staff knows that there is one allergy, be prepared to take a closer look at what is going on at the table, because you may serve them something that may contain a similar protein. Please learn to use an epi-pen. and remember to dial 911. Even if you cannot apply the epi-pen because of restrictions of insurance for the restaurant, you can instruct others or help your customers - you can save a life by learning to use epi and taking a CPR class. 

In a perfect world, maybe all restaurant staff would have CPR classes and epi-pens. In reality, servers are considered dime-a-dozen by many restaurant owners, are poorly trained and even more poorly paid. I do not see this happening, so I suggest people carry their epi-pens with them. Kitchens should accommodate allergic customers, but at some point you do have to take responsibility for yourself. I understand that somebody dining alone may need help, but servers are not doctors. If an allergy is so bad that waitresses have to watch the customer for allergic reactions, the person may reconsider eating out alone. 

If you are traveling, you can stay in places with kitchenettes. This gives you the control you need to disinfect surfaces and prepare your own food. As much as I sympathize with people who have life-threatening allergies, to expect restaurant staff to have medical training is naive. Find five restaurant owners in the states who would pay to give staff such training, and I will eat my hat. 

Also know that by law, it is necessary that restaurants throughout the U.S. maintain complete ingredient information in or near the kitchen for this very reason. While it is not required that this be posted on the internet, the kitchen is required to make that list available - yes, even proprietary ingredients - to customers who request it. 

Actually, I am familiar with restaurant laws, and write about legal issues affecting restaurants on a regular basis. But, thank you. 

When customers say they have an allergy, or need a complete ingredient list of what will come to their table, we cheerfully comply. It is legal to note on a menu that not every ingredient is listed on the menu; this is done so that people will ask if necessary. It is legal and appropriate to note on a menu that servers should be alerted to any allergies. Help us help you, for christ's sake. 

Most larger chains will have the manager read through the ingredient lists wth the customers and help them make a healthy choice, and others will leave the list at the table and pick it up once the diner has ordered. Anyone not dealing with severe allergies will probably not be aware of this law, but anyone who has had life threatening problems in the past will know this. If you know it as well, you may be able to help a customer navigate through a menu with which they are unfamiliar. 

Any good restaurant will discuss ingredients in full detail if the customer requests it. You don't have to eat in chains to be told what will be on your plate. 

We agree that anyone who lies to a waitress about an allergy will make it less safe for anyone who later comes in with a genuine allergy issue - nobody should lie to anyone. There is a big difference between preference and allergy; but think of it this way....if you can substitute something that the customer likes for something they would prefer not to have on their plate, that customer will pay their bill, hopefully tip you for the extra help, and return another day wth a better attitude. The allergic guest will return because they didn't die in the restaurant or get taken away in an ambulance. Believe me, past experience has taught me that often wait staff is irritated by changes, and we truly appreciate a waitress or waiter who shows compassion and understanding rather than skepticism or irritation. I am going to firmly request that you not publish my e-mail address - my name is (I held this out.) 

You needn't lecture me about accommodating customer preferences. It's my job. People who possess critical reading skills know that I have advised diners to expect a restaurant to accommodate their preferences, within reason. 

For the record, I do not publish email addresses. Period. 

The back and forth was more irritating than amusing. Fortunately, she promised to stop writing and trying to "help" me. Yeah, I could use a little less "help."