UnderCover Waitress: Darden, Dignity, and Racism

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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?






24 comments :

  1. The wealthy individual who actually has a conscience almost seems to be the exception these days, doesn't it?

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    Replies
    1. Depressing, no? I am glad for the work of advocacy groups.

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  2. Well for SURE most of those things are in fact TRUE. Making one person wear three to four hats at a time, and only pay for one. And of course do not ask a manager for help, because you are a LAZY, no good server. While they are talking or eating you are waiting on sixteen or so people, getting ice, running food, putting sauce on the plates, getting bread, making salads, cleaning tables, scraping plates, boxing up food, and cashing out checks, making desserts, and a host of other things, all for less than five dollars an hour plus tips hopefully, minus a mandatory tip out right off the top of ALL your sales, how awesome is that? How legal is that? The fact that in this day in age not getting paid for work you do is total crap, but Darden is big, has money and therefore makes the rules, or in this case allowed to break the rules. Making servers tip out bar tenders and glorified bus persons right off the top so the company can reduce their labor costs is crap. Plus in most cases the bar tender makes the server wait, which makes the servers tip go down, however that makes no difference for the bar tender because they get tipped out off the top, even if the bar tender makes NO DRINKS the server pays off of total sales. Same goes for the glorified bus person, now given a new title server assistant, so Darden can reduce their pay and servers have to supplement Darden labors cost. We are all not just dumb servers. The bonus the C.E.O., Regional and District Managers, and store level Managers make is off our sweat and back breaking work, they could neither do nor would want too, however nothing is good enough for management including WORKING FOR FREE. Yes stocking off the clock, doing liqueur counts, and cleaning off the clock, only adds to the daily abuse, but if you want a job, you must bend to their will! Because anyone can wait tables or wash dishes, right?

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    1. I love your last line. It is a common misperception that waiting tables requires neither intelligence nor skill.

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    2. If you hate your job so bad...go find another...dumbass. I work for Darden as well, and do not have nearly the hard time that you do. They do have this thing called "transfer", so stop bitching and take the necessary steps to improve your life...

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    3. Please! It's like pulling teeth to get a manager to transfer you at any of the Darden restaurants, no matter your skill level or your loyalty or the number of years you've worked there. I know plenty of people at my location who try to get transferred and it NEVER happens.

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  3. As a former manager for a Darden Concept..I would like to say that we had a very strict policy that if an employee were sick, they were not permitted to work. The employees paid time off also came to them in a yearly lump sum payment. It is thier responsibility to save the money for the time off. I started as an hourly and worked my way up, and I liked both sides. We employed a very diverse work force at the restaurants I worked at as well...not sure what restaurant you are looking at..

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    1. You state that you do not know what restaurant I am looking at, but my quote from ROC clearly states Capital Grille in Chevy Chase, MD.

      Otherwise, thank you for weighing in on the topic.

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    2. The paid vacation changed in the last two years for Darden employees. No more paid vacation. Further, this year they also gave over 50% and sometimes more pay cuts to all the bussers and bar staff. In the bar they now make less than servers, bussers, togo staff, line cooks, and hosts. The bar is also not allowed to take tables, has hours of side work, and if someone is served wrong faces fines and or jail time....all for below minimum wage. And yes during the week it is not uncommon for the bartender to be required to stay 6 - 8 hours and not have a single guest.

      As a server, the Darden concept in the midwest I work for is the same way where you need to make your own salad, make the desserts, make the bread, roll the silverware, sometimes buss your own tables, run the food and all for $2.13/hr and many times all at the same time. If a guest does not understand and stiffs you well you literally paid to wait on them. Darden makes workers claim 100% of credit card tips and 10% of cash sales as tips whether one makes it or not. On top of that then there is a 2.25% mandatory tip out of sales. So if the bill is $50 and the person pays cash and doesn't tip the server had to claim income of $5 and then had to pay over $1 out of their own pocket even though they didn't make it. And if your guest decides to walk out due to waiting an hour on Spaghetti then guess what you get written up for bad service. Or if you have the famed dine and dashers as you are back making salad you are also written up or can pay it out of your own pocket.

      As for sick leave I called in sick 1 time in 5 years and they made me get a doctors note and I was taken off the schedule for the next week. I had a migrane....others have literally been throwing up in the bathrooms and they won't send them home.

      And the best part through all of this it is common for managers to be on their cell phones in the office or eating or nagging you about why you can't push their wine sales higher so they can get their bonus.

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    3. Another comment on a different Darden-related post reported that servers who called in sick were told to get their shift covered. If they couldn't, they worked sick. "Strict policy" my arse.

      Thank you so much for posting these details. The more people speak out, the better.

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    4. I worked for red lobster darden for 7 years and letts just say they through me under the bus to cover their own ass, it is the worst company I've worked for and has the worst clientel, never again

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    5. well there is no lump sum paid at red lobster, and last weekend a young single mother was forced to work with an obvious oozing "pink eye" conjunctivitis-and told "not to whine about it anymore". That Manager would never have told me that-I was mad she was working-that crap is HIGHLY contagious- it was gross..
      The whole SA thing is a smokescreen to get servers off the floor-cut their hours so they no longer qualify for benefits or vacations-kick up the tip out to make up for less servers working the shift-nothing more than a scam.

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    6. I would also like to state that the red lobster I work for has no white managers and black servers get away with murder...racism does work both ways at Darden..

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    7. Re: Pink Eye: 0_0
      Highly contagious and an uncomfortable, nasty condition. Teachers get sent home if they have pink eye because they will give it to everyone else if they work. Waitresses? Meh.

      Hey, why don't we let people with gangrene touch food, too? Hire real-life (real-death) zombies to wait tables and let pieces of them fall into diner's plates?

      Okay, sorry, but the pink eye thing got my goat.

      And I am absolutely certain you are correct about the smokescreen test to demote servers to SA. Nothing more than an attempt to get rid of people who might actually be making money. Many have written to say just that, and waitresses are not stupid, they can see what is going on. No stupid, just... powerless.

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    8. LMFAO at all of you...If you hate your job so much go find another. Your hands are not bound to this business, and quite frankly, I Would HATE to work with all of you. You're all a bunch of whiny, pathetic, losers. You control your own life, if you don't like something fix it, especially if you hate your job...grow up...

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    9. You are so ignorant; grow up with your language and learn to respect peoples feelings and hardships.

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  4. Although the former manager for Darden, is correct in stating the diversity fact, it's the not knowing what goes on at other locations. And although it shouldn't be different I know for a fact it is, which makes it confusing for guests, usually menu items, which flips people out, but back to the point of not knowing how managers make their bonus, by controlling labor, so there is no dishwasher for 5 hours, or the want one person in the back to do 3 jobs, again money saving on labor, bigger Gross Profit, bigger bonus for managers not the workers who achieved the goals set. It needs to get better, and knowing all about all the locations, rewarding good behavior, and not promoting bad or questionable behavior. Accountability and responsibility, no matter the location of your work place restaurant or not!
    Motivating people is not always easy, however treating the workers like they are your guest, is a step in the right direction. Or treating employees the same, if one works for office verse in a restaurant the benefits are different. Its the same company, it shouldn't matter if you wash dishes or do payroll. And that is not right and it matters not which location ROC is talking about, because this is what's done.

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    1. ROC United is a trustworthy source. One anonymous comment from a self-reported former manager does not tear down their case. :-) and thanks for commenting!

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  5. I work at a red lobster and I can vouch for most of those claims. We do have staff of color at my location but only in the back. I work as a dish washer/alley coordinator/baker/fry cook and I can say I frequently hold 2 or three positions simultaneously. On top of that I have been told by my manager that I need to "work harder" one of the changes they made earlier this year requires bakers to go back and work in prep while they're supposed to be baking because it's more profitable for the company to make the employees produce more food as long as they extend the shelf life of that food. This means that we all work harder to deliver a lower quality product as most items now sit for an extra day or so. Sometimes I go to work at 9 in the morning and don't leave until 1. And yes, they took away vacation pay. Found that out after I averaged 38 hours (far more than was necessary) and failed to receive compensation. I was asked if I could recruit my friends to work in the back my response was "friends don't let friends work at red lobster". Darden is nothing more than a 21st century slave mill.

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  6. I can't believe I'm reading this. I worked for Darden for many years as a manger and have heard these stories online. Employee's that whine and whine and poor me mentality.First servers make an average of 30-50k per year on a full time basis. If they don't maybe they need to look closer at themselves. Second Darden does not discriminate against color.The CEO is African American. Third management would get fired with no exceptions if people worked off the clock or wasn't paid for overtime.There are always bad apples in every company and those are let go. Every company and I mean EVERY company makes there people muti-task these days. It's good business and that's what Darden is a business. The people that post these statements are bitter people who really need to decide what to do with thir lives and move ahead.Of course this is my opinion.

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  7. Most of these things are true...but you have to look at the whole of the situation. I am a 30 yr darden employee. Have worked my way up-have scrubbed a maggot infested apron bin outside, and now am a manager. I have a passion for making Darden successful--which they are. While i have no knowledge of what Clarence Otis makes a year, I am sure that it is much more than me. And as a manager in the past two years, I have lost money. Yes--while all crew complain, so do we. While I have worked with some HORRIBLE managers in the past, I have also worked with some GREAT ones. I am not sure where our company is going, but I will say that too many times crew is responsible for their own destiny. Self-responsibility is a thing of the past and some of your complaints are not truly valid. We expect teamwork. I, as a manager, will bust my butt literally to sweating, and come around a corner to find my crew standing and having a casual conversation. There is something wrong with that too. We as managers (the good ones) are truly in the worst position. WE are expected to handle all of the crew issues--and crew relations is big brother watching all of the time so I could get hit, sworn at, or otherwise simply disrespected and the first thing that crew relations asks is did we properly document the situation. Really? I also have to take the same abuse from the guests. Sooooo, why do i do what I do? Because I believe that what bill darden intended so many years ago is still somewhere in the day to day operations-Albeit converted to suit the current upper management. I don't agree with many decisions, but must carry some out. Maybe it is old fashioned to think that I could (along with my team) make a difference simply by having good intentions, but I do every day. I love my job. I mostly love my staff. The ones I don't certainly don't know it. As with anything, my career with darden fluctuates between good times and bad times. But it keeps going. Kind of with life in general.

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  8. I personally know that Darden DOES NOT discriminate. Those allegations are untrue. We expect that people work for their pay. If a baker who has extra time (and at times they do) is it too much to expect them to fill their time productively? And does it make it a discriminatory offense because that baker may happen to be black? Nope! It's called working for your pay and something that all of our forefathers did. If you were a farmer back in the day, or now for that matter, and you only planted a seed but did not water it, do you think you would still eat at the harvest? Yep, to be successful sometimes we have to do two jobs in order to reap the rewards of the harvest. And guess what---that is not slavery. Think about it.

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  9. Darden is ripping off severs underpaying culinary staff as an 11year employee I know and understand I have many times had to work entire lunch shift by myself thats five stations from 7am til 4pm with prep gone by noon 3to400 guest alone dishwasher gone by 2:00 so I know as far as working off the clock they've tried but I would'nt vaction pay has changed I used to get a week's pay for every year now it's only three week's no matter how long you've wored there discrimination mabye I've people who have never worked in a kitchen ever become culinary assistants and managers who just happened to white while myself and others who are certified in all culinary positions were not considerd yes servers make bread salads ect. these people are not lying to many are saying the same thing in different places so that tells you its true I'm hundreds of miles from MD and I know this story because I've lived it and the managers defending are probaly in denial,getting nice bonus checks,or scared to speak up or just don't care

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  10. I never thought I would be defending a company being a working man of color, but I've worked for Smokey Bones when it was around and I was in college, and I went back to work for Darden because I was treated well when I worked there. I don't know if this is a recent change, but I know when I clock in, there is a screen that says it's illegal for anyone to ask me to work off the clock and if they do, I should report it. That message also prints out on my clock in/out ticket if I choose to do so. The only thing prevailing theme I can agree with here is the fact that we shouldn't have to tip out bartenders. Where I work, those guys make somewhere in the neighborhood of $1000 per week, so I doubt very seriously they really need my 1.5%. Where I work, the food runners are awesome. I'm a server saying that, so you know they must pull their weight if I'm singing their praises. If one of us screws up an order, they'll go call it to the chef and get the right dish refired for you. If they deliver the food and the guest asks for extra dressing or ketchup or something, they won't pass the buck; they'll get it. If I were to tip out anybody voluntarily, it would be them. I hope what's being said about Capital Grille isn't true because I'm trying to transfer, but I don't know the racial make-up of their staff. As for where I work, my General Manager is Mexican, our sales manager is Vietnamese, until recently we had a woman as a floor manager until she got another job and the assistant manager is white. This is the most racially diverse staff I've ever worked with in a restaurant. Being black, I noticed this, while I never make a big deal about it. However, I still think it's worth mentioning. We have quite a few young servers 18-23, and among them there's a few who skirt on sidework or try to stall on it so most of, or all the silverware gets polished, but for the most part, everybody works together. I didn't like having to bus my own tables at first, but I've learned to use that to control the pace at which I get tables. If I'm weeded, I can catch up and get back on par without getting further in the weeds with tables I'm not ready for. If the restaurant is on a wait and I haven't gotten around to resetting my table, usually the hostesses will reset them for me. I'm a stickler for pre-bussing, so, as is the Darden standard, there's usually only glasses left on my table, so I don't get dirty looks from the hostesses on the few occasions they do actually have to reset my tables. I feel bad so many of you have such a bad experience at Darden. From experience, if you think you're treated like crap here, try working for the Landry's corporation: Rainforest, Aquarium, Saltgrass, Landry's Seafood and you'll find out what it's like to work for a company that doesn't give a crap about you.

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