UnderCover Waitress: Employee Food Rules

Monday, June 18, 2012

Employee Food Rules

Ask the Waitress!

Got a question about the "ins and outs" of employee meals and food discounts. I'll walk you through the common but varied rules regarding workers and food.

* Some places that manufacture food allow workers to eat what they want while they are working. See's Candies is a good example of this. While clocked in and working, employees may taste or snack on whatever they would like. The logic behind this is that, in the long run, workers will not want to eat constantly or over-eat. Workers who are around food that they are not allowed to taste or eat are more likely to be distracted and resentful.

Leaving the factory or shop with product is stealing. Employees who wish to bring something home may be offered a discount instead of paying full price.

* Restaurants often offer employees a discount. For example, an employee who comes in for lunch on his day off may receive a twenty percent or fifty percent discount. The details of this policy are up to the restaurant owners.

* Some restaurants will give the same discount to the employee's companions; some restaurants do not. So, in one restaurant the worker may bring his wife and child in for lunch; he gets the discount but they pay full price for the wife and child's meals. In another restaurant, the entire bill is discounted.

I worked in a place that had a strict policy about discounts only being given to the employees. Another waitress wanted to bring home a piece of cake for her son at the end of the shift. When the manager discovered that the cake was not for her own consumption, the manager charged her full price. The waitress was offended.

Personally, I think it was petty to deny her what was only a twenty percent discount. Armed with the knowledge of how much food in the pastry case doesn't sell, I would have given it to her for free since the shift was over and the restaurant was closing for the night.

* Sometimes there are rules about where restaurant food is eaten, similar to the See's Candies example. A worker on a double-shift may be offered a free meal, but it must be eaten on the premises (between shifts.) Other places might not care where you eat your free meal.

Restaurants that have rules about eating on the premises or paying are preventing employees from sharing the food with non-employees, such as in the cake example above.

* Shift meals are meals eaten in return for working a shift, not on your day off. While working, some employees will enjoy a discount on shift meals, others may receive one free meal per shift, others must pay full price for everything, but that is less common. Some places offer employees a limited menu. That way they can charge little to no money per shift meal, and not risk the employee paying a few bucks for a lobster.

* I worked in one restaurant that offered a free staff dinner before the dinner shift. In addition to whatever fare was offered, the chef would include a platter of whatever was on special. It was just enough on the specials platter for everybody to get a taste. Everybody, front and back of house, ate together. This was the best time to ask questions and learn about the specials.

As you can guess, this was no chain. It was a small dinner restaurant run by the owners.

We started the evening well-fed and knowledgable of the specials. This was intelligent, humane, and I doubt it was especially expensive. Pasta and salad for the staff shouldn't break the bank. More restaurants should work in this fashion.

If you are working in a restaurant and you wish to taste or try something, ask! Worse case scenario you may be told "no," but more likely you will be told "yes." Food that didn't get served may be up for grabs, if you want something, ask! Don't ever steal; please respect the rules of the employer. However, some restaurant owners are stingy and some are more willing to allow employees to eat something. For me, one of the joys of working in a good restaurant is getting to taste various and sundry dishes.

Hope that helps. Thanks for asking the waitress! 


  1. That small family establishment sounds like a much grander place to be in then the latest Dine By Numbers put together from a corporate head office and consulted on by designer apes. Those places seem to be where so much of the problem lies.

  2. Every waitress there said the owners were the nicest people they ever worked for. She managed the front of house staff, he did the books, and they hired a chef to run the kitchen. I believe it was the chef who eventually caused the place to have to close. He insisted on closing up the kitchen at 9:00, which also meant he didn't want to be making desserts later than 9:00. If you want to make money during the summer here, you have to be willing to be serving at least until 11:00 or midnight.


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