UnderCover Waitress: And The Kitchen Grew Green With Envy

Sunday, July 15, 2012

And The Kitchen Grew Green With Envy

Bad news for waitresses.

There are lawsuits being filed back and forth in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Ninth Circuit is in some of the Western states. Remember: California and Oregon outlawed tip credits. Waitresses and waiters in California and Oregon make full minimum wage.

Now, sane people might respond to this situation by saying, "Oh, that's great. Food servers in California may actually be able to support themselves. This is progress. No one should hold down a full-time job and live in poverty; that doesn't make sense!"

Aren't sane people awesome? Unfortunately, this is the restaurant industry, and it is anything but sane.

The Department of Labor (DOL) says that tips may only be shared and pooled among front of house staff. The National Restaurant Association (NRA) says that if there is no tip credit (i.e., waitresses make full minimum wage,) then kitchen staff and dishwashers have a "right" to server tips. The DOL 'stuck to it's guns,' so to speak, and told the NRA that server tips were for the front of house, only. The NRA has filed another suit against the DOL because they want to use server tips to pay kitchen and dishwasher staff in California. 

Does anybody else feel like it is impossible to improve one's situation? The minute the waitress gets thrown a bone, the cook sucks out the marrow. And the fact that we are being pitted against each other makes the restaurant workplace worse.

Many of you guys in the kitchen are probably screaming, "But we make minimum wage!!!" Bear with me; there are a lot of dynamics here and I am not claiming that the kitchen's needs should be ignored.

1. Sure, nobody can survive on minimum wage alone, and if cooks are being underpaid, this must be dealt with.

2. It is not the responsibility of the least powerful employees to pay other employees. It is the responsibility of the restaurant owner to pay his or her staff.

3. In general, but not always, cooks are usually men and servers are usually women. The gender dynamic is playing out in decisions regarding who gets server tips. Yes, we have a culture of privilege and entitlement in this country. Men enjoy privilege over women, whites over blacks, straights over gays. Can't see it? Open your eyes. If women were toiling in the kitchen and only men were on the floor interacting with customers, we wouldn't need laws protecting server tips. Nobody would even think to ask the privileged to pay the underclass.

4. If your boss claims poverty, ask him what he draws every two weeks (i.e., how much money he makes in personal salary.) He won't tell you, but you will have made your point. Actually, you might not want to do this because you might find yourself off of the schedule. So, if you want a better sense of what he makes, look as what he drives. Many restaurant owners have this magical belief that they can drop unspeakable amounts of money on brand new, fancy cars that are, essentially, toys that run. Then, they turn around and claim poverty and expect employees to believe them. It's magic!

Trickle down has never worked because greedy people would prefer to spend lavishly on themselves and not conserve resources. By conserving resources, for example, driving a Honda (I love Hondas, they run well and are a good value) the boss would have more money with which to pay employees (because he would "need" to draw less and could put more back into the business.)

And that is really the crux of it. If a boss can't pay his employees, then he can't afford the bright red convertible and the brand new Harley. Sure, people have a right to spend their money on what they want, but only within reason.

Bosses figure out what to pay employees by looking at how little they can pay them and still be legal. If nobody takes the job, okay, offer a little more. See how little you can get away with paying a new hire.

If the kitchen is starving, then the boss needs to look at how bad their pay package is. If both the front and back of house are making minimum wage, I'm not surprised that the kitchen is green with envy. But the solution to siphon server tips to pay cooks is misguided.

California waitresses may not be starving with the combination of minimum wage plus tips. Let's be happy for them, leave the front of the house alone, and push restaurant owners to take care of their kitchen staff.

Perhaps, in a perfect world, the front and back of house would not allow owners to pit them against each other but instead would appeal to the DOL for fair wages to be paid by employers for all. In a perfect world.

Instead of beating down the DOL by suing them to allow for more abuse of labor, perhaps we should be looking at raising minimum wages to reasonable levels that reflect the cost of living. And built in raises for both merit and the cost of living. The NRA will scream "that will kill jobs and make the price of eating out too high!" No, it won't. It will most likely create jobs because more people will be able to afford eating out at the higher prices. But it may very well put a cramp in a greedy owner's style.

Or maybe the owner should trade in the Lamborghini for a Honda. 

UPDATE 7/16: 

Four restaurant associations are filing suit against the DOL. The Ninth Circuit includes numerous states on the West Coast, including Oregon, Washington and Alaska. It seems California may not be involved, but restaurant associations in Oregon, Washington and Alaska are represented in these proceedings.

Restaurant Associations Oppose DOL on Tip Sharing

Restaurant Groups Sue DOL Over Change to Tip Pool Rule


  1. It sometimes seems like for every step forward, things get us shoved back four steps... and that's not just in this industry, but in general.

    1. True. For every battle won, we must stay diligent and on the defense. It seems that one can not afford to relax and feel secure.

  2. I hate the Restaurant ass...I can't believe that anyone at the DOL or anywhere else can think these people are anything but crooks-they also are directly liable for the illegal immigration that has destroyed the working mans way of life and healthcare in TX...illegals with fake papers rule the kitchens and want my tips!!THAT WILL BE A COLD DAY IN HELL.


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