UnderCover Waitress: January 2012

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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Lessons From the Elders

The theme for today's Let's Blog Off is, "My grandmother always said... " In my case, it is not my grandparents but my parents whose influence comes to mind.


As we as a nation are currently watching a few entitled men vie for the Republican presidential nomination, I often revisit political lessons learned at my mother's knee. 

I come from a family of strong, liberal Democrats who value social justice. Selfishness and self-centeredness were seen as utterly deplorable by my mother. Personal integrity was one of my father's strongest values. I remember him telling me that if a cashier short-changed him, he would go back and ask for correct change. Therefore, if a cashier gave him too much change, he would go back and return the extra. Can't have it both ways. 

Personal integrity never meant just taking care of your own, and expecting everybody else to take care of themselves. It meant putting your money where you mouth is. Social justice is created when a society works together to build safety nets. Yes, I am talking about a citizen's duty to pay taxes. Currently, the richer you get in this country, the less you have to help out others. The rich should be helping more, not less. 

As much as I can stomach it, which isn't always much, I listen to the Republican candidates posture, make jabs at each other, and show just how clueless they are about what the majority of Americans go through every day. 

Mitt Romney has made some hilarious blunders. On national television, he said that his speaking fees of over $345,000 were not very much at all. He said this to people who are making five figures and terrified about losing their jobs (if they still have one.) 

Mitt claims that he is not responsible for the fact that he got rich in part by owning mutual funds in large mortgage companies foreclosing on middle class homeowners. Because his portfolio was handled by the hired help in a blind trust. Therefore, he did not know and is not responsible for how his money was made. Now that he knows, I don't think he is giving anything back. 

Then there is Newt. With his riches made via holding stocks in Fannie Mae, Newt is focusing on values. With his history of divorce and remarriage, Newt will keep the sanctity of marriage holy by refusing to allow homosexuals to marry. What a relief!

They both lack integrity. And these real life comic strip characters wear their Christianity on their sleeves. Anyone who has read the New Testament knows that Jesus said "Love thy neighbor" and "Give to the poor." 

Jesus never said "Help the poor by refusing to give them hand-outs. When the poor can no longer afford their homes, let them move out. It is better to not know how we have benefitted from their trauma. Besides, the poor must learn responsibility. It is better to let an uninsured man die outside of the emergency room than it is to teach him to take hand-outs." These Christian politicians are hypocrites. 

Jesus said, "It is easier for a camel to travel through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven." I wonder if Mitt has somebody on payroll who is working on a way to get that camel through the needle's eye. 

I am not a Christian, but I believe in social justice. I learned to share from my parents. I learned to think of others from my parents. I learned to value integrity and honesty from my parents. And I learned progressive politics from my parents. 

Many, many moons ago when I was still in college, I shared a dorm floor with quite a few young people who came from conservative, Republican, Christian backgrounds. We held different opinions on these issues. 

I was wearing a plaid shirt with red in it. A small group from my floor walked by; one pointed at me and said, "Look! Her shirt is red! She really does have a bleeding heart!" They laughed and moved on. 

And I thought to myself, at least when they make fun of me they get it right.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Rebuttal

Received a comprehensive response in the comments section yesterday in response to Censorship, Topix, and SOPA (oh, my). I am copying it verbatim below.

Diane Carlisle also made the salient point that lack of accountability is a big problem on Internet forums. The forum owner isn't responsible, and the anonymous writer can not always be tracked down.

The idea that an adult would commit suicide over anonymous comments on the Internet seems foreign to me. Worse is the idea that mature adults believe everything they read on anonymous forums. Anonymous comments on open forums with no references nor resources to back up anything they say do not an encyclopedia make.

Some of the issues being discussed may be successfully dealt with by simply requiring registration on the site; however, I understand from an article in the New York Times that the owner loses money when he takes down the vicious gossip. Requiring registration would also hinder people's tendency to post things they wouldn't say if their name was attached. I am not defending a "make money at all costs" stand point; only mentioning that his motives seem to be monetary.

This is an argument worth having.

Addendum: Brendan also left a well-thought out response. Including it under Steve's.

***
Rebuttal:


"Steve Jan 29, 2012 08:22 AM
As I read your aticle and think checked out that petition, I have to respectfully say your article is the one that is poorly written and I want to explain why. First, I am familiar with the Change.org website and that is one of the most thorough petitions I have seen. Second, there is no such thing as absolute freedom of speech. Libel is a crime and try cussing out a judge or police officer sometime. The first amendment has been abused. Third, this concept of ignoring the site is frankly a childish, illogical argument. Even if you ignore the website, that doesn't help because your reputation is still being destroyed. For instance, if I were to call you a pedofile and post it on a site like Topix with your name and town and half the town read it and believed it, your reputation would be gone even if you didn't know about it. My freedom ends where yours begins. When someone has to hire a lawyer they are being raped twice. No where in that petition did they claim that the pursuit of happiness was part of the Constitution. Not every right was written in the Constitution. The pursuit of the American dream is why the Consitution was written so the author of that petition was spot on.

If your child committed suicide over Topix, would your reaction be "Oh well my kid is dead, but spreading lies is more important than human life."

I did some further research and found this site fascinating. It is at http://toxictopix.webs.com. Why do you think most states have adopted cyberbullying laws, because there are certain things that should not be allowed. Why, according to the site I listed, has tons of newspapers dropped Topix? Because it is wrong. Your way offbase on this one."


Brendan: 

"Here is my take on this. The argument of SOPA and Topix are two entirely different things. I am not in favor of SOPA, but I am very much in favor of something being done about blatant libel. According to a statistical study, a majority of Americans want more done about cyberbullying and libel online, yet when a bill like SOPA comes along people go nuts. I will say this and once again, I am not in favor of SOPA but the companies who went nuts over SOPA could care less about censorship. They are afraid they would lose money. Let's not kid ourselves there.

In regards to Topix, I have a real passion in this area. I work with victims of cyberbullying in West Virginia (where Topix is a major problem). The police have stated numerous times that Topix is the most problematic site they deal with and the attorney general of West Virginia has stated more complaints are filed regarding Topix than any other website. I definitely understand your argument and I believe going on Topix is largely a mistake because if you defend yourself you will likely be attacked even worse. But, and this is a huge but, because of the lack of rules and laws that does not mean you are safe. Particularly in small towns, if someone claims the Undercover Waitress is a drug user or a pedofile, you can apply for a job or walk into a business and have your life ruined. The argument I have heard is bullying has always occurred. There is a major difference. Online makes it much more permanent and it reaches hundreds, potentially thousands of people instantly. Getting called a name at school is only going to be heard for a select few. Going on Topix, it is seen by thousands.

My issue with Topix is they won't even do the little things to try and curve some of the bullying because they have no confidence that a reputable user who actually wants to comment on social issues, politics, etc. would be against taking thirty seconds to sign up for an account. Their business model in itself speaks volumes.

In regards to your comments and I think you are a little offbase on this one (I have read some of your other stuff and often agree with you, but not on this one), I issue you or anyone else a challenge and I hope you don't take offense to what I said, but the comment you made about speech triumphing feelings is not true. That sort of believe only applies to narcissists, and psychopaths normally (I am not saying that is the case with you). If someone can't say it to your face, then they are plain and simple a coward of epic proportion and that is the last thing our forefathers intended this country to be---cowards.

Here is my challenge and I offer it to you or anyone else. I am willing to pay to fly you in and put you up in a hotel for a few days for you to speak in front of the groups I work with. Do you have the guts to tell a mother whose child ended up in a mental ward or in some cases attempted or committed suicide over this vicious type of bullying, that speech triumphs the fact they now have a destroyed or dead child? Are you going to tell a man or woman that lost their marriage due to lies being told on Topix, to get over it? Are you going to tell a business owner who was accused of selling drugs out of his business, to get a job at McDonald's? Do you have the guts to tell a devastated mom, dad, citizen, or child to "not be so sensitive." Do you or anyone reading this site have the guts to do that and stand in front of a group of people who are in tears and many times afraid to even open their doors because of the abuse they now receive because of being targeted on a site like Topix? I once had someone take me up on that offer and they arrived with an attitude.They left in tears and now are one of the strongest advocates I know against this vicious type of bullying."

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Censorship, Topix, and SOPA (oh, my)

1/30/2012 Addendum: The heartfelt comments people have made in disagreement with this post (both public and private) showed intelligence and critical thinking. I believe I stand corrected. Today's post, Rebuttal, reiterates some of the arguments for the people to put pressure on the lawmakers to hold bullies accountable or end Topix.

***

Still celebrating that SOPA has been tabled. Freedom of Expression, 1 point, Censorship on the Internet, 0.

Was contacted awhile back by a woman concerned about internet bullying on a site called Topix. Her note gave me pause because she said there was a petition at Change.org to take down or reform the site.

Topix is a site that has numerous, location-based subsections. When you sign up, you join your neighborhood's or town's or city's local discussion group. Forums are open, and you don't have to live in an area to join their conversation. The forums are full of both locale-based discussions and opinion-based discussions. For example, "Human Sexuality" is a forum topic. At first blush, Topix does seem to deliberately start heated conversations. They are currently sponsoring a poll about abortion on the landing page, not exactly a subject for light chit-chat.

People who wish to end or reform Topix are concerned about internet bullying in the forums. They allege that people have committed suicide as a result of things said in the forums, and that even children are targeted.

Of course, I went to the website and poked around. I don't know enough to comment on the veracity of the allegations of internet harassment and bullying. For sake of argument, let's say these allegations are accurate and correct.

Freedom of Speech stops the government from hindering citizens' expression and assemblage. Freedom of Speech does not, however, force anybody to listen to the sludge that pours out of some people's mouths.

In 1977, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) fought for a neo-Nazi group's right to march through a town in Chicago that was home to many, many Holocaust-survivors. I cry when I think about that "victory." I also understand why the ACLU won.

The petition on Change.org is poorly written and poorly reasoned.

"Topix is making a profit off of the very serious issues of bullying, harassment, drug sales, racism, and sexual predators witn (sic) no accountability."

Okay, if that is true, law enforcement should be involved in attempting to stop illegal drug sales and crimes committed by sexual predators. I am cynical, and am open to the idea that allegations of illegal behavior are true.

"Topix allows hidden posters, without required registration, to post anything they want. This means that in many areas, especially small towns, users slander, libel  and defame other people without human moderation."

Sincerely, I do think that is too bad. Lots of sites require some form of registration.

"This is not what the framers of our Constitution meant by first amendment. (sic) The first right of all people is life, liberty, AND the  pursuit of happiness. When one is attacked on Topix that right has been taken away." 

And we have yet another example of an American with no concept of what the Constitution really says! "Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" is in the Declaration of Independence, not the Constitution. If I had a nickel for every time an American displayed being utterly clueless about the Constitution, my riches would rival Mitt Romney's.

When somebody says something about you that hurts your feelings, you have not been stripped of any rights. If, however, what that person said is 1) not true, and 2) causes you damages, you should probably discuss the issue with a lawyer.

"The company has even claimed that freedom of speech (sic) is more important than one's feelings. That is morally deplorable... People are being forced to move to different towns and there have been incidents of violence because of the Topix website." 

Freedom of Speech is more important than somebody's feelings, or as some internet lovelies like to say, somebody's "butt-hurt." I have no information regarding families choosing to move as a result of things said on Topix, but at this point, I have no further interest in participating on Topix.

I strongly recommend to anybody who feels Topix is toxic to simply stop reading and interacting on the site, as well.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Echoing in the Halls of Forums

I really enjoy the comments that people leave after reading some of the blog posts, and especially enjoy the conversations that sometimes get started.

I thought creating the Under Cover Waitress Forums would encourage more conversation in a safe, anonymous place. Meaning people may join the forums and speak freely. I had to choose between writing and my job at one point -- I chose my job at the time.

Getting the forums going is a bit slow -- we currently have four registered members. I was reading up on how to get a forum going; the advice gave me pause. One way is to create a bunch of different identities and, essentially, talk to yourself until other people start joining.

Does anybody else find this funny?

The tab at the top of the page (the one that says, "Under Cover Waitress Forums") will bring you to you-know-where. I really hope this picks up because I think it will be a lot of fun. But I don't think it would be a lot of fun to hang out by myself and talk to myself -- my name isn't, "Sybill." Heh.

So, maybe I'll see you there? 

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Another Tip Pool Lawsuit

This time, the restaurant being sued is in the state of Colorado.

Cache Cache restaurant and its owners, Jodi Larner and Chris Lanter, are being sued for running an illegal tip pool for its employees. Cooks, dishwashers, and other back of house employees were given a share of the tips. In Colorado, this is illegal. Only front of house employees may participate in tip pools.

This is about greed. People see waitresses making tip money, and they think they have a right to it. Just the like the bartender who favors the waitress who lines his pockets, a cook may think, "I got the food out quickly, I deserve a tip."

Many restaurant owners don't want to pay good wages to their staff. This is about greed. Owners want to keep as much money for themselves as possible. So, they underpay their staff. Staff looks at the waitresses making tips, and get jealous. On good nights, anyway.

If we ask ourselves "who should be paying the cooks for their efforts?" I daresay the answer would be the cook's employer, not the least powerful and most expendable of the restaurant's employees. Greedy owners turn the waitresses into income-producers for other, underpaid staff.

For the record, if you are on the floor with me, actively helping me serve my tables by bussing or running food, I have no problem sharing the take and tipping you out. There are places in which waitresses may have to tip others out more than twenty percent of their take; that is ridiculous.

Industry mantra when we complain about having to give everybody our tips is that "if we have to pay all of the staff better wages, prices will go up, and nobody will eat out." That's baloney on many levels. The least of it is that eating out is expensive, anyway, and yet people continue to do it in a destroyed economy.

More important, the next time a restaurant owner says he can't pay his staff better wages, look at what he drives. Now look at how the waitresses, who are sometimes required to pool tips to give to other staff, get to work. And ask yourself who is responsible for paying the restaurant staff's wages. 

Monday, January 23, 2012

Tip Pools: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Been toying with how to spell out the pros and cons of tip pooling for awhile. Assuming that the restaurant is within the bounds of state labor laws, tip pools can be good or bad. Tip outs and tip pooling sometimes benefit the waitress, other times they put undue pressure upon her.

PROS
Teamwork! If we are pooling tips, we will help each other more. Your table needs another glass of wine? I'm not busy, I'll get it!

Lack of fighting among staff. As the slow season approaches and the waitresses get hungry, you have to keep your back to the wall and wear thick glasses to avoid getting your eyes scratched out over who gets a table. If waitresses pool tips on a slow night, there is no competition.

Management. Seriously, management can feel that they are being "fair." If somebody makes 25% and somebody else makes 15%, sometimes it is because one customer is generous and another is stingy. Tip pooling eases these tensions.

CONS
Tip pooling can create tensions, as well. A lazy person will work less in a tip pooling situation, since she will benefit from the work of others. I know a waitress who will draw blood over getting a table, unless tip pooling is happening that night. If we pool tips, she'll take as few tables as possible.

Back to fairness. Some waitresses want to keep the money they earned and tip out their helpers. Very strong waitresses who can handle busy sections are more likely to feel this way, of course.

Tip outs can lead to manipulative practices among staff. For example, a bartender is supposed to make drinks as they are ordered. But if waitress A tips out extra, and waitress B only tips the required amount, the bartender may make waitress A's drinks first, and let waitress B's drink orders sit. So waitresses are under pressure to be somebody's bank.

Bussers may also focus on the section of the waitress who will tip out the most. This also goes for who likes who the best.

In the end, work ethics in a restaurant will depend upon management and the staff. Some people are professional, others cut corners and do sloppy work.


Thursday, January 19, 2012

Understanding Tip Pools, Tip Credits, and Tip Outs

Discussing tips gets rather confusing. Someone unfamiliar with the nuances in the restaurant industry may assume that the waitress simply pockets the tips left for her. But nothing could be further from the truth.

Tip Credit 

First, let's clarify some restaurant language. A tip credit is not a tip. Most states in the union set a lower minimum wage for tipped employees. For example, the minimum wage for most employees may be $7, but for waitresses it is only $4. That means her tip credit is $3, the difference between $7 and $4.

Let's say the restaurant is slow. A waitress arrives for work, and two hours later is sent home. She took one table and earned a $5 tip. Her tip credit is $3 per hour and she worked 2 hours; $3 x 2 = $6. She only made $5 in tips; therefore, the restaurant owes her $1. It is illegal to let a waitress go home with less than the regular minimum wage. Most waitresses don't know this.

Tip Pool

Tip pooling used to refer to everybody putting their tips in one big pot, then dividing them up at the end of the shift.

The federal government now uses the language "valid tip pooling arrangement" when setting laws regarding who may receive tips.

Tip Out

Tip outs are not tip pools; however, laws regarding tip outs are often included in the umbrella category, "Tip Pools." Most restaurants that do not utilize tip pools require waitresses to pay a "tip out" to certain employees, usually bartenders or bussers.

All of this begs the question: "Why do restaurants utilize tip pools or require tip outs?"

* Waitresses are at the bottom of the restaurant hierarchy, and yet they are seen as a source of income for the restaurant. In other words, the workers with the least power are made responsible for providing income for poorly paid restaurant employees. This serves to save the owner money.

Labor laws have cramped the restaurant owner's and manager's styles by limiting who may pocket waitress tips. Only employees who interact with and serve customers in the front of the house may  "participate in the tip pool" = get tip outs from the waitress. A good example of this is the waitress being required to pay the bartender ten percent of her tips.

* Getting "in on" the tips is seen as incentive for other workers. A busser making a flat, hourly wage will not work as hard. To make tips, the waitress must "turn her tables." That means she must get them bussed, cleaned, and reset so she can serve a new group of people and make another tip. If the busser knows he is getting some of that tip, he will move a lot faster to get that table turned.

* In some ways, tip pooling is a heavier-handed way of requiring tip outs. Staff that are sharing the take are, theoretically, more likely to work together as a team. This teamwork may result in better service. Anybody who has ever been told, "I'm sorry, I'm not your server" understands this concept.

One of the most frustrating things is when a table views being catered to by more than just one person as a reason to tip less. Their logic is that their waitress did less work, so she shouldn't be paid so much. This logic is grossly flawed.

If you don't tip me because a food runner served you, then I have no money with which to tip out the food runner. If I am required to tip him out based upon my sales, not my actual tips, then I am paying to work.

The irony here is that the restaurant is more likely to enforce the tip out rule than the tip credit rule. For example, here is a "worse case scenario:"

If I serve a table that spends $50, I should receive a $10 tip (twenty percent.) Ten percent of that tip, or $1, is owed to my helper. But, because I have help, the customer only tips me $5. He doesn't think I should get twenty percent because somebody else was serving him, as well.

I still owe the helper $1, not 50 cents. If I don't pay up, the helper complains and I get in trouble for insubordination and breaking the rules. I could lose my job.

If I ask for a tip credit so I am at least making minimum wage, I am accused of doing a poor job. The logic is that the customer would have tipped if I were a good waitress. This is a veiled threat; I could lose my job.

So, as a waitress, I am the least powerful and am required to ensure that everybody else gets paid. If I don't play bank, I could be fired.

Next time you are in a restaurant and more than one person makes sure your desires are being met, please recognize that you received good service and tip the team twenty percent. Thank you.




Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Congressmen Drop Support for SOPA

And... we're back!

Under Cover Waitress, along with countless other websites, went dark today (1/18/2012) from 8 AM to 8 PM in protest of the Internet Piracy Acts.

According to the New York Times, support for this bill has waned. Co-sponsors of the bill withdrew support over the course of Wednesday.

According to Truthout, PIPA will still be considered by the Senate next week. There is still a long battle ahead, but those of us who oppose government censorship of the flow of information on the Internet have made a dent, thanks to the likes of Wikepedia and Reddit, to name two.

Perhaps a battle was won today, but there is a long war over censorship that is yet to be fought. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Stop SOPA

From the SOPA Strike website:

On Jan 24th, Congress will vote to pass internet censorship in the Senate, even though the vast majority of Americans are opposed. We need to kill the bill - PIPA in the Senate and SOPA in the House - to protect our rights to free speech, privacy, and prosperity. We need internet companies to follow Reddit's lead and stand up for the web, as we internet users are doing every day.


Under Cover Waitress is joining in the strike to protest censorship on the Internet. If you visit this site on January 18, 2011, you may be unable to view it. See you again on the 19th! 


Monday, January 16, 2012

Age Discrimination

Heard from a hard-working waitress who is 45 years old. She is currently looking for a job but having no luck landing one. She thinks she may be experiencing age discrimination.  

The Employment Discrimination in Texas Online Fact Sheet states: 


"Chapter 21, Texas Labor Code and The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) protects individuals who are 40 years of age or older from employment discrimination based on age. The ADEA's protections apply to both employees and job applicants. Under the ADEA, it is unlawful to discriminate against a person because of his/her age with respect to any term, condition, or privilege of employment -- including, but not limited to, hiring, firing, promotion, layoff, compensation, benefits, job assignments, and training. It is also unlawful to retaliate against an individual for opposing employment practices that discriminate based on age or for filing an age discrimination charge, testifying, or participating in any way in an investigation, proceeding, or litigation under the ADEA. The ADEA applies to employers with 20 or more employees, including state and local governments. It also applies to employment agencies and to labor organizations, as well as to the federal government."

What this means is that it is illegal for employers to discriminate against workers and job applicants on the basis of age if they are 40 years of age or older. If the job applicant were 35 years of age, she is not protected in Texas. (Some states protect all ages against discrimination.)  

Now that we know which employees and job applicants are protected against age discrimination by employers in Texas, we must define "employer." 

According to the Texas Labor Code

"§ 201.021. GENERAL DEFINITION OF EMPLOYER.  (a) In this 
subtitle, "employer" means an employing unit that:
(1)  paid wages of $1,500 or more during a calendar 
quarter in the current or preceding calendar year;  or
(2)  employed at least one individual in employment for 
a portion of at least one day during 20 or more different calendar 
weeks of the current or preceding calendar year." 


So basically,

(1) a restaurant owner is an employer if he or she pays out at least $1,500 in wages to an employee or employees during a calendar quarter, which are three month periods of time. If this has not happened in the last two years, the restaurant owner is not an employer.

(2) a restaurant owner or manager is an employer if he or she has employed at least one individual for at least part of a day during any 20 week period this year or last year.

It is safe to assume, in my opinion, that restaurants in Texas are employers.

The next question is how to prove employment discrimination of job applicants. Probably not an easy thing to do, and I am under the impression (and I can be wrong) that employment lawyers will not be jumping to take these cases because of the high chance they will lose. Burden of proof would be on the waitress claiming job applicant discrimination on the basis of age.

The best way to answer this question, however, is to have a chat with an employment and labor lawyer in Texas. Make sure to give him or her all of the details, but please don't get your hopes too high.

For the record, none of this is legal advice. This blog is meant to inform and to entertain. I am not a lawyer, or as I like to say, I'm just a stupid waitress. ;-D

Best of luck to anybody experiencing these problems.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Tipped Employees Minimum Wage

This is big. Change.org is focusing on tipped employee's wages.

The federal government sets the minimum wage that an employer can pay an employee. This rule applies to every state in the union. States, however, may choose to set a higher minimum wage for it's workers. States may not set a minimum wage lower than the federal government. That is why minimum wage is higher in some states than others.

According to the federal government, tipped employees may have a lower minimum wage than other employees. In 1992, the federal government set the tipped employees minimum wage to $2.13 per hour. It is still $2.13 per hour today.

Some states set a higher minimum wage for tipped employees. For example, in Vermont tipped employees make a minimum of just under $4 per hour. In California, tipped employees make the same minimum wage as any other worker in that state.

California, however, is an exception to rule. Most waitresses in the country make a base wage of less than $5 per hour.

A waitress is expected to make up the difference between her wage and minimum wage with tips. This difference is called a "tip credit." Technically, employers are required to make up the difference if the waitress does not earn enough in tips on any given shift, but I have never heard of that actually happening.

Congress has the opportunity to pass the Working for Adequate Gains for Employment in Services (WAGES) Act which is the first bill ever introduced into Congress focusing on tipped workers. According to MomsRising.org, the WAGES act would significantly close the wage gap that currently exists between tipped employees and all other workers by:

  • Raising the minimum wage of tipped employees from the current level of $2.13 per hour to $3.75 per hour 90 days after enactment. 
  • It would then raise the minimum wage of tipped employees to $5.00 per hour one year after enactment. 
  • Finally, two years after enactment, the tipped minimum wage would be increased to 70% of minimum wage, but no less than $5.50 per hour.

If you or anybody you know has ever worked as a tipped employee, go to MomsRising.org to share your story and urge Congress to pass the WAGES act. 

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Round Numbers

I hate pennies. Waitresses in many establishments carry their own banks. I prefer it this way; it gives me control and nobody else is holding my tips for me.

When customers pay in cash, it is a pain to make penny change. Some waitresses prefer to simply round down the bill to the nearest quarter to make change easier. For example, if your meal came to $6.56, and you hand me a ten dollar bill, I am going to give you $3.50 in change because it is easier for me. Some people leave extra tip, others let me eat the 6 cents for my convenience.

But rounding the bill up, instead of down, is illegal no matter how the customer chooses to pay. This fact is not stopping some establishments from doing it, however.

In my last Tilted Kilt post, I quoted a review from another site. Here is it again; the Tilted Kilt in question is located at 3480 Financial Center WayBufordGA 30519

Went to eat lunch after a conference with some co-workers. Should have known better due to not many cars in parking lot. First of all we were greated by almost naked young girls. I felt like we were in a strip club! We decided to stay and ordered our food. 45 minutes later we asked the waitress about our food and she gave some lame excuse. I will say that when the food finally came, it was good. We did not realize that the establishment rounds your bill off for you to the next dollar. We all had to have a receipt for our expense report and was surprised to see that not only the waitress gets what we tip but also gets more money from our rounded off bill.


Illegal activity should never be company policy. 

Here we see it again at Ogden Sports Bar. They "only" rounded up the bill 2 cents. Not enough to cause a customer to make a stink, but 2 cents per receipt can really add up over the course of a busy shift. 

One diner did decide to complain about his bill being rounded up by 4 cents at a sushi bar. After filing the complaint, the restaurant offered to return the 4 pennies, but it is understandably not worth the guy's time to trek back over there to collect. I think the restaurant should be required to send him a check for 4 cents. The check itself probably costs more than the amount of the check, plus the envelope and stamp to mail it. However, being required to do so may deter any future "mistakes." 

It's the principle of the thing. The bill, before you add tip, should be correct. Always look at your bill before paying and leaving the restaurant. If there is a discrepancy, talk to the manager and get it resolved before you leave. 


If you are paying cash, however, and your bill comes to $19.87, please don't make the waitress make penny change so you can leave it on the table. Just leave $24 or $25 and say, "no change, please." You will make her busy day. 



Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Cafe Gratitude Cult

Just a quick note today. Those of you who are interested in the underbelly of the Cafe Gratitude chain of restaurants that are closing will enjoy this article that first appeared in the East Bay Express on August 5, 2009.

I Am Annoyed And Disappointed is relevant today. I speculate that it may reveal the truth behind the Engelhart's decision to close their restaurants. They may simply wish to avoid any further scrutiny and lawsuits tend to invite scrutiny.

The author, Sam Levin, exposes the cult-like philosophy, workplace culture and requirements to which the Engelharts held their employees. Anyone familiar with EST will recognize much of what Levin writes about. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

How to be a Better Restaurant Customer

As the author of this entertaining read will tell you, this book was written by a server! Yay!

Marta Daniels tells it like it is. While reading her upbeat, funny and true book, I feel as if I am sitting with a friend at the end of the shift, drinking something stronger than coffee.

Servers will cheer, and restaurant customers will say, "oh, did I do that?!?" This is a fun book to read. It also has loads of good advice to customers to make their own restaurant dining experience most enjoyable.

As Under Cover Waitress has said: "Exposing reality and bridging the divide on the dining room floor." Well, Marta Daniels has done just that.

Enjoy!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Tip Pools at Cafe Gratitude

One of the two lawsuits filed against the owners of Cafe Gratitude in California alleges illegal tip pooling practices.

A tip pool, in general, is a policy in which tipped employees put their tips into one big collection. The collection of tips is divvied out among workers at the end of the shift.

There are laws governing the use of tip pools, but state employment laws differ. To the best of my knowledge, every state is required to ensure that tipped employees make at least minimum wage. Technically, this means that waitresses should keep enough tips to cover the tip credit before contributing to the pool. I doubt it works out this way, at least in most cases.

California regulates restaurant employee labor more than other states. These regulations protect waitresses.

Since 1975, California Labor Code Section 351 has read:


* No employer or agent shall collect, take, or receive any gratuity or a part thereof that is paid, given to, or left for an employee by a patron, or deduct any amount from wages due an employee on account of a gratuity, or require an employee to credit the amount, or any part thereof, of a gratuity against and as a part of the wages due the employee from the employer.

* Every gratuity is hereby declared to be the sole property of the employee or employees to whom it was paid, given, or left for. 

* An employer that permits patrons to pay gratuities by credit card shall pay the employees the full amount of the gratuity that the patron indicated on the credit card slip, without any deductions for any credit card payment processing fees or costs that may be charged to the employer by the credit card company. Payment of gratuities made by patrons using credit cards shall be made to the employees not later than the next regular payday following the date the patron authorized the credit card payment.

* In plain language, the tip credit in California is illegal. Waitresses must make a base wage that is at least equal to minimum wage.

* Tips are considered the property of the tipped employees. A "tip out" is a type of tip pooling in which waitresses are required to share tips with other workers. An example of a tip out is the waitress giving ten percent of her tips to the bussers or to a bartender. This is legal if those workers are in the direct chain of service. This refers to workers in the dining room, but not kitchen staff. I had one job, and only one, in which I was required to tip out the dishwasher. This may have been legal in that state and at that time (I am not sure,) but it is illegal in California.

* And third, the full amount of the credit card tip must be given to the employee for whom it was left. Some restaurant owners try to pay credit card fees out of tips. This is illegal in California, and grossly unethical and immoral anywhere.

* California law does not allow management to participate in tip pooling. Management may not keep any tips for themselves or for the establishment.

Tip pools are not mentioned in section 351. Whether or not tip pooling in California is legal seems to be unclear, as it continues to be handled by the courts on a case-by-case basis.

The court date for Sarah Stevens against Cafe Gratitude is set for August 6, 2012 starting at 9:30 AM. It will take place in the San Francisco Civic Center, Courthouse Room 206, with the honorable Judge Katherine Feinstein presiding over the case.

This will be interesting to follow.


  Your Rights in the Workplace is a necessary read for those who perform labor. Written by Barbara Kate Repa of the Nolo Press, this comprehensive guide should be on the bookshelf of anyone who has a job, has had a job, or may have a job in the future.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Cat and Mouse

Game on.

Wow! I got fan mail! Before I share this with you, dear readers, let me assure you that sending emails affords you no expectation of privacy. Of course, that is not legal advice because I am not a lawyer; I am just a stupid waitress. ;-)













Stalk, much?

I am certain that there is absolutely no connection whatsoever between the Amy Glasscock-Williams who wrote to me and the Amy Glasscock-Williams who is employed as the General Manager of Operations at the Tilted Kilt. I just can't get over the coincidence!




























Since I'm just a stupid waitress, I'll probably say something I can get sued for, right? 


Bitch, please. 


Here is what other people are saying about the Tilted Kilt: 

Tilted Kilt: Restaurant Reviews on Trip Advisor :

"First of all we were greeted by almost naked young girls. I felt like we were in a strip club! We decided to stay and ordered our food. 45 minutes later we asked the waitress about our food and she gave some lame excuse... We did not realize that the establishment rounds your bill off for you to the next dollar... surprised to see that not only the waitress gets what we tip but also gets more money from our rounded off bill."


Rounding up the bill is likely illegal, but I will dig around before I make such an assertion. 


"I can only agree with the previous reviewer as we too experienced much the same standard of service. Whilst we did not want to eat we came here to have a few beers on a Saturday night. We went to take two spare stools at the bar only to be told abruptly by the barmaid that the seats were taken. No "I'm sorry sir" or anything like that, just "they're taken". She then returned to chatting to a male customer at the bar..." 


This one is wicked long; the following is an excerpt. Please note that there were at least 2 servers and only 15 people in the restaurant. 

"They got our initial drink order to us rather promptly and then ignored us for the next 30-45 minutes. We were mostly chatting about beers and then looking at the menu for dinner. We had to stop the servers twice to ask them questions about the wings and hamburger selections. We were then ignored again. One server was working the bar right in front of us but didn't hear us saying "Excuse me" or "Hello!" as we tried to get her attention. As she turned to walk away I resorted with a loud, sharp "HEY!" Her sarcastic reply was, "I usually answer to Angela, but I'll help you.""

Angela proceeds to treat them to bold rudeness for the rest of their visit. 

People at Yelp give numerous and varied reviews on a 1 to 5 star scale: 

Food is 3 stars, overpriced beer is 2 stars. 

I like the ambiance of Irish sports bar with a modern twist in design. Male and female staff seamed friendly. I like the idea of hiring good looking servers, but please upgrade the quality of their work clothes. The white girls tops are extremely cheap. My husband and I liked the drinks, but food was awful and overpriced. They even charge us for side of ranch with onion rings.

Went there for lunch with 5 other coworkers and I was a horrible experience. They got my order wrong twice and I left there without eating lunch. Probably will never go back

As for the waitresses took us forever to track her down at times. Sometimes we had to grab someone else when we needed something. It is very annoying because the girls will sit at the tables and chat with the customers for a very lengthy time period, leaving the rest of their customers hanging. Oh and the girls dress pretty slutty, so I guess the guys may give them a better review than me.

2 reasons I will not go back is drinks are overpriced and its way too loud there

When my wife asked what kind of beer Hobgoblin was, Kristen didn't exhibit any knowledge of the beer

I went the with business associates.  We were seated in an empty restaurant for lunch. We waited for 15 minutes while watching two other groups get seated and served drinks with orders for food taken. We got up and left 

I was seated and given a menu.  I waited patiently for 10 minutes to be acknowledged by any of the waitresses. One passed me at least 5 times chatting up and serving every table around me.  Another sat at the next table with he back to me chatting to two regulars?  I felt like bum on the street that no one pays attention to

I ordered a beer and fish tacos.  It came fast and tasted good.  Then the waitress came over and sat down at my table for a chat.  Exciting.... I don't want to hear about your double shift and your tired because your daughter didnt sleep last night. Wtf. 

And, finally, this pillar of the community tells it like it is: 

Great burgers, lots of TVs, and a good concept.  My only complaint is that the waitresses were not very attractive.  Yes, I know this is a shallow observation but the place deserves to be judged in this manner as they are specifically advertising attractive waitresses.  

>sigh< Unfortunately, he makes a good point. 

In closing, let me remind you that all of these complaints did not come from me. They came from people who patronized the Tilted Kilt, something I am unlikely to do (unless it is for research.) With all of these complaints coming from ex-customers, and all of the money lost due to bad food, overpriced drinks and poor service, I find it fascinating that Ms. Glasscock-Williams is worried about me. 

Based upon what her customers are saying, she should probably be focusing on the menu, the budget, and training servers, and stop wasting her time tracking down some random blogger. Honestly, I don't give myself as much credit as she does. 

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Cafe Gratitude

First, I must thank the Fun Tour Guru for her confidence in me. I promise to try to be deserving of it.

The Fun Tour Guru posted on her blog:

"This restaurant has been on my list of things to do for awhile. It is unfortunate to receive the information that Cafe Gratitude in the south bay, along with other locations in the Bay Area, have been closed. 

After a quick search, I found several articles of the recent closure.  Please plan ahead and call to see if your location has closed yet. I will not comment as to what happened because I do not know details.  Perhaps the Undercover Waitress will dig a little deeper into the why of the closure and what happened as this is a favorite place for many to eat." 

Fun Tour Guru is referring to the Cafe Gratitude chain of restaurants owned by Matthew and Terces Engelhart. Most of the locations, including the one in which Fun Tour Guru had hoped to eat, feature organic, raw, vegan food. One of the locations features vegan Mexican. 


Reading the description of the healthy chain, I want to go back to Berkeley. It sounds very "Berkeley-esque" and, except for the "Starbucks-esque" language required when ordering, it does sound like a place I would enjoy. I doubt I could say, "May I please have an I am a Goddess" with a straight face, however. 


There are 8 or 9 locations in all. According to the New York Times, "All but the Los Angeles restaurant, which has become a magnet for Hollywood celebrities, will be shut upon each location’s sale.

The Engelharts blame disgruntled employees for filing frivolous lawsuits that are too expensive to defend. Numerous news sources have quoted the couple claiming "a series of aggressive lawsuits" have been brought against them, although they claim to have done nothing wrong. Rather, they would have people believe they are being victimized by the big, bad, labor relations board. They are so sad because they can't afford to pay lawyers to defend them in their innocence. 

Really? 

Actually, "a series of aggressive lawsuits" is, at best, an exaggeration. In all, two lawsuits have been filed recently against the Engelharts with a grand total of three plaintiffs. I guess the strict dictionary definition of "a series" could be only two. "Aggressive" seems to come into play because the Engelharts appealed to the plaintiffs to drop the suits because they claim to be unable to afford to defend themselves. The suits have not been dropped. 

One of these supposedly bone-crushing lawsuits alleges illegal tip-pooling practices. It seems the waitresses and waiters were somehow supporting kitchen operations and even covering any daily losses for the restaurant. Tipped employees were allegedly told to "either share your tips with managers, or lose your health insurance," according to Grub Street San Francisco. 

The other lawsuit is brought by a bookkeeper who alleges he was denied overtime pay for which he has a right. Under labor law, bookkeepers must be classified as hourly employees. This bookkeeper was put on salary, which is illegal, then denied all of his rightfully earned overtime pay. 

The Huffington Post quotes one of the plaintiff attorneys, Stephen Sommers, as saying, "These are not huge cases... There's no reason, financially, for [the Engelharts] to close eight locations. They are not closing because of these lawsuits. There's something else."

While Mr. Sommers' definition of "small" is under $200,000, everything is relative. The Engelhart's are far from poor. After hearing about the two current lawsuits, the Engelharts treated their entire managerial team to a three-week retreat on a vacation compound in Hawaii that the Engelhart's own

Also, by closing their restaurants, the Engelharts are not really going out of business. According to Grub Street San Francisco, Sommers noted that

[The Engelharts] don't plan to close their farm in Vacaville... or the central kitchen operation, near Rainbow Grocery on 14th Street, which supplies the restaurants with their vegan pizzas and "live" mac and cheese. With those two operations still running, [Sommers] asserts they will likely just look to sell their foodstuffs to a new operator, in order to skirt further litigation or investigation into their other businesses.

Further litigation about what is the obvious question, but the Engelhart's are trying to make it difficult to find out. After both current lawsuits had been filed, the bookkeeper claims to have witnessed them purchase three industrial size paper shredders, and covertly shred documents in their offices. 

We have only scraped the surface on the question of why Cafe Gratitude is closing.  

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

New Year, New Sick Pay Policy in Connecticut

"What are you looking forward to in the new year?" is Paul's question to bloggers in today's edition of #letsblogoff. Paul then eloquently discusses the namesake of the month of January, the Roman god Janus. 


"Janus had two faces, one that looked forward and and another that looked backward. It’s difficult to look ahead without assessing the past or at least taking stock of where you are now. That’s the function Janus played –he looked forward and assessed the past at the same time. That was his role in the Roman pantheon, the ability to look back and ahead concurrently."




According to Salvatore Balbones at Truthout:


"On January 1, Connecticut will become the first state in the United States to require at least some employers to provide paid sick leave for their employees. The Connecticut law covers only a fraction of the state's workers, caps the required paid sick leave at five days per year..."


The caveats go on to clarify that very few workers will benefit from this change, so we needn't get too excited. However, it is still a microscopic change for the better. 


Looking back, I recognize that the most vulnerable workers are the ones who do not enjoy sick pay. When a worker cannot afford to get sick, she goes to work sick. If she has a temporary office job, the other workers will either laud her for her dedication (which is a cruel joke in itself; she is not dedicated, she is poor) or get annoyed that she had the audacity to bring her sick germs into the office. 


That's the thing about office labor positions. In some cases, even if there are no sick pay benefits, workers may still take time off due to illness because they may be temporarily replaced with a Kelley Services temporary worker. Sometimes. 


The same, better-paid executives who do not wish to be handed documents that the sick worker just sneezed all over often go out to nice places for lunch. 


Little do they think about how restaurant workers seldom (if ever?) receive sick pay benefits. Perhaps they trust us to be professional enough to not cough into the soup we are ladling into bowls. (Honestly, we try not to.) They may even trust us to be professional enough to not work around other people's food while sick. Professionalism has nothing to do with it. 


The restaurant industry is notorious for making people work while ill. There are no temporary employees who can be called to fill in. A major root of the problem is that so many restaurants operate with skeleton crews. Waitresses are often responsible for getting their shifts covered if they cannot work, and if they can't get the shift covered, they work! Kitchen workers often work while sick for the same reasons. 


I have had tables give me dirty looks while I cough into my shoulder or elbow. I wasn't working sick because I wanted to. I was working sick because if I had gone home, I would have been told not to come back. I can remember being ready to fall over and asking if I could please go home now. No, I was needed on the floor. 


I've seen people come to work straight from the pharmacy after picking up their antibiotic. They shouldn't be around other people's food for 24 hours after starting the medicine. I've watched sick kitchen employees drag themselves through their shifts. 


An executive being annoyed at a sick office worker but then trusting that they are not being served by a sick waitress is laughable. 


Looking forward, I highly doubt that restaurant workers will benefit from the changes implemented in Connecticut. However, a small handful of workers will benefit from this new policy. To those few workers, the change is a great boon, and a small step in the right direction. 


I hope our nation continues in this more generous direction. With Michelle Bachman advocating for abolishing minimum wage, and the masses of people who grouse about tipping in restaurants, we need to move in this other direction. 



Contrary to the beliefs of the uber-conservative, employers who allow employees the ability to take time off when sick and not lose pay do not go bankrupt. Rather, they gain employee loyalty. They keep well-trained employees and actually save money that would be spent hiring and training new employees when the old get sick of them. Let's face it: nobody wants to work for an a$$hat. Treat your employees well, and they will stick around and make you more money. 


Balbones' article in Truthout spells out the situation in Australia. The system there is set up to distribute wealth among the vast majority of workers, not just 1% of the entire population. Looking forward, I hope our country learns more lessons from the other first-world nations as 2012 continues. Lessons such as sick pay, family leave, and access to health care. Janus, what do you see?