Meet Your Waiter: Laurel
Graphic by Samrod Shenassa
[This is the second installment in a series.]
Laurel*, 27, was a short-timer in the restaurant industry. She spent eight to nine months working at a lively neighborhood restaurant and bar while studying for her college degree. She worked part-time -- everyone works part-time, she says -- or about 30 hours per week. She sums up the problems quite bluntly.
"You don't have any benefits. They talk to you like crap. [You can't] eat what you want. [You can't] take a full break. The cooks sometimes sexually harass you," Laurel says. Customers often harassed the female waitstaff as well.
She started as a cocktail waitress on the bar side then moved to the dining side. "There's less hassle on the dining side," she says. "You didn't get harassed by customers. The dining customers had more class."
Her hourly wage was $8 plus tips. Shifts were 6-7 hours and she generally worked a daytime shift from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. There were no health benefits, no vacation time, no overtime -- even when managers routinely arrived late at the end of her shifts to make sure the registers were properly counted.
Perhaps most infuriating was the restaurant's rule that employees couldn't bring in any outside food. If they wanted to eat, they had to eat the restaurant's food -- and pay full price for it. And they weren't allowed to buy sides; they could only buy entrees, which cost around $20. "You can't bring in outside food. If you do, you get suspended. It upset the associates because that food was not cheap," she says. The other option was to not eat at all, which is what Laurel often did.
Sexual harassment by cooks and other male employees was also a problem, though not as much for Laurel as for some of her co-workers. "Guys like the ladies. Depending on what they're wearing, they say little comments or rub up against you. It makes it a little irritating. If we complain, the cooks say 'I'm just playing,' and it just gets wiped under the rug."
It doesn't have to be that way. Prior to working at this restaurant, Laurel worked at T.G.I. Friday's, which she praised for its management style. "It was completely different. T.G.I. Friday's was way better. They knew how to treat their employees. The associates in upper management like to feel they have someone they can talk to. If they don't understand something or if they're in the wrong, your supervisor is not going to come down on you, cussing you out like a dog in the street."
Laurel recently left the restaurant and has a full-time office job.
[*Name and certain identifying details have been changed to protect her identity.]