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Monday, February 15, 2010

Service industry in America

So I've been in the service industry, mostly hostessing and waiting tables, for about, mmmm, 4-5 years. I refuse to work in corporate-owned restaurants after my first job (disaster!) so now I only work in family owned restaurants. And let me tell you, without seeing the absolute worst treatment of servers (which occurs in corporate restaurants, unsurprisingly), I have some pretty horrific stories.

We'll just disregard what happened this weekend at work.

What I want to talk about is the treatment of service industry folks in the US. These people work long hours dealing directly with other people, do not get health insurance, and are rarely paid over minimum wage. I am obviously biased because I work in the industry, as do almost all of my friends and room mates, but just take a moment to think about all the work that these people do. Think of it in a Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club-esque way... these people wash your car, take care of children, prepare and serve your food, help you find things in the store, ... and guard you while you sleep! (I couldn't help it...)

The typical attitude that managers... and sadly, the ever present asshole customers (of course not all of them are...), hold is that the customer is ALWAYS right. Now, this is good business practice, but to a point. When your employees are barely being paid a living wage and have to deal with all of this anxiety, well, does this seem like a good way for people to live?

I'm starting to think that this is why people "go postal" and come to work "and then stalk from office to office with an Armalite AR-10 carbine gas-powered semi-automatic weapon, pumping round after round into colleagues and co-workers." (sorry, I felt this reference really proved my point).

I just think we need to change the way we treat the service industry employees, I mean, they're the largest body of workers in the country, right? The problem is that Capitalism needs some party to externalize its costs to... and that goes to the service industry people. So that everyone can get cheap goods, the service people are treated horribly and hardly make any money.

So I am writing this post after talking to my favorite cousin about life in America. It seems like we have to go through a lot of crap to get to the all important "American Dream". This high anxiety, time-poor lifestyle we all endure seems to blind us from what is important. We want money, power, things... but at what cost? I, for one, am sick of selling lamb chops and beef kabobs. I am going to change this as soon as I can... and work in a job where people actually give their employees a voice.

Speaking of giving employees a voice, right now I am eating at "Hard Times Cafe", a restaurant that treats its employees right with healthcare and vacation time. It's an all vegetarian/vegan cafe, and I am enjoying one of my *favorite* sandwiches: the Tempeh Reuben. All you non vegetarians may scoff at tempeh (my man being one of them), but all you other veggies know what I'm talking about.
I ate half the sandwich before I realized I was going to take a picture of it. That's what Tempeh does to me.

*For anyone who doesn't know, tempeh is a fermented soybean cake. It's a little like tofu, with a much nuttier taste and a strange texture, which is kind of like softened soybeans. For those of us who can understand textures... its amazing.

So tip your servers right, only complain to managers when you really mean it, and take a moment to look at situations from the service industry employee's perspective: they take a lot of crap, and do the jobs that no one else wants to do. A lot of them are in this country illegally trying to make a living to support their families. They have the same dreams and ambitions as you at a deep level, and they're human beings. Shouldn't we all be treated with equal consideration and respect?

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