After I read Sunday’s story about the restaurant employee shortage, in which only one restaurant owner (Austin Miller) takes care of the staff, we need to clear the air as to why most owners are having trouble finding workers, from the front of the house to the back.

Life as a server: To start, you need to know that your overall health, safety and general well-being mean absolutely nothing to your employer. You are expected to work regardless of blizzards or the flu (don’t worry – they don’t care if the clientele get sick). And you can forget about paid time off, health insurance or vacation time. You are now cheap labor, expected to be janitors and prep cooks during slow times and baby sitters at other times.

Getting stiffed (zero tipped) is common even if you are excellent at your job, but don’t expect most owners to care. They are too happy to pay you the least amount possible. When you ask for livable wages, they all sound the same battle cry, “If I paid my staff more, I’d have to raise my prices.” Don’t be fooled: They would rather keep the profits for themselves. Years later, when your shoulders and back are in so much pain that it keeps you up at night, never worry, the owners will find another to fill your spot.

Life in the back of the house for chefs, line cooks, prep cooks and dishwashers is no better than the front of the house. Sometimes, it’s worse. For starters, kitchens are hot, and unless you are in a newly opened one, the equipment is older than your father’s first car. Walk into work several hours before service, in an atmosphere of barely organized chaos.

As a chef, you start your days very early. You have no life, barely see your family and work all holidays, all hours and under very high stress. You might be like other chefs and develop anger issues, drug and alcohol problems and serious physical and mental health concerns. But hey, you’re making $66,000-$70,000 a year, unless you do the numbers against hours worked and find that the dishwasher makes more per hour.

Line cooks and prep cooks are the meat and bones of the operation, and as one, you will work under time constraints and intense pressure to produce flawlessly for your $15 an hour as your chef screams about an entree dying on the grille. Don’t expect better perks than the front of the house: You don’t get health insurance, paid time off or vacation, but the good news is, you can call out sick, because vomiting on the line is a no-no, even for the owner. When you are broken down, mentally exhausted and capable of no more, the owners know another victim is waiting to take your place.

Dish pit duty – oy, the dishwashers are the hardest jack-of-all-trades workers. As a dishwasher, get your pack on, you’re now a work mule. When the kitchen is understaffed, and they usually are, you do dishes to sweeping and mopping the floors, food preparation and even occasionally help the front of the house to bus tables. You may, if conditions get really bad, get promoted to prep or line cook and even chef, but sadly, that isn’t always because of your abilities. It might be because the chef and line cooks walked out. No worries, though, you’ll get the same treatment as the others before you, until you have to walk away with a broken body and bruised mind.

This sounds extreme, but I’ve only touched the surface of what I’ve seen in 17 years in the food and beverage business.

The restaurant industry needs a complete overhaul, and it starts with the owners. Treat workers like the people they are.


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