Lessons from Amy's Baking Company: Five lousy things restaurant owners do to employees

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Gordon Ramsay trying to talk sense into these two.
By now everyone who isn't hiding in a television-free cave has heard about the Kitchen Nightmares episode featuring Amy's Baking Company (an Arizona pizza place with bad food and worse owners) that was so ugly and combative that Gordon Ramsay walked away. This may have been the only episode I've seen where Ramsay was less of a surly dick than the restaurant owners. The episode reminded me of all the restaurant owner/employee burns that I've had, witnessed or heard about over the years: There's no denying that some restaurateurs handle their employees in scummy, exploitative ways, and that is bad news for workers and customers alike.

Here are five things restaurant owners do to employees that are just plain wrong. A big shout-out to Amy's Baking Company for the reminder that some people should not own restaurants.

See also:
- Ever wanted Gordon Ramsay to shriek at you? Here's your chance
- Big Game's Leo Harvey dishes on trashy cheese dip and his biggest embarrassment
- The Simpsons Preview: "The Food Wife," with (bleep) Ramsay, Bourdain, Batali

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5. Taking employee tips
There was a moment in the Kitchen Nightmares/Amy's Baking Company episode where one of the owners pocketed a server's tip, and Ramsay called him out on it in front of the entire dining room full of customers.

Good. Shady restaurant owners who take tips from servers who make below-hourly minimum wage and count on those tips should be boiled into stew and served to poor people, because no matter how new or indebted or dysfunctional a restaurant is, taking money away from employees who also have bills to pay and mouths to feed is just plain wrong. As for those uneven "tip-sharing" schemes, how about splitting the business profits as well? I worked for a restaurant where the owners demanded the server tips be immediately confiscated from the tables and put into a general pot to be distributed equally on the employee checks to all staff and owners, including cooks who made above-minimum hourly wages. And because the owners saw to this process themselves, there was no way to know how much was being collected every shift, or that the money was even being allocated fairly.

The first time I saw the owner snatch a tip off one of my tables -- and explain why he was doing it -- I took off my apron, tossed it at him and walked out. That restaurant shuttered five months later, and I'm only surprised it took that long.

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James Yamasaki Illustration
4. Penalizing employees for taking sick days when they don't offer health-care coverage
Employers who don't offer any kind of health-care benefits to their employees and then turn around and bitch at, dock or threaten to fire them when they get ill and need to take time off deserve to be boiled in hot ham water. It's crucial at any business -- but especially food service -- to stop the spread of illness, because the preparation and serving of food needs to be as safe, clean and sanitary as possible for customers and employees alike.

I get that there are employees who occasionally call in sick who aren't really sick (I called in once so I could get high and watch Clerks II), but a legitimate, communicable illness like the flu, a sinus infection or even a cold can spread like wildfire through restaurants -- to staff and customers. Which means more illness spread all over the damn place by employees who need their jobs too much to stay home when they are coughing up guck.

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3. Taking constructive criticism badly
Some restaurant owners take criticism badly -- even the soft-pedaled, need-to-know, actually constructive kind. But if your employees aren't allowed to tell you the truth about your business, then when your eatery has serious problems, you have zero right to cry about it. I've been on the flaming end of this torch, and ordered to do things like serve badly-cooked meals, use outdated products, skip important safety and sanitation steps, cut corners on ordering, fire people for personal reasons, ask employees to work off the clock, ask workers to pay for things out of their own pockets that they should not have to, etc. -- and when I complained, told to deal with it or find another job.

I usually took the second option, because encouraging open, honest communication -- preferably with results -- is a good way to get your employees to respect you. Nobody likes to hear bad news, but would restaurant owners rather hear it from well-intentioned employees -- or hear nothing at all and end up with a failing business?


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12 comments
triedandtrew
triedandtrew

called in sick got stoned and watched clerks 2...ouch that was such a piece of crap unfunny movie. well amy 2 out a three ain't bad...

GFTW
GFTW

I bet the owners of Amy's like to drink Old-Fashioneds.

lokii_0
lokii_0

I just watched that episode.  Wow.  Those people are both insane.

Jordana Sturaro
Jordana Sturaro

Watching this episode and the internet shenanigans that ensued shortly after made me feel like I was in an episode of the Twilight Zone. That couple is beyond batshit crazy.

lokii_0
lokii_0

Unfortunately, restaurant owners have become quite adept at finding ways to misuse their employees' tips, especially when it comes to tip pooling.  I recently left a very popular restaurant in Boulder because of how badly the owners of said restaurant were abusing our tip pool (among other reasons, but that was really the chief complaint).  

This restaurant was paying the hostesses server wage (ie $4.62/hr) and forcing us to tip them out as if they were back waiters (bussers), they also had a person who they titled a "Maitre'D" but who was in reality the closing manager, and they put this person in the tip pool as a server, which meant that even though this person actually closed the restaurant, supervised staff, stayed late to do closing paperwork, etc and put not $1 into the tip pool, they earned more than any of the servers did out of our tip pool - during busy nights it was not uncommon for some of the stronger servers to bring in $450-600 in tips, and yet we would receive less than half of that amount, and the 'Maitre'D' would always earn more than we did. 

 I am all for tip pooling when it encourages teamwork, but more often than not it seems that "tip pooling" is just another way for restaurant owners to screw over their employees.

ScubaSteve
ScubaSteve topcommenter

Jenn --  the labor board existed when you were still working in the food service industry.  Is there any reason why you never contacted them with these serious problems? I worked in  the industry for years, never had a reason to file a grievance with the labor board, but I sure had their address handy in case I needed to.

DonkeyHotay
DonkeyHotay topcommenter

                                        Forced Tip Sharing / Tip Confiscation

TIP POOLING AMONG EMPLOYEES

Under Wage Order 28, if the employer requires tipped employees to share their tips with other employees who do not customarily and regularly receive tips (such as management or food preparers), the tip credit towards minimum wage is nullified.


EMPLOYER OWNERSHIP OF TIPS 

Colorado wage law allows for an employer to assert claim to, right of ownership in, or control over tips only if: the employer posts a printed card at least 12 inches by 15 inches in size with letters one-half inch high in a conspicuous location at the place of business. The card must contain a notice to the general public that all tips or gratuities given by the patron are not the property of the employee, but instead belong to the employer. 

If the employer does not post a printed card detailing tip ownership as described above, the employer may not exert any control over cash tips designated for an employee. 


Complaints and Violations of the above should be sent to:

Colorado Division of Labor
633 17th Street, Suite 200
Denver, Colorado 80202-3611

Phone: (303) 318-8441
Toll Free: (888) 390-7936
E-mail: cdle_labor_standards@state.co.us 

DonkeyHotay
DonkeyHotay topcommenter

@lokii_0  ... so file the complaint.

Complaints and Violations Employment/Wage law should be sent to:

Colorado Division of Labor
633 17th Street, Suite 200
Denver, Colorado 80202-3611

Phone: (303) 318-8441

bondadprevalece
bondadprevalece

@foodcrazy It's that hard to believe workers don't know their rights? Because it happens all the time

GFTW
GFTW

@DonkeyHotay I hereby assert claim to any and all tips that Jenn Wolowitz receives.

DonkeyHotay
DonkeyHotay topcommenter

@bondadprevalece ... is it hard to believe food service workers ain't the sharpest knives in the drawer?


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