Comment Of The Day: “Scary Tales Of The George Floyd Freakout: The Mission On The Bay Fiasco”

Arthur in Maine accepted the challenge of answering my query that began the Mission on the Bay story: “What is it about restaurants that generate so many ethics messes?” I had never considered the reasons he cites, but they are sound. I was thinking about all the various restaurant ethics blow-ups I have posted on in the past, as well as the many I have left undiscussed. I was especially thinking about this one from seven years ago, about an Applebees waitress who posted online a receipt from an obnoxious customer, a pastor to shame her. That controversy prompted two additional posts, here and here. Yet as unethical as the waitress in that episode was, the eavesdropping bartender in Swampscott was worse.

Arthur argues persuasively that the culture of the restaurant business makes it a breeding ground for unethical conduct. Here is his Comment of the Day on the post, “Scary Tales Of The George Floyd Freakout: The Mission On The Bay Fiasco”:

Jack, your header asks why so many ethics problems arise in restaurants. Having spent some time in the field, I offer the following in answer.

  • High end restaurants tend not to have this type of issue. They usually hire highly competent kitchen and front-of-house staff, and management is usually diligent in training and supervision.

The ethical problems are more common in mid-level houses and chains.

  •  In such houses, staffing is a never-ending challenge, for the simple reason that restaurant work is essentially one of the few fields that actually rewards vagrancy. Servers and kitchen personnel might work a given house for a year or two and move on to something else – either a gig where they think they can make more money, or a different place altogether. Serving and cooking skills are easily transferable; if you leave one location for whatever reason (family, problems with the law, just a desire to see another part of the country, you name it) – it’s pretty easy to find another gig doing exactly the same thing.

In mid-level houses, actual loyalty to the organization tends to be the exception, rather than the rule.

  • The nature of restaurant staff. Senior-level positions – chef or sous chef (or kitchen manager) and the front-of-house manager generally require a fair amount of training and experience. These tend to be genuinely skilled positions. But servers and line cooks… candidly, these are mostly semi-skilled positions. The work is fairly physically demanding but really isn’t particularly mentally taxing most of the time. And with regard to service personnel: very few people in the United States actually work as restaurant servers because that’s their chosen field. Yes, you find true professionals in the high-end places. But for pretty much everyone else, it’s a way to pay the bills while waiting for your screenplay to be picked up, or finishing school, or whatever.

And in fairness, there are servers who really don’t have other options available to them based upon their skills and where they live. But for many, the number of hours required to make a decent amount of money are comparatively short.

Now, here’s where things get more interesting. It’s pretty easy to steal and cheat. Less so in the front of the house, because most transactions these days are via credit card, but there’s still enough cash in play that it can be easily skimmed. That can happen right up to ownership, by the way. In the kitchen, it’s surprisingly easy to steal food, or for a kitchen manager who’s worried about his cost of goods to order a cheaper product than what’s claimed on the menu and charge a premium for it. Very few customers will ever know that the “prime” beef they ordered might actually be a fairly low grade of “choice.”

Active stealing from the walk-ins is getting tougher due to improving inventory control software systems – and the fact that many places use computerized systems to relay orders between the front and back of the house also tightens up controls on what actually gets ordered and served (along with helping to track the money). But even so, there remain plenty of ways to cheat. Bartenders may pour free drinks without charging favored customers (or that pretty waitress they’re hoping to bed. The owner of the best house I ever worked in once told me “if you ever buy your own restaurant, hire a born-again Christian as your bar manager.”).

So adding all of these things up, the restaurant world is one that makes it EASY for unethical people to be unethical, to the point of effectively rewarding them for being so.

9 thoughts on “Comment Of The Day: “Scary Tales Of The George Floyd Freakout: The Mission On The Bay Fiasco”

  1. Thanks, AIM. OB Junior does restaurant PR and his brother-in-law owns and operates two up-scale eateries/bars (one going by the trendy name of “public house,” which cracks me up). My son has advised me of the never ending work involved in keeping restaurants staffed with people who will show up and won’t take everything that’s not bolted down out the back door. A very tough and definitely not glamorous business.

    • That’s true. The business is a place that if it doesn’t actually create unethical behavior, it certainly facilitates it.

      I got out of the business because I knew it would kill me. One of the problems with the business is that after a busy night, cooks and waiters are just as ready to blow off steam as people who work 9-5. Problem is: at that hour, there’s really only one way to do that. And that’s go out drinking with other restaurant people.

      • My son’s explained that also. Not sure which comes first with restaurant workers: the late and hectic hours cause the drug and alcohol problems or the young people with drug and alcohol problems are drawn to the late and hectic hours.

  2. Outside of babysitting, my first job at the age of 14 was bussing tables. Looking back on it, it is still the best money I made per hour in my life. But it was a high end house and the wait staff tipped me well.

    I’m trying to understand the jump from raiding the freezer or pocketing cash to betraying a customer and his private conversation by outing him on social media. In what way did that benefit the bartender? Didn’t put money in his pocket or food in his fridge. The motive is different in here. And for me, the motive is worse. It’s using your position, which puts you in proximity to the private conversations of others, to bolster your own ego and sense of self righteousness. Stealing food or pocketing cash is illegal. Outing someone’s private conversation on social media is ethically abhorrent.

    I’ve mentioned on this site before my work with music festivals. It’s my job to get rock stars/country stars whatever they want and wherever they want to go. It puts me in close proximity to very famous people. I am privy to their conversations, their displays of temper, their prescriptions at Walgreens, their interactions with their spouses and children, shopping for their tour bus and washing their underwear. It is my job to make sure they have the space and time they need to decompress and be themselves before they have to perform, a space that they can trust and know that they will not be betrayed later. I put in 18 hour days and the pay averages out to about 27 cents an hour (not really, but close.). It would never occur to me to betray the people who have basically been put in my care for the day.

    • I’m trying to understand the jump from raiding the freezer or pocketing cash to betraying a customer and his private conversation by outing him on social media.

      Well, having never met the guy, this is merely speculation. But I’d be surprised if this was the first incident of unethical behavior in his life.

        • Of course, these are not ordinary times. I doubt he views it as unethical! He doubtless considers it heroic. This is what BLM is all about, as are all the apparently massive numbers of useful idiots who are doing BLM’s bidding: BLM wants to completely re-engineer society. BLM are Marxists. They want to destroy the market economy. All these people paying BLM obeisance are useful idiots, and by definition, they have no idea what they’re doing and where this will all lead.

    • It’s very simple:
      He viewed anyone who didn’t back BLM as subhuman, as being on par with the Nazis in 1945, and like The Palmer Report, feels that non-progressives don’t deserve civility – or rights.

      They’re “fair game” for having their livelihoods wiped out, their privacy invaded, their property destroyed… the list goes on.

      I find myself looking back about 25 years to the first time I heard John Lewis speak. It was during the House debate on the rule for the Contract With America’s welfare reform bill. He compared people trying to fix an obviously broken system to Nazis, invoking Martin Niemoller’s famous words. Back then. I dismissed it as a person beclowning himself, letting the emotion get the better of him. 25 years later, I have a different view.

      Kurt Schlichter is right. John Lewis hates me (or people like me who don’t fall in line with his preferred public policy positions). He views me as a Nazi, and therefore, I am not human in his eyes. Furthermore, against Nazis, a lot of things can be fair game. A lot of things. Bernie Sanders campaign workers were okay with gulags, for instance..

      With the Trump = Hitler rhetoric, it can be very easy to be okay with going along with things otherwise considered unethical. After all, the next Hitler has to be stopped.

      In 2012, the next Hitler was Mitt Romney – and it would have been any other GOP candidate for president. In 2008, it was McCain – or any of his rivals. In 2000 and 2004, it was George W. Bush. You get the idea.

      Looking at that… you can see how the IRS scandal happened. You can see how easy it was to have the FBI do what it did during 2016.

  3. For the most part I agree. Where I digress is the advice offered about hiring “a born again Christian as your bar manager.” I digress especially if they advertized they were born again. There have been uncountable times I have been cheated after hiring people to do work who have emblazoned their truck and advertisement with biblical verses and Christian symbols. As the old hymn says, “They will know you are Christian by your love” not your outward publicity stunts.

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