BILL MOYERS: You heard Richard Wolff say there are very good reasons to be angry at capitalism’s takeover of democracy, but, he went on to say, don’t write off the democratic impulse that is at the heart of the American promise. It can break out anytime, anywhere.

Here’s an example. The day after President Obama’s State of the Union, restaurant employees marched on Capitol Hill in support of a fair deal for workers who live by customer tips.

PROTESTERS: What we want, is justice in our industry!

BILL MOYERS: Although those tips are often meager or non-existent, for the past 22 years, these workers have been stuck at a federal minimum wage of $2.13 an hour.

PROTESTERS: Hey Hey, Ho Ho, $2.13 has got to go!

BILL MOYERS : At the head of the march, Saru Jayaraman.


BILL MOYERS : The organization she co-founded, Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, is fighting to improve wages and working conditions for the people who cook and serve the food we eat at restaurants and then clean up when we’re done.

SARU JAYARAMAN: Because restaurant workers they serve us and they should be able to put food on their own tables…

BILL MOYERS : Outside the Capitol, she and the protesters are joined by Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut…

REP. ROSA DeLAURO: Storm that Hill, make the difference.

BILL MOYERS: Inside, the activists are greeted by Congresswoman Donna Edwards of Maryland, who, with DeLauro, has introduced legislation raising the minimum wage for tipped workers.

REP. DONNA EDWARDS: I know that when I waited tables, I didn’t just do it because I needed some extra change. I did it because I had to pay my rent. I did it because I had to make sure that I had food in my refrigerator. I did it because I needed transportation to get back and forth to school. It was a job.

BILL MOYERS: Saru Jayaraman’s new book “Behind the Kitchen Door” is an insider’s expose of what it’s really like to work at the lowest rungs of the restaurant industry.

SARU JAYARAMAN: There are actually now over 10 million restaurant workers in the United States. So seven of the ten lowest paying jobs in America are restaurant jobs, and the two absolute lowest paying jobs in America are restaurant: dishwashers and fast food preps and cooks are the two absolute lowest paying jobs in America. These workers earn poverty wages because the minimum wage for tipped workers at the federal level has been frozen for 22 years at $2.13 an hour, and it’s the reason that food servers use food stamps at double the rate of the rest of the U.S. workforce, and have a poverty rate of three times the rest of the U.S. workforce.

We got to this place because of the power of the National Restaurant Association; we call it the other NRA. They’ve been named the tenth most powerful lobbying group in Congress and back in 1996 when Herman Cain was the head of the National Restaurant Association, he struck a deal with Congress saying that, “We will not oppose the overall minimum wage continuing to rise as long as the minimum wage for tipped workers stays frozen forever,” and so it has for the last 22 years

Now sure, some of them earn tips on top of those wages, but there are plenty of workers, particularly imagine your average server in an IHOP in Texas earning $2.13 an hour, graveyard shift, no tips. The company’s supposed to make up the difference between $2.13 and $7.25 but time and time again that doesn’t happen.

They live on tips, and when slow night happens and you don’t earn anything or very little in tips you often can’t pay the rent. And I guarantee you in every restaurant in America there’s at least one person who’s on the verge of homelessness or being evicted or going through some kind of instability.

It’s an incredible irony that the people that who put food on our tables use food stamps at twice the rate of the rest of the U.S. workforce. Meaning that the people who put food on our tables can’t afford to put food on their own family’s tables, and they don’t use food stamps because they want to, they use food stamps because their wages are so low and they face higher levels of what’s called food insecurity than other workers. So they can’t afford to eat!

The other key issue that we find that workers face is the lack of paid sick days and healthcare benefits; two-thirds of all workers report cooking, preparing, and serving food when they’re ill, with the flu or other sicknesses. And with a wage as little as $2.13, so reliant on tips for their wages, these workers simply cannot afford to take a day off when sick, let alone risk losing their jobs.

Ninety percent of foodborne illnesses in the United States, can be traced back to sick restaurant workers. So, you know, it’s common sense, it’s a public health issue, it’s good for the workers, the families, and the small businesses, because our research has shown that when small business actually pays better, provides these benefits, we’ve found they have less turnover, higher productivity, higher profitability.

The majority of workers are adults; many are parents and single parents, single mothers, using the restaurant job as their main source of income, and by the way taking great pride in restaurant work. Really loving being a restaurant worker, hospitality is something people take great pride in and so we need to make this industry professional, the way that other careers are professional. This is not a job that you move on to something else, this is a career for many, many people who stay in this industry for their lifetimes. So people need the opportunity to move up the ladder, to move to better jobs, to be treated like professionals, given a paid sick day, given a wage that they can sustain their families on.

We partner with more than a hundred small business owners around the country who are doing the right thing, providing good, decent wages, better working conditions, paid sick days, benefits, opportunities for advancement. These employers don’t charge exorbitant amounts to their customers, their prices are very comparable to everybody else but they’ve worked it into their business plan and we have them organized into a restaurant industry roundtable and offer assistance, advice, both from them and from us about how any restaurant owner could do better, could provide better wages and not have exorbitant prices. So I think that’s the first thing I would say to a small business owner is, “Look, there are tons of people who are already doing it. We’re here to help you, they’re here to help you try this new way of doing business.”

PROTESTERS: We’re workers united, we can’t be defeated. We’re workers united, we can’t be defeated…

BILL MOYERS: Acting on that democratic impulse, Saru Jayaraman and the protesting workers march from Capitol Hill to the Capital Grille steakhouse, owned by one of the biggest restaurant chains in America…

SARU JAYARAMAN: Eighty-six thousand customers of yours have signed a petition calling on you to pay a minimum of at least five dollars an hour to your workers…cause $2.13 is just not enough to live on. So here you go.



BILL MOYERS: A final thought: Watching those workers, it occurs to me that a capitalist system that no longer meets most people’s needs simply cannot last. It may survive for a time by fraud, farce or force, but once the capacity or the will for self-correction has been lost, so, too, is lost its reason to be, except to enrich the few at the expense of the many. Sooner or later the oppressive thumb of the One Percent has to be lifted -- either voluntarily removed, or severed by public anger and popular will. For the moment, those restaurant workers still believe in democracy -- still believe they can undo politically what predatory capitalism has done to them economically; still believe their cry for justice will be heard. And if it isn’t, what then are their choices? What would you do?

Tell us at our website, You’ll also find more about Saru Jayaraman and her call to take action for fair pay and better conditions for restaurant workers. And, send us your questions for Richard Wolff.

That’s all at I’ll see you there, and I’ll see you here, next time.

Saru Jayaraman on Justice for Restaurant Workers

Activist and author Saru Jayaraman marches on Washington with restaurant workers struggling to make ends meet, and talks about how we can best support their right to a fair wage. Jayaraman is the co-founder and co-director of the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, which works to improve pay and working conditions for America’s 10 million-plus restaurant workers. She is also the author of Behind the Kitchen Door, a new exposé of the restaurant industry.

“It’s an incredible irony that the people who put food on our tables use food stamps at twice the rate of the rest of the U.S. workforce — meaning that the people who put food on our tables can’t afford to put food on their own family’s tables,” says Jayaraman. “They don’t use food stamps because they want to; they use food stamps because their wages are so low and they face higher levels of food insecurity than other workers… they can’t afford to eat.”


Watch Jayaraman explain what average Americans can do to support restaurant waiters and kitchen staff.

Interview Producer: Lauren Feeney. Editor: Rob Kuhns. Associate Producer: Reniqua Allen.

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  • Anonymous

    Unfortunately these folks don’t have to worry
    about the race to the bottom because they are already there. No education or
    prior experience in any other field, this is the only option available. A great
    situation for restaurant owners who will never have to worry about a shortage of
    workers driving up wages. $2.13 an hour by law, this and other examples of
    intentionally disenfranchised workers is typical of why this system must be
    dramatically changed !

  • George Blodgett

    Saru is an eloquent and articulate spokesperson for the restaurant workers so grossly underpaid. What an eye opening segment. If the workers group will publish for all to see a list of the top ten proper pay restaurants, and the bottom ten worst offenders, then I will pledge to patronize the best and boycott the worst. If a few hundred thousand others will do the same the “big money” boys will get the message. They hate it when someone disrupts their income stream.

  • Tobi Cohen Grant

    I notice that a comment I posted has been deleted. I did not use profanity, did not violate any guidelines for this page, just expressed a different point of view! Way to go, liberal media!

  • Tobi Cohen Grant

    Wow, George, you must eat out a lot.

  • moderator

    Hello Tobi,

    After a full search, I cannot find any comments attributed to you that have been deleted. Do you remember what you said or where it was posted?

    moderator @ moyers

  • Tobi Cohen Grant

    Yes, I said that I had been out to dinner and the bill was $100 for two. We left a $20 tip. The waiter had 5 tables at the same time. Some were occupied by 4 people, so their bill was probably more than ours and the tip would be more than $20. We were there approximately 1 1/4 hours, as were the other tables. People were waiting to be seated as we left. My math tells me that our server pocketed, at the very least, $100 dollars/hour in tips. Cry me a river.

  • lola

    that does not happen every shift. You were probably there on a good night. Busy hours of operation fluctuate. On other nights they might make only hourly wages. That’s why. Cry you a river. Do the math. Now I see why you were deleted.

  • Alexis

    The server splits those tips with the busboy, food runner, and bartender. Sometimes, restaurants illegally steal a percentage of those tips for the house. A good night will send workers home with great money, a regular lunch shift will send workers home with pocket change.

  • Brn1

    I’m usually pretty open to the stories I see here, and I’m not decrying the frustration of restaurant workers, but the summary begs the question: who, in our work force, actually does get a fair wage? Teachers? I know 99% of the time I can’t even afford to go to restaurants. Policemen? Construction workers? Who, exactly, gets paid what they’re worth? I want their job.

  • Mary Pena

    of course everyone thinks they are not getting a fair wage. but teachers, policemen, and construction workers make enough to provide for their families…I know, my dad was a bricklayer. but those at the bottom of the scale–making minimum wage or less–they and their families deserve a living wage.

  • moderator

    Just to make it clear, no comments were deleted.

    Sean @ Moyers

  • jaf

    Servers in upscale restaurants who get the weekend dinner shifts do pretty well and those positions are hard to get due to low turnover. Those working at Waffle House or the neighborhood diner have to work hard to go home with anything close to $10/hr average for their shift.

  • Tony Hidalgo

    once went to dinner with a couple who left 10% on the table. They said
    they were not doing well that month. I countered that if you don’t have
    the money to eat out responsibly, then you shouldn’t be eating out.
    Tip fairly and generously. And consider an inflation-adjusted 1970
    minimum wage NOT a threat to company profits and employment. It is a
    cost of doing business. If your efficiencies can’t afford it, then you
    shouldn’t be competing.

  • Kim Sanders

    I work at a resturant……
    I used to work in corperate mangament. But got laid off with a large number of people from the company. I am not one to sit around and have the govenment pay for my food or housing. So I got a job as a waitress.
    Its a difficult exsausting job.
    In defence of people who chose this job as a career. They deserve to get paid more.
    I have been told by customers that they could not do what I do… they see how much work there is… you have to memorize a large menu and prices, work on cumputer systems that are not that compatable with what is really needed. Lifting, bending, carring heavy trays or heavy ceramic plates that are stacked on your arm. I have seen kitchen workers get sever cuts and burns and they deal with it… not gettin the proper medical attention. Waitstaff and kitchen staff working when they are ill due to the fact there is not health insurance or paid sick days… its a buisness like anyother. People run that buisness…. if you had no waitsaff then the conusmer could not go out to eat and have the luxury to not have to cook in thier homes for that day or evening. Its a delight to go out and eat and relax in a wonderful atmosphere and enjoy someone serving you after you have had a long day.
    I will say that being a server is a benifit for students… it works with there scheduale. I am a student….I am attending medschool. I am also raising children Without childsupport. There are smart people that work in the waitstaff and its a great way to work with a college schedual and work towards thier goals of a better future.
    I will say that this is a thankless job…. Mangament as well as owners dont ever say thank you or ask for anything or ideas from waitstaff…. because we are looked at as lowclass and no brain to do this job.
    The servers are the face of the company …. the ones who make the dining experience a joyful one. Alot of customers don’t know that servers get paid only $2.13 an hour. Its the tips that we live on. I think tips should be based on the service you get not based on what percentage that you should give. I have gone out to several restruants where the service is terrible…and I stil tip higher than what is exspected becuause the server needs the money to live on.
    I love my regulars that come in and the customers are wonderful that eat at my establishment. The staff I work with love to see the smiling faces of our customers enjoying the great food and service we provide for them.

  • Kim Sanders

    If you think so lowly of the food industry… then Please never go out to eat again. Eat at home…. Some people that work at resturants are students or working there temperarly so they can get a better job in the field they used to work in. Due to layoffs… I know because I work with several people that are in the same situation. They will work and not sit on unemployment or use the govenment for assistance. So if they work hard to make ends meet then please give those people some credit for not mooching on the system as much as the people that are not working at all.

  • Robin Doyle Hendriex

    Having worked in the restaurant business all of life, I was brought to tears by this show. I have never heard the blight of the food service worker discussed with such concern and honesty. Thank-you for bringing this problem to the attention of others. Too bad it will most likely fall on deaf ears.

  • Margaret Piton

    Really enjoyed today’s show. I live in Quebec, where the minimum wage for tips workers is $8.55. I also spend time in the U.S.
    In Quebec I rarely eat out because of the high restaurant prices and high sales taxes. In the U.S. I eat out more often, and now I know why, it’s because the workers are underpaid. Very enlightening.

  • Marla Rich Bowen

    If there is a list of restaurants and companies that do pay a fair wage to their staff, I will choose them first. Thanks for the info!

  • Chris Smith

    I had no idea that the minimum wage for restaurant workers was frozen for so long. It seems only fair that if it rises for other workers, it should rise for restaurant workers as well. I usually try to leave at least 20% as a tip, and if the server deserves it, even more. I once took some friends out to a fine restaurant where the bill was $400 (with a tip included in the bill), and the service was so good that I left another $100 as an extra tip, and felt good about doing so. The server was definitely worth it. Everybody has to eat.

  • Dave in Louisiana

    I totally agree Hidalgo, if you can eat out you should be able to leave a tip. My daughter worked for a major steak house and was only payed 3 to 4 dollars minimum and had to depend on the rest for tips also had to pay the table cleaners out of there pocket, talk about slave labor, and there are alot of people that do not tip because they are to cheap, ask my daughter.

  • John West

    The 1% mentioned in the story are at the top of our government and the corporations. We don’t have true capitalism in here in the USSA. NO bail outs should ever take place at government expense.

    The biggest problem in this country is government is too big and public employee unions are too powerfull. Banks like CITI shouldn’t be bailed out by the government (tax payers) only to see the top managemenet leave the the bank and go work in the top levels of government.

    Our system is broken and it needs to be fixed. More government is not the solution. We need a flat tax and a new system regulating corporations.

  • Hickory

    After watching the program about Justice for Restaurant Workers and hearing that some restaurant owners/managers have ensured their employees receiver more than the $2.13/hour, I am wondering if
    Saru Jayaraman and her group could encourage restaurants who pay higher wages (at, say, $5 or more per hour) to have an agreed symbol to display in their window or advertising to let the public (and potential customers) that this restaurant is “taking care of their employees” in a fair way. Those of who would like to support their cause could be informed as to which restaurant to support with our business. This suggestion is similar to George Blodgett’s comments below.

    Another thought. My daughter worked in a restaurant when she was in college and one evening near closing time, a bus load of European tourists arrived and they kept the kitchen open late and served dinner for the whole group. The staff had to work rather late and when they compared notes after the group had left the restaurant, they had left NOT ONE PENNY of tip. In most countries in Europe the Service Charge (tip) is included in the bill. The tour operators are wrong for not educating their tour groups that in the USA, tips are not included in the bill and that at least 15% and, better still, 20% should be added for the wait staff..

  • Patricia Prescott

    i am a server, and truely enjoy my job, and consider it a career. I am educated. I have held other jobs, such as a legal assistant. I do not think of this field as one that is below another. Not every server at every restaurant does poorly. Many people do not know that servers are only paid 2.13, but I dont think that it is up to the customer to pay my wages. I want fair wages, and a customer to tip me based on the service that I provide. I know of very few that pay a wait staff fairly. I have worked for one company that was a head of its time many years ago. McGuires in Pensacola Florida, was amazing to work at. What I want as a server is the right to earn raises, sick pay, 401k and affordable good medical. Most servers do not recieve a check, due to paying taxes. I live on what I recieve from my guest. IF you only work in this field and do not have a love for the job, you will not do well, or do it for very long. I love this field. It allows me the sechdule that I need as a mother. Until the past few years, when the economy went down, I did very well for the 25/30 hours I worked during a 5 day work week, based on tips. I just want a fair wage, sick pay, ect.

  • Patricia Prescott

    i have to disagree with you. I am educated, and have worked in office enviroments, and as a legal sec. This is what I enjoy doing and do it well. Many of my co workers over the years have held degrees, I work with teacher, state troopers, a doctors wife, students…ect. so please rethink your comment.

  • Patricia Prescott

    i agree, you probably saw a good night. but what you might not see, are the people who dont tip. the % that varies, that goes to the host, bartender, food runner, and busboy. and that is a % of the sales, not the tip I made. So when a table stiffs a server, or greatly under tips ,they paid to have that guest. Not too mention also when you swipe that credit card, and tip, I have to pay the credit card % to recieve that tip. so see the $20 that you left, dwindles down and Is not what I am always leaving with. Your business supports a whole staff, beyond that $20. that you gifted your server, oh yea, dont forget Uncle Sam gets his share…

  • Anonymous

    Lady, with all due respect, you may want to
    rethink your education because your response makes no sense at all !
    I would never attack people who work in this industry but continuing to work in
    a severely under paid profession with all the cards stacked against you amounts to long term financial insanity and being a fun
    job is only rationalizing your pitiful condition rather than changing it

  • MilkoFace

    How do you know that any of those other tables even tipped? At the very least tipped the 20% you did? I will cry her a river, because her feet were probably screaming by the end of the night, and no, she was not guaranteed to have made $100/ hr in tips. That estimate works on the assumption that every table tipped 20%, and as difficult as this might be for you to understand, a portion of them may not have. Possibly even a large portion. Way to go, Republican reasoning!

  • DonnaMorris

    would like to know if it is legal to charge server bank fee on sale? My understanding was bank fee on gratuity, not on amount of sale. Should this cost of doing business be restarants responsibility? Respectfully, Donna Morris

  • Warwick Leopold

    Saru what a fine person you are .I was never aware of the terrible situation.the betrayal by government is so saddening .I wish you and your members success The health issue is very concerning .

  • Oregonian

    I couldn’t believe there was a $2.13/hr. minimum cash wage in this country. So the government essentially expects the restaurant patrons to make up the difference between that and the individual state’s minimum wage? As far as I know, this doesn’t exist in any other industry. I’m proud to say that I’ve only lived in states with a minimum cash wage for tip workers at least equal to the state minimum wage. Currently reside in Oregon, which has the second highest minimum wage after Washington state. I personally would like to see it even higher, and I’m a consumer, not a minimum wage worker.

  • Nanci

    Saru should contact HERE union. It is a union for restAurant & hotel workers. They Assure workers all the rights she is fighting for.

  • Carl Lloyd

    99’s Hope Boycott Coke

  • Owen Johnson

    Some states require that tipped workers be paid the full minimum wage, regardless of tips. Last I knew, that was true for my state, Washington, and not only that, the state minimum in WA is now $9.19 per hour. When I was a senior in high school I worked as a bus boy and got minimum wage and the waitresses kicked in a percentage of their tips to us. I’m glad I grew up in a state that cares about its people.

  • Grym

    Justice for restaurant workers?
    Really? Don’t like your wages bussing tables, flipping burgers, serving?
    Acquire some skills and get a different job! The only good thing about this is
    the entertainment value it provides people with a modicum of logic.

  • Nanci T. Ponne’

    A boycott could lead to layoffs of the very people u r trying to help

  • Jim O

    Most restaurants put a service charge on groups over 6. The charge is usually 18%. Sometimes teh servers do not see this as it goes on their paycheck.

    I spent most of my life in food service from dishwasher to management. I support this movement wholeheartedly.

    My own opinion is: The food service industry and the federal government are in collusion to propagate slave labor.

  • Stacie Ford-Bonnelle

    obviously has never worked in food because of all the assumptions.

  • JRH

    In Australia, service workers actually earn a living wage, and wait staff needn’t rely on tips.

  • Pete A Erkeneff

    Some patrons even skim tips off other patrons tables. In California, all customers are mandated to leave a 15% tip or, the difference is taken out of the servers pay. Most customers aren’t aware of this.

  • Paul

    One of the most telling statements was what happens with tips on slow nights or when the server has to miss a shift. Working for tips is a way of ensuring that the worker is only being paid for time directly working (providing the customers actually do tip). On a slow night, no tips, hence no pay. That is a way for the restaurant owner to transfer expenses onto the back of the employees least able to afford the interruption of pay. If the employee misses the income on the slow night she may be facing eviction or medical treatment for her kids, If the owner had to eat the loss of the slow night he would probably be facing a late alimony payment or having to put off the boob job of his much younger third wife for another few weeks. (Yeah, that’s speculative fiction, but more catchy than a dry statement saying that the owner can much better afford to absorb the costs of shortcoming than can his most lowest paid employees. It’s exploitation pure and simple.)

  • Barbara Anderson

    Fear is the little mind killer. If we are afraid to fight back because we might get hurt, then nothing will every change.

  • Barbara Anderson

    Here we go again. I figured there would be someone like you on here. You think your better because what you do is skilled or intellectual, well you have proven your not very smart, so your boss is getting shafted. The false argument that you deserve more because you have a better education is BS. It was your choice, your training. The rest of us should not have to pay for it. If any human being is willing to work hard, regardless of what they are doing, they deserve a living wage. What are you going to do if they do acquire some skills and get a different job. Wait on yourself. There is a term for people like you – a wanna be aristocrat. I bet you have often felt you were born at the wrong time, in the wrong place. Poor baby. Too bad you weren’t born in France right around the time of the French revolution. That would have provided some entertainment value, watching your head bounce in the basket.

  • Anonymous

    If the minimum wage was adjusted for inflation it would be at $22 an hour.

  • Owen Johnson

    Timothy, I believe the $22 per hour figure was if the minimum wage was adjusted for productivity, not inflation. The inflation adjusted figure is something like $12.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the correction. I appreciate it.

  • Anonymous

    Stunning to me that Australia’s minimum wage is $16 an hr. Makes you realize how much policy has to do with concentration of wealth. For my business to thrive, I need more people who make $20-$30 an hour working. But even more important– we’re all happier.

  • Dave

    After my college degree, working 3 years in a science field and leaving the industry in disgust I got involved in the food industry first in produce for 4 years then as a fine dining cook in upscale kitchens for almost 4 years. We are not well respected by most people and still paid well below acceptable levels. I figured the food coming out my station netted nearly $200,000 profit annually and I saw barely 7% of that in my income. Think the owners are greedy?
    Plus, customers who think their grilled salmon with lemon dill wasabi aioli just magically appears without a clue as to what we did to make their beautiful food might want to re-think how they treat cooks. A good cook or chef should be treated like royalty. We are modern day magicians and you’re eating delicious, edible artwork…show some class and help take care of the cooking artists who took care of you. I point the finger at the greedy restaurant owners who try to get as much out of you for as little pay as possible and also the naïve public who have never worked in a restaurant or in the food industry. This problem should never happen. Working in a restaurant is stressful enough…do you want that emotional stress going into your food? I think not.

  • Disce Pati

    A recognizable symbol for consumers to be able to judge where they’d like to spend their money is a superb idea, Hickory!

  • USAndy

    As bad as restaurant work is, tomato pickers are fairing worse. Here in Florida there have recently been 9 prosecuted cases of slavery, and the per bucket wage hasn’t risen in over 30 years! What is is about food that brings out the cheapness in employers? The COI has petitioned Publix supermarkets to sign on the the Fair Food Initiative, and agree to pay an extra penny per pound, and Publix has refused! Geez, no raise in 30 years and the market begrudges you a penny more… revolutions comin’!

  • Anonymous

    That makes a big difference. I also worked as a waitress at California’s (then) minimum wage. Even on a slow night, I earned a minimum of four hours at minimum wage. Certainly a business can budget for this low amount of labor cost. Retail stores have to do it; they, too, have slow sales days.

  • Anonymous

    I’m starting to agree with the idea that people should be required to work for a year in restaurants before being allowed to eat in one.

    1 – Every table does not tip.
    2 – Every night is not busy.
    3 – Top or senior staff get prime shifts; the guy serving that busy station is making more than the other staff are making.
    4 – Waitstaff are rotated through the stations. Even the top guy on the best shift is going to occasionally be put in the slow section. In my day, that was the smoking section; there were few smokers in SF, no one wanted to sit in that section. So one night a week, you’d get smoke in your face and low income.
    5 – Waitstaff tips out the bartenders, the cooks, and the busboys. (The tip out rate in my last restaurant job was 15%.)

  • Anonymous

    When I waited tables, one of my coworkers was a 39-year-old military wife with four children. She had limited job options due to following her husband’s assignments. They were living in San Francisco, with a very high cost of living.

  • Owen Johnson

    Businesses that pay low wages always say they can’t afford to raise wages or that they’ll have to raise prices to the point they go out of business. Hogwash! Labor is usually only a small percentage of the total cost; someone just figured out it’s 17% at McDonald’s and that includes the CEO.

  • Robert Alexander

    I do not like the tipping system. It puts too much of a servant/master relationship forward. Employers should see how beneficial it is to their businesses to pay and provide benefits for their workers. Since most do not see this they need to be required to pay a living wage.

  • Guest

    At some point this whole national conversation zero in on two things:

    • A living wage to all workers, including those in restaurants and in farm fields, is simply a legitimate cost of doing business. Imagine defending a restaurant owner’s saying, “Well, I’m going to pay only 50-75% of the cost of the durable goods, and rent, and utilities that it takes to run my business, cause if I I pay the whole cost, I will be priced out of business!”
    Those kinds of costs are no more nor less immutable than are labor costs nor is what is being paid for intrinsically more valuable than human labor. (I would argue that human lives are, in fact, far more valuable.) Neither is what is being purchased more essential to running the business. The only true difference in how value and price is determined is simply that the humans demanding “fair compensation” for tables and chairs, space, and electricity have far more power to force payment than the humans who are needed to actually do the work. (And imagine the insurance industry, or the banking industry, or the real estate industry trying to pull this scam. And those are industries which produce nothing required for life, nothing that is even tangible!)

    Increasing prices to increase wages will not kill jobs as long as the price increase is used only for wage increases. Jobs lost are made up with jobs created. If a business should die because customers are unwilling to pay the true cost of the goods/services offered—including the true costs of labor— the business is based on a very poor business model and truly should be allowed to fail.

    The idea that customers won’t pay more for meals is exposed as a lie by the bizarre tipping system itself. Customers will in fact pay more; they do every damned time they tip! They do every damned time prices increase and shareholders, executives, and/or owners get an increase in dividends or compensation of some kind!

    And if *you* are not willing to give up your smartphone, or your vacation, or other luxury(s) in order to pay the actual cost of your food, whether you purchase from a fast food joint, a neighborhood diner, a 4-star restaurant, a grocery store, or a farmers’ market, you are no better than the boss/owner who accepts any compensation before paying employees a realistic wage.

  • Dragantraces

    “Fear is the little mind killer.” Beautifully expressed!

  • Barbara Anderson

    Have to admit, right out of Frank Heberts ‘Dune.” One of these lines that just stay with you, no matter how old or where you are at.

  • dudebro

    Yes, because the process of acquiring skills doesn’t require food and shelter, and other expenses. Really? The contribution of artists, activists, philosophers and students to society doesn’t exactly yield immediate pay. These things take time, and during that time, these people fill other positions in society to support their cost of living, such as serving you your food. Ingrate.