The Restaurant Trade -- equitable employers or sweat shops?

It's a job but is it a living?

"You work three jobs? … Uniquely American, isn't it? I mean, that is fantastic that you're doing that." —President George W. Bush, to a divorced mother of three, Omaha, Nebraska, Feb. 4, 2005

Much of the world laughed at these words, but the sad truth of today’s economy means this is reality for many: multiple part-time jobs. In these trying times when jobs are scarce and the jobless plentiful, any kind of employment may be seen as a godsend for those trying to keep body and soul together.

The restaurant trade is a labor intensive industry and most, due to the nature of the work and often grueling schedules required, suffer high staff turnover and are always hiring. Or so it seems.

Do they offer a reasonable solution for those desperate for work – any work?

What’s it like, working in a restaurant these days?

This writer decided to find out. Come with me as I join the legions of workers in the restaurant trade.

For the purposes of this article, the restaurant industry does not refer to the five-Michelin-star establishments where dinner bills are tallied in the hundreds, but the ho-hum- everyday-every-city restaurants, the national chains such as, Outback, Olive Garden, Chili’s, Applebees, Ruby Tuesday, Denny’s, Red Lobster, Hooters – those restaurants that dot the American landscape. In fact, in most suburban areas, the corporate chains make up 95% of dining out choices, at an average cost of $13.99 per plate.

The myth

According to Tom Emmer (Republican candidate (unsuccessful) for the office of Governor of Minnesota,) minimum wage legislation for the restaurant trade should be removed as “some wait-staff are making $100,000/year in tips,” and the money saved could be used “to stimulate more employment.”

Let’s leave aside if such a lofty income is probable or even possible for the moment, and the question of how removing minimum wages might create more employment – which beggars the imagination – or how it would do anything other than increase the profitability of the corporate restaurant entity, and take a look at what tips mean to the restaurant industry.

In perspective:

The minimum wage of $7.25 per hour means I would have to work 27 hours just to pay my electricity bill for January of $193.00. My home (mortgage, insurance and taxes) requires my earnings of another 124 hours each month. My little car, costing me $150 month needs all the fruits of my labor for 21 hours. I would work 2 hours in order to purchase one meal in the restaurant in which I work.

What happens when you leave a tip for your server in a restaurant?

Did you know the money you leave as a gratuity actually goes toward bringing a large percentage of the restaurant’s workers up to minimum wage? That’s right.

Here in Florida, the labor law as applied to restaurants is worded like this:

“An employee who regularly receives tips as a part of his or her pay also receives, under federal and Florida law, a minimum wage of $4.23/hr. In order to have this exemption from the minimum wage apply, the employee must regularly receive more than $30 per month in tips, and be allowed to keep all of his or her tips. The tips plus wages combined must add up to at least the $7.25 per hour minimum.”

In case you were thinking "well don't claim all your tips, then," consider this. In every restaurant there are sections more popular than others, and assignment to the better sections is based on your performance -- which is measured by your tips to sales ratio. So if you don't claim all your tips in order to put some in your pocket, you will find yourself working the four tables right beside the kitchen where nobody wants to sit and is unhappy if placed there, making less money anyway. Yes, sir, they got you every which way.

However, in the realm of the corporate restaurants practice is otherwise. Servers are required to enter their tips into the computer system for each shift and a portion goes into the ‘tip-sharing pool’ to be shared with those staff also deemed ‘tipable,’ such as the host or hostess, the food runners who assist in serving, the bartender, the ‘expo’ (quality control person who gives final approval on each dish before it is served.) All of these positions are considered tip-earning and paid only the base of $4.23 even though they do not directly receive gratuities from the patrons.

Yes, that 15-20% of your bill you so generously leave in appreciation of good service does not rest in the pocket of the hopefully smiling server, but supplements the restaurant’s employee costs across the board.

Did you know?

Meet lmmartin, hostess

Neither did I.

I applied at a Port Charlotte, Florida restaurant -- one of those previously mentioned national chains whose name will be kept my secret -- because I had a couple of friends working there who put in a good word for me.

I met with the general manager, a pleasant young woman and then did a walk-through of the place, spending fifteen minutes at each work station – with the hostess, the servers, the bar, the expo station (where food is dressed, plates wiped and all is made pretty before it goes to the table,) and the cook-line, a beleaguered group of five cooks in a too-small space, busy micro-waving, deep-fat frying, grilling, roasting, boiling and otherwise heating-up the frozen pre-prepared entrees shipped from the corporate warehouse. Off to the side in another cramped area, two women prepared the fresh (or frozen) vegetables for the salad bar.

Servers pushed in and out the double swinging doors, entering orders into the computer system (which apparently fails as often as it works,) grabbing drinks, side orders, fresh plates… always at double time.

I was to be the new hostess. My job was to man the front door, greet the guests, seat them (in rotation according to the floor chart – though most of them know where they want to sit,) tell them about the specials, introduce their server by name, take care of any special needs like high-chairs or booster seats, park unneeded wheelchairs, walkers, baby-strollers (even oxygen tanks) out of the way, ensure the washrooms are in good order, take reservations, answer the phones, handle to-go orders… And during busy hours, run the “wait list” – a thankless task.

I was to wear plain black trousers (dress pants only,) a plain black knit shirt, black belt, black socks and black, non-skid, restaurant-certified, work-shoes (at a purchase price of $69.) In fact, the purchase of the required uniform set me back $110.00. (Or my entire earnings for 15 hours!)

The first two days required my presence at the restaurant at 7 AM until 11 AM for training – sitting at one of the computers, reading the corporate directives and taking a quiz at the end of each section, following which I was to work with the hostess on shift, learning the ropes.

She was an unhappy woman, having been in that position for ten years and still only earning $4.23/hour plus tips. Her first order of business was to tell me how miserable the job was. She resigns every couple of weeks, but still, she's there… Her sour attitude provided me with a less than auspicious beginning, and I wondered why she was chosen to train new staff. Or even why management hung on to her so tenaciously – I never once saw her smile. After the first twenty minutes, she sat and chatted with some regular guests, leaving me to do the work.

Okay – it was hardly rocket science. Or so I thought.

The restaurant

The restaurant can sit 186 at tables or booths, though the guests are squeezed in like sardines. Plus, the bar accommodates another 12 on bar stools, and on fine days, a further 32 can enjoy the outdoor patio. At capacity, 230 guests may be seated and served at one time.

But this restaurant is rarely at capacity. One of the many problems it faces. On a busy Saturday evening, one guest asked, "What's the wait?" I suggested 10 to 15 minutes. The guest sighed and said, "Fine. We'll take it. Everywhere else is at an hour and a half." Which pretty much tells you the status of this particular establishment.

Why is this?

Although part of a national chain and a corporate entity, the restaurant’s unloved status is apparent in the lack of maintenance: rips in the booth seats gaping wide and exposing the foam underneath – a collection place for food and germs; the dark oak finish of the once fashionable woodwork is worn in places right through the stain, and the surfaces are splintery; the carpeting is in need of a deep cleaning, if not replacement – the quick once over with a carpet sweeper twice a day is not enough. The restaurant is shabby, but kept dark enough the extent of the disrepair is not immediately noticeable. It is a cookie-cutter clone of the corporate chain, one that has not seen a face-lift in decades, an old-fashioned, 80's style dimly-lit cavern of a dining room.

The floor plan crams booths back to back with barely enough room between the table and the seat for anyone larger than an anorexic teenager to squeeze in, let alone the average middle-aged to elderly of Florida who make up the majority of the restaurant’s trade. In this restaurant, the dinner rush starts at 4:00 PM and is over by 7:30.

Few diners are what we’d call slim. In fact, much as I hate to use the term obese… The hostess seating the patrons often has to haul the table to one side to let the slow-moving guests park their canes and walkers and struggle across the seat, then push it back and hope those destined for the other side can scrunch themselves in, and finally pull the table back to the middle.

The four-seat booths would be comfortable for two. The two-top booths (to use the restaurant lingo) are up against the dividing half-walls and too small for larger-size guests (or anyone over 110 pounds.) Their bulk spills over into the aisles. Most guests refuse to sit at them, requesting the four-seaters. Another problem for the hostess, who must endeavor to seat the restaurant efficiently, particularly during peak hours.

There are sections with tables and chairs, much sought after by some of the less nimble guests – remember this is small-town Gulf Coast Florida -- but they are spaced so closely together that when a portly patron sits back from the table, the chairs at the next cannot be pulled out. The hostess must often swing the table and move all four chairs until they sit at an angle to allow guests to sit down.

But then, the servers are blocked from easy access to the booths and two-toppers in the section.

And they are mad at the hostess!

Certain sections, those at the front where the guests receive a cold draft each time the front door opens (yes, Florida winters can be damp and chilly) or the section of three tables crammed between the bar and the kitchen, are undesirable, and patrons will only sit in them if there is nowhere else available. They let you know how unhappy they are.

The servers assigned to those sections (those with low sales to tip ratios) demand you seat guests in their area -- but the guest's desires come first.

No matter what -- someone is mad at the hostess.

Here’s the where the sweat comes in

Florida has no labor legislation regarding breaks during the work day – though there is a common misconception about that. Only those under the age of 18 are deemed worthy of the protection of law when it comes to rest periods. Your employer is not required to give breaks, no matter how long the shift.

A restaurant is active from early in the morning (try seven or eight for the kitchen prep staff) to late at night, often cleaning up and serving those last late guests at eleven. But the need for full staff only occurs for a few hours a day – the mid-day meal rush from 11 AM to 2 PM and the evening dinner service which in Florida starts at 4 PM and is over by 7 or 7:30 PM, except for Friday and Saturday evenings, when dinner may extend to 8 or 9. (Port Charlotte is no haven for night owls – in fact, we refer to the sleepy little Gulf town as home to “the newly-wed and the nearly dead.”)

You can see the staffing difficulties.

One server comes in at 10:30 AM and spends most of her time cleaning and caring for the few who drop in for a coffee or a snack. Not a popular shift as there’s no money to be made. The rest of the servers are in by 11:45 ready for the lunch trade. But by 2:00, the restaurant is quiet again, but the servers will be needed by 4:00. Not wanting to pay for servers with no money coming in, management selectively ‘cuts’ servers to go off-the-clock – but what are they to do with an hour or two? Go home? Shopping? Another job? Not likely. No two days are the same. Staff cannot count on when they will be cut, or when they must return. They normally sit at a back table waiting to be called back to work, drinking coffee or grabbing a bite to eat –for which they must pay, by the way. So, in effect, paid or not, the servers are often in the restaurant from morning till 8:30-9:00 PM. Some servers work straight through from noon to ten or eleven.

There is no bussing staff in this restaurant. Servers must clean their own tables. They each look after three or four, and need fast turnover to make any money. But tired after already spending several hours in the restaurant, they often leave them dirty in order to slow down the seating.

Which means the waiting guests are mad at the hostess.

They do a half-hearted wipe down of the table tops. Often, I must find a clean cloth and wipe them myself before seating new guests. The servers may forget to wipe down the chairs, and I try to seat patrons only to find crusts, spilled sauce, sticky spots. (Great impression for the diners!) The servers are also responsible for cleaning their sections – floor, tables, woodwork – before they go home at the end of their shift. They are fatigued; it is not well done. Everyone is tired to the bone.

Corporate policies mandate a hostess must be on duty at all times starting at 10:30 AM, with two hostesses during the evening peak hours, whether trade requires it or not. So the day hostess stays on until the second hostess shows up at four – if she shows up – and then works until she is cut when the third arrives – maybe-- or at some point after the dinner rush.

Taken by my cell-phone at the end of a shift. This young woman has just finished for the night and is waiting to be 'released' by management.
Taken by my cell-phone at the end of a shift. This young woman has just finished for the night and is waiting to be 'released' by management.

Some days I worked only five hours – reasonably comfortable -- though the work is more physically demanding than you can imagine. But many days I started at 10:30 only to have to cover the second hostess’ s shift and then double up with the third. Over half my shifts turned into doubles – nine, nine-and-a-half, ten hours on my feet – my poor unhappy feet, imprisoned in a pair of heavy work shoes.

Head office also dictates that no guests should be left waiting at the entrance, while at the same time demanding the hostess spend the necessary time to settle the guests, attend to their immediate needs (including the shifting of tables, parking of wheelchairs,)and go through the ‘sales pitch.’ An absolute physical impossibility.

The shift manager (someone who has survived a year or more of this grueling schedule) grabs my arm, “You can’t leave people waiting!” and points at a cluster of patron at the front door, instead of greeting and seating them herself. (I do leave a dot on the next table to be seated – if anyone cares to look.) The general manager comes out of her office to ask me “When was the last time the washrooms were checked?” As I have not stopped moving in hours, I laugh and give some smart-ass reply. (Go ahead, fire me. Please.) An angry waitress saunters up to say, “If you don’t seat my section, I’ll do it for you,” though she is working the despised section of tables between the bar and the kitchen, and no one wants to sit there.

It seems everyone is mad at the hostess.

Ten long hours into the day, a day in which I was scheduled to work only five hours, the dinner rush is over. I want to go home. I can barely stand to put one aching foot before the other. I am told I must first attend to the washrooms. By the time I get home, I’ve spent twelve hours out of my day preparing for the job, driving to the job, doing the job and driving home again. In all of these shifts, I have never made more than minimum wage. My highest earning day has been $71.75.

If I am able to sneak in a cup of coffee, I must go off the clock. If I go to the washroom for more than three minutes, I must go off the clock. If I need to eat anything, I must pay for it. If there is an accident that stains my clothes, I must have fresh ones for the next shift – out of my own pocket. If I cannot work a scheduled shift, it is my responsibility to find a replacement out of the stable of four hostesses, of which two are working every day.

Sickness is no excuse.

Public health concerns

This is not my first foray into the restaurant trade. Back (way back) when I was a single mom going to school, I worked in restaurants in Montreal. Before I could be hired, I had to first have a physical health clearance which included a blood test, a tuberculin test and a chest x-ray – all in the name of public health. No one worked in any establishment serving, preparing or handling food without such a health card.

Florida does not have such regulations. Your server may have tuberculosis or be HIV positive – you don’t know. Neither does the restaurant. Same with the cooks – who cut themselves regularly and sweat.

One thing you can be assured of, they were required to give a urine sample to see if they tested positive for trace amounts of marijuana, or if they snorted a line of cocaine in the past few weeks. Does that make you feel better?

One day, while manning the phone at my station as is part of my job, I took a call from a server who could not come in for her shift because she’d just been diagnosed with strep throat. Streptococcus, that miserable bacteria, often antibiotic resistant, responsible not only for sore throats but for many more serious ailment – scarlet fever, rheumatic fever, damage to the heart, death and highly contagious.  I listened with growing horror as the shift manager argued she should come in to do her shift anyway and slammed down the phone.

Me, being me, I said, “You’ve got to be kidding! You want someone with an infectious ailment to come in and serve food to the public? Really? Have you any idea how dangerous streptococcus is?” I add, somewhat heatedly, “Especially to the elderly. Not to mention that two of your servers are pregnant.”

“Well she was infectious yesterday and now she’s on antibiotics. So what?” said the shift manager.

I shook my head, making mental note to ensure this episode is not only reported in my article, but to the local press. (As you may have guessed, I am not in the slightest vested in this new career. It is research, only research and my time here is drawing to an end.)

Five minutes later, the same young woman called back, in tears. I’ve come to know her. She’s twenty-two, a single mother who lives with her equally hard-up parents and she needs this job.  She is very ill, and cannot work her shift. Can I give her some phone number of the other servers so she can find someone to work for her? I took up her case with the general manager, adding a good deal of editorial comment.

Fine. This poor hard-working woman will not lose her job if she doesn’t work her shift, providing a doctor’s certificate is faxed in.

As I leave the office, she is already going through the fat file of applications – there’s no end to those seeking work, any work -- looking to hire more servers and probably a new hostess or two.

To Mr. Tom Emmer, who is not the governor of Minnesota (thank God!)

The corporate entity which owns the chain of restaurants I write of showed a bottom line profit for 2009 (2010 not yet available) of over six million dollars – and a nice little dividend to the shareholders.

Of course, when you have the general public subsidizing your payroll costs; when you hire enough people to cover your needs without having any one person work more than 40 hours a week, thus avoiding paying benefits; when you nickel and dime those people to death (on one check I was deducted $1.74 for a ten-minute break to grab a cup of coffee;) when you schedule workers on a constantly changing basis to meet your desires, but destroying any chance they may have to live a life planned around hours required of the job and perhaps get another (schedules are posted on Fridays and go into effect on Wednesday, never the same and no one gets regular hours); when you refuse to reinvest any money in upgrading your facilities and easing the physical burdens of the job; when you publicly announce you have a fine benefit package available to all employees – health insurance for example, but the cost of those benefits exceeds the worker’s income; when you threaten, denigrate, over-work people desperate for some kind of income – well, I guess a profit isn’t too difficult to earn.

And you want to do away with minimum wages for restaurant workers?

Here’s an idea: I’d like to see you work in one of these fine establishments. I’ll come in and watch you earn those big bucks you speak of.

Don’t worry. I’ll leave a decent tip – which should bring you up to minimum wage.

Here, sir, is reality:

On a busy day, tables are turned over twice at lunch and three times at dinner; top servers get four tables, others get three.  The average meal is $13.99 to which we’ll add $5 for a beverage. Most tables served are two patrons. Average tip: $6.00. The top servers will earn $30 - $50 in a shift. They work three double shifts (9-10 hours) to five single shifts (5 to 6 hours) a week.  You could say top earners make an average of $200.00 a week in tips, speaking generously, or a whopping $10,400 a year.  Now reduce that by 10% for the tipping pool – that component required to bring the rest of the staff up to minimum wage and we have $8,360 annually.

We add the component you want to do away with: the minimum wage of $4.23 per hour. Thirty hours at that piddling rate works out to $126.90 a week, or $6,598.80 annually.

Add the two together and you have the princely sum of $14,959 a year. Woo-hoo! Why that’s $247.48 a week!  

Minimum wage of $7.25 for thirty hours a week comes to $217.50.

How much do you make, sir?

More by this Author


Comments 39 comments

Nan 5 years ago

Lynda, glad to see you back writing for hubpages again. Being a hostess is a hard job and requires a lot of standing all day. I think that they must get tired of bringing food to the table, and smiling. Some students take a job like this to be able to go to school. Or to live. Live is never fair in this profession and it is hard work. You bring out the facts and we need to think about the service they provide and the money they are making.


lmmartin profile image

lmmartin 5 years ago from Alberta and Florida Author

It may surprise you, Nan, but most of the women and men working there are not students but middle-aged people trying to hold life together. Remember the times we live in and the beating the Gulf Coast has taken. If such jobs were not such a dire necessity, I doubt the restaurants would get away with such practices. And that politicians want to make it even harder? Chills the blood -- doesn't it? What's the saying: You can't get blood from a stone...


gion profile image

gion 5 years ago

VERY well written. I wish people understood the truths about the restaurant industry, and how difficult it can be.The hardest part can be ignorant clueless people assuming it's just a job to stand around all day and smile.There are states where the restaurant industry does a better job of taking care of it's employees, but it's still a tough,thankless,multi-tasking job that few people understand.thanks for the write.


lmmartin profile image

lmmartin 5 years ago from Alberta and Florida Author

Thanks gion. Yes, it is a tough job, a very tough job that pays poorly. The fact that some want to do away with minimum pay for these workers is atrocious. The fact that the general public is subsidizing profitable corporations to pay the workers minimum wage is even more so. Tips are supposed to be a bonus for good service, not part of the restaurant's income -- which it works out to be. I heard a comedian once say what minimum wage really means -- if your boss could pay you less, he would. Thanks for commenting. Lynda


drbj profile image

drbj 5 years ago from south Florida

What an indictment of the restaurant trade, Lynda! And I know every word you write is the truth from your personal experience.

Better watch your back, m'dear.


Amanda Severn profile image

Amanda Severn 5 years ago from UK

This sounds like a horror story Lynda! I applaud you for going 'undercover' to get this story. No-one can say that you are writing from anything less than personal experience. I'm not sure that waiting staff are quite so appallingly treated here, though I know that it is usual for them to receive minimum wage plus tips as a top up. This effectively means that some do better than others, depending on the tipping practices of the diners. One of my nephews worked as a waiter for one of the big pizza chains, and actually earned quite a respectable wage, but maybe he was just lucky.


Hello, hello, profile image

Hello, hello, 5 years ago from London, UK

It is a killer and I don't know how people do it. I used to work in a hotel as a chambermaid when I came over first until I had my English Proficiency Exam passed and could work in a office again.


BobbiRant profile image

BobbiRant 5 years ago from New York

Yes, 'it's a job' but that great 'job' nickles and dimes people to death because it pays sub minimum wage and no, people do not make enough tips to live on. I was a waitress before and the pay is crap yet you do work your tush off. Good hub.


Sweetsusieg profile image

Sweetsusieg 5 years ago from Michigan

What a terrific article!! And how brave you were to jump in there with both feet and see for yourself how hard it really is! I have to know, when you left did you by chance tell them to look for your article? LOL

I did a small stint as a waitress, I decided after that it was something I did not want to do, but have much respect for those who do. We had to estimate our tips and pay taxes on them, there were many times after serving the customers there was maybe a .50 tip, not nearly 15% of the bill. So in essence I was paying to serve people, that's always fun. NOT

Keep up the good work!!


lmmartin profile image

lmmartin 5 years ago from Alberta and Florida Author

Hi drbj -- why does the restaurant trade get a pass on labor laws applied to all other industries? That's my question. And do the existing laws intend for tips to be spread around to bring other staff up to minimum wage? Not according to the legislation as I read it. I'm not worried about my back. My feet yes, my back no. But Hark! My next foray into the part-time job jungle arises -- Walmart just called and wants me to interview...

Hi Amanda. If tips were in addition to full minimum wage, then yes, the work would pay. But when the law actually deems your tips as part of minimum wage and sets a ridiculous low base of $4.23/hour, it becomes untenable. And there are politicians who want to do away with that!

Hi Bobbirant, Then you know. It's a crap job with crap pay. Made crappier by poor management that couldn't even be bothered to schedule regular hours so people could supplement with something else. I'm not surprised you don't want to do that work.

Hi Sweetsusieg. No I did not tell them I was writing articles about the restaurant trade. This hub is but one of them. I did enjoy meeting lots of people, and would you believe I am still doing two shifts a week (NOT doubles) for that reason. Besides, it does keep me fit. A number of servers complain about the poor tips left. I try to keep in mind that many of the clientele are pensioners (now living in fear of losing their Social Security.) You can tell. They're the ones that order salad bar, or soup with a glass of water. We need to remember that a good portion of the diners are also having financial problems. Also, the customers are not aware of how dependent the workers are on tips, believing, like most, that tips are a bonus for good service, not an integral part of the workers minimum wage.

Thanks everyone for commenting here. Lynda


Pamela N Red profile image

Pamela N Red 5 years ago from Oklahoma

Lynda, it is a terrible thing but like many American jobs if they are paid more we have to pay for it and most Americans don't care as long as they get cheap stuff. This is why so much of our products are manufactured in other countries.

I hardly eat out for this very reason. You don't know who is preparing your food or what is in it. When I do eat out I am nice and tip well. I know they have a terrible job, are overworked and underpaid.


lmmartin profile image

lmmartin 5 years ago from Alberta and Florida Author

I see. It's quite all right for a corporate entity to make a profit of $6 million by the labor of those whose minimum wage you are already subsidizing. As to the products manufactured overseas, there is so much I could say about this... but I won't. Instead, I'll simply suggest that while a Chinese worker is able to house, feed and clothe himself on a few dollars a day, an American is not. There lies the problem. Cheap labor is available in other places where the standard of living is relative to local income. Cheap labor in the US means poverty because the standard of living is relative to a much higher income. Hardly a difficult concept, but one hears how the American worker is to blame for foreign outsourcing because he wants to be paid too much. Give him cheap housing, cheap food, cheap heat, cheap education and cheap medical care, and he won't need to be paid as much. It's easy to be poor in a poor country. Hard in a rich one.

As to not knowing what's in your food and who prepared it, this is very true. But know in the national chains, your food is not prepared from scratch but from pre-prepared components shipped in frozen, heated and put together. Which makes it doubly suspect, I think.

Thanks for commenting. Lynda


dallas93444 profile image

dallas93444 5 years ago from Bakersfield, CA

Flag up.


lmmartin profile image

lmmartin 5 years ago from Alberta and Florida Author

Thanks.


GusTheRedneck profile image

GusTheRedneck 5 years ago from USA

Hi Lynda - I am always in great awe at the fine researching and reporting you do. Great article.

Gus :-)))


lmmartin profile image

lmmartin 5 years ago from Alberta and Florida Author

Thank you, Gus.


Pamela N Red profile image

Pamela N Red 5 years ago from Oklahoma

I didn't say it was right, I simply said that is how it is because we want to eat our cake and have it too.

Americans are also able to house and feed themselves for less, they simply aren't willing to. It is why immigrants come here and make millions.


lmmartin profile image

lmmartin 5 years ago from Alberta and Florida Author

Tell me how Americans are able to house and feed themselves on minimum wage? Many of the people I worked with already live in multi-generational households, and most of them, in this area, are mortgaged for more than the home is now worth, pay more than $200 monthly in utilities, must have a car as mass transit is non-existent, must feed themselves and food is not cheap, must clothe themselves and even though Goodwill is doing a great trade, it still requires cash, must have some kind of health insurance which is definitely not cheap (particularly when they do not receive benefits because they are working part-time.) This is a vast over-simplification. As to immigrants arriving and making millions -- not around here! I can tell you that. I know a number of immigrant families, and they are struggling just like their native-born counterparts. Further, impoverished people from other countries are not accepted as immigrants. They must be either sponsored by an American resident who must prove they are capable of supporting the newcomer, or come with enough money to support themselves for ten years at five times the official poverty level, which by sheer coincidence, just happens to be $250,000 in resources on hand. Even then, they must have a valid connection to be applying. Often, that money is used to start up or buy a small business in which the family ekes out a living. The cliches are: convenience stores, small motels, gas stations and restaurants.

Have you traveled in poorer countries? I have and worked there. Life is very different.

Sorry, I just don't buy the idea America allows one to live so very cheaply but Americans refuse to do so. Perhaps you'd like to come and see the tent city behind Murdock Circle in Port Charlotte. These Americans ARE living on the cheap.

Having cake and eating it too is unworkable.


BkCreative profile image

BkCreative 5 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

You know I have lived abroad and traveled extensively and the way American workers are treated would never be tolerated in other countries. We simply do not have workers rights. But we are the first to defend our right to what...be worked to death minus pension, a contract, living wages, humane working conditions, etc.? I just don't get how we can believe our own PR that everything is fine.

A professor from Alabama did a research study and found that most people in Alabama(hardly a rich state) pay more in taxes than the wealthy. How can that possibly be okay?

Yet, we will condemn teachers for earning a mediocre salary for doing a job that probably has the highest turnover of all educated professionals - but say nothing about corporate welfare - or the tax structure favoring the wealthy.

Here's an example - the NYC billionaire mayor has moved $75 million dollars offshore into tax free havens and it is perfectly legal because he set up a family foundation. I will pay on my chickenfeed, as income, more than he will.

But let's blame the overtaxed New Yorker who not only pays federal and state taxes but city taxes as well. Add to that high property taxes and a sales tax that is not progressive. Yet the budget will be balanced on the backs of teachers. Hardly highly paid professionals who continue to leave in droves.

But alas llmartin - if we want to continue to be used and abused as workers - I give up. But thanks for your efforts. We insist upon not facing reality - maybe because it is too painful.

Rated up!


lmmartin profile image

lmmartin 5 years ago from Alberta and Florida Author

Thank you, BKCreative. The little people are meant to be trod upon, or hadn't you heard. To pretend we live in a country where all men are created equal, with equal opportunities, with equal rights, with equal powers is to live in a dream world. I recently listened to some speechifying federal representative who demanded action be taken on the 'entitlements' costs (social security and medicare), while at the same time defending $900 billion expenditures in 'security' (ie military spending.) I couldn't help thinking, hey, how about if you give up your special pension, your elite medical care, come down and live with the people and then see how anxious you are to renege on the only cushion many of us have. Social spending is a spit in the ocean compared to the military (on which the US spends more than the next 27 military powers put together, 22 of which are allies) and yet it is once again the little people who must somehow make the sacrifice. Of the people, for the people, by the people? For some people, yes. Perhaps my view is shaded by what I see around me in this hard-hit area on the Gulf Coast. Perhaps life is different elsewhere -- but I doubt it. My correspondents in other parts of the country tell me it is pretty much same old, same old everywhere.

I also cannot understand why this society continues to believe everything is so wonderful. Why they continue to fight their own best interests in the name of propaganda. Just as above -- Americans only choose not to live cheaply; but immigrants can come in and make millions. In what universe? I shake my head in confusion and sorrow.

Thanks for this comment. Though general politics was not my subject, merely the shabby state of workers in one industry, it is certain this is a microcosm of the bigger picture. Lynda


Pamela N Red profile image

Pamela N Red 5 years ago from Oklahoma

Lynda, must be why I'm seeing so many Florida tags of late. It's cheap to live here in Oklahoma.


lmmartin profile image

lmmartin 5 years ago from Alberta and Florida Author

That could be, Pamela. Florida, particularly the Gulf Coast has been very hard hit; jobs are scarce and those to be had are part-time or seasonal and pay minimal. The real-estate bust has been so bad in Florida, they say it is unlikely to ever recover. A good part of the problem was that many homes here were second homes for people in the north. They got hit with the downturn and the first thing to go was the vacation home, in numbers that were astronomical. Want a house for $50,000? Sounds great, unless you need a job to pay for it. Most people are faced with homes less by far than what they owe. Some try to tough it out. Some say to hell with it and go. Of course, spending is cut in all the wrong places: schools, health, etc -- except for the new governor's office -- that budget for that and his new staff, he increased. (Figures!)

The ever growing tent city is a daily reminder. Luckily, it's tucked away in the bush so those driving to their gated communities from the yacht launch, piloting their luxury automobiles bearing Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New York plates, playing yet another round of golf on a private course with $150 day green fees, and dining at the their private country clubs don't have to look at it.

Let's see, Oklahoma or the tent city. Tough choice! (grin)


PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 5 years ago from Dallas, Texas

Great undercover story here Lynda. You've really captured the big picture that Mr. Tom Emmer obviously failed to see. Talk about fact checking. Not him.

The restaurant business is a tough one and it is a sweat shop. So many factors influence the wages earned - not all of them within the control of the hostess or the server.

I worked in a Pub-Restaurant in Vero Beach FL in the 70s after a divorce left me with too much month at the end of my money. It started off as a bookkeeping job until my manager was fired for embezzling, then a new manager was brought in to straighten things out. I saw first hand the wage issues, the intermittent schedules that allowed no planning, no sickness and little earnings despite long tough hours on one's feet. Your hub has struck a chord with me.


Sweetsusieg profile image

Sweetsusieg 5 years ago from Michigan

I can honestly say that one cannot survive in Michigan with minimum wage. Since a large share of the jobs have been outsourced to other Countries we are left with jobs that pay min wage or just a dollar or two over. At $1184 a month, before taxes (that is if you are granted the luxury of getting 40 hours per week, most will cut you at 39 so they don't have to pay benefits) how is one supposed to survive?

Let's break it down. At the very least #350.00 for rent (good luck finding one of those!), $200.00 groceries (good luck only spending $50 per week) another $200.00 for utilities, $50 phone (land line or cell pre-paid only because you don't make enough to sign up for a deal) $100.00 car insurance (if you're lucky enough to be able to afford a clunker) (You have to make a minimum if $1950 per month to get a car loan) Since gas is over $3.00 per gallon, $50 per week in gas is low, so now were at $200.00 for gas. For a grand total of $1100.00. Yep I can see living high on the hog with that!

Since I didn't take out taxes one can assume that we are well over our budget. Something has to go... food? utilities? Phone? Most of the young people dump the car insurance and pray they don't get caught... If they do the fines are as such; $250.00 ticket, PLUS $200 (year 1) Driver responsibility fee $100 (year 2) driver responsibility fee, for a grand total of an additional $550.00 over a 2 year period. If you can't afford to pay this, they revoke your license. In which case you lose your job.

Just my 2 cents worth...


lmmartin profile image

lmmartin 5 years ago from Alberta and Florida Author

And it has grown worse since the '70's. Back then, you kept your tips, though if you didn't share with the hostess, the bartender and the busboy you got no customers, no drinks nor were your tables cleared for turnover. Now, tips are used by the corporate entity to subsidize wages to make minimum for many of the staff.

But I repeat myself. Sorry.

Happy to strike a chord, Peg. Even if it did bring back less than golden memories. Lynda


lmmartin profile image

lmmartin 5 years ago from Alberta and Florida Author

So true, Susie. Your breakdown of expenses doesn't include health insurance (soon to be mandatory -- maybe,) prescription drugs or any of the other unexpected little things life throws at us. But your point is well made. Life at minimum wage is difficult, to say the least. Downright impossible if you ask me. I'm accustomed to living conservatively, but I would find it extremely difficult to live on $1,184/month (assuming I did get 40 hours work per week.) I have no extended family to move in with, and my children certainly have no desire to live with me, let alone they're in another country. Just me, the husband and two dogs, and my bare bones budget I just figured out is around $2,000/month.

Thanks for this great comment. Lynda


Keith S 5 years ago

I was a server decades ago. The work was hard, the money was not easy, and the fringes were very short. It doesn't seem much has changed since then except that there are more chains and fewer independent restaurants.

What's the answer?

Talk is cheaper than most restaurant patrons. Perhaps it is time technology updated the New York City Automats of yesteryear . Costs could be much lower and certainly the uninspired food that is served by chains could be reproduced by a robotic Automat. The problem of course with that is most of the jobs would be gone in those kind of restaurants.

The other thing that could be done is the minimum wage for servers could be set at $15 or $20 an hour. Of course the cost of meals in low cost restaurants would skyrocket causing many more people to eat at home. The net result could be the shutdown of a lot of restaurants that sell moderately priced meals.

However, until someone comes up with a good answer a short term answer is to not be niggardly when it comes to leaving a tip. I mean when one buys a cheap meal dont be cheap and leave a 15 or 20 percent tip. It isnt going to break most of us to throw a couple leave a couple of more bucks on the table, And when we do tip leave with a smile. Let the server you appreciate her/his effort.


lmmartin profile image

lmmartin 5 years ago from Alberta and Florida Author

Hi Keith, I have a better idea. No need for $15 or $20 an hour. Pay the minimum wage of $7.25 like every other industry, let the servers keep their tips but with the proviso tips are to be shared with those that assist in caring for the guests. Like the old days, when wait staff tipped the host/hostess, the bartender, the busboys -- or else got precious little help in earning the tip. Don't let the tips go into the corporate coffers to subsidize minimum wage.

And I agree. Restaurant staff work hard, very hard at looking after their client's needs. Be appreciative and understand it is not just your server who made your meal pleasant, but the host/hostess, the bartender, the food runners....

There are no easy answers, but in the meantime, and entire industry gets away with using your well-meant gratuity to bring their staff up to minimum wage.

Thanks for the great comment.


Mr. Happy profile image

Mr. Happy 5 years ago from Toronto, Canada

Wow ... I am almost speechless. I worked in restaurants, bars and nightclubs in Toronto for about nine years from when I was seventeen to about twenty-six. I usually bar-tented - I had fun while doing it, that was the main reason I did it for so long. The money was pretty good. I never worked at a "national chain" restaurant/bar/club. I always went for individual sort of establishments.

I often had to waiter though. Sometimes I did both in one night if the staff was short. The hours were indeed ridiculous. As a bartender, my shift was supposed to end at two o'clock in the morning, when the last call rolled-in but by the time I would finish putting my bottles away, doing inventory, getting myself cashed-out with the manager and cleaning the bar ... it would be four thirty to five o'clock in the morning. I did not get paid after two so I was basically working at least two hours and often more, for no pay.

I was making $5.95 when the minimum wage in Ontario was $7.00 because as a bartender and waiter I was making tips. Tips are part of the pay - it's nothing extra. I left after almost ten years because of back pains. I still have them ...

It's a tough industry. You gotta be good at what you do and if you bar-tend, you go for night clubs or strip-joints. If you waiter you go for high-end restaurants and/or ones that are not part of a chain. If people stopped working and going to Hooters ... it would go out of business ... it is those who work there and go there that are continuing to keep up this madness which you described Mrs. Lynda.


lmmartin profile image

lmmartin 5 years ago from Alberta and Florida Author

Good advice for those that live in the bigger centers where clubs and up-scale restaurants are plentiful. In suburban-land the chains are all you'll find, except for a few family owned and run little places that usually are not hiring outside of their immediate family circle. Most of the independents went out of business over the past few very difficult years. Around here, a lot of people are in need of jobs.

And I'll repeat, seeing as this discussion seems to have turned to immigration, most of the people working at this chain are Americans and most are 30+, some are 50+.

THanks for your comments. Lynda


Mr. Happy profile image

Mr. Happy 5 years ago from Toronto, Canada

Thank you for putting-up with all that to get the story Mrs. Lynda. Many should learn from you. Thank you.


SUSIE DUZY profile image

SUSIE DUZY 5 years ago from Delray Beach, Florida

Good information, very well written. Thanks


lmmartin profile image

lmmartin 5 years ago from Alberta and Florida Author

You're welcome, Susie Duzy.


UlrikeGrace profile image

UlrikeGrace 5 years ago from Canada

I love your courage Lynda! And your straight up handling of situations. Great Hub...and I hope the Florida or any state (including Canadian Provinces) read this and are convicted in their conscience. Great Job! I commend you for your on-the-job research! Brave Woman! Blessings to you Ulrike Grace


lmmartin profile image

lmmartin 5 years ago from Alberta and Florida Author

Thank you UlrikeGrace. So many of us never think of what goes on behind the scenes of the many businesses we frequent. Maybe we should. Thanks again. Blessing returned. Lynda


Kosmo profile image

Kosmo 5 years ago from California

Once more, I'm blown away by how much you put into one of your hubs! I love these exposes, too. I'd also love to rip a new for the Employment Development Dept. Anyway, the George W. Bush quote at the beginning gave me one more reason to loathe that guy. I've got one humungous pile of reasons by now! Moving on, I'm not surprised that restaurant workers get screwed out of tips and end up making less than minimum wage. Perhaps in California it's not as bad as Florida, then again, who knows? Regarding this type of work, I never worked as a waiter, but I did all the other crap work - washing dishes and bussing tables, and I've flipped a million burgers. These days I can't even get one of those terrible jobs. But that's another story. Bon appetit! Kosmo


lmmartin profile image

lmmartin 5 years ago from Alberta and Florida Author

Hi Kosmo. That's another thing. I've been told how lucky I was to get this work when so many others can't find anything. Does make one wonder. Thanks for commenting. Lynda


Mr. Happy profile image

Mr. Happy 5 years ago from Toronto, Canada

Mrs. Lynda, I have to say something here because your comment touched a sensitive subject for me.

There always seems to be some smart-ass that gives that: "Lucky you even have that job", comment. This is often the comment that I hear from many people when I talk about child slavery in South-east Asia or even when I talk about worker's rights. It is as if many people have no clue what human rights are, or what progress and/or evolution means.

I am of the opinion that if you are working a dead-end job, you should just quit. Take some time to figure-out a better way of survival and do not feed your energy into negative entities such as Wall-Mart or British Petroleum, for example.

Cheers and all the best!

P.S. I must say that I admire you for even holding that job long enough to get the story. I might have lost it on someone if I was treated the way you described people were treated at the restaurant you wrote about. Still learning ...


lmmartin profile image

lmmartin 5 years ago from Alberta and Florida Author

Hi Happy. Oh it had it's good side. I met some wonderful people! Had a bit of fun at it, too. For example, visitors from Quebec were not only surprised but pleased when I greeted them in French. They left a good tip (not that I got it mind.) I find that life is easier when we try to be pleasant -- no matter what.

    Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.


    Click to Rate This Article
    working