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Treatment and Satisfaction of Food Service Employees

Updated on March 9, 2015

There are many encounters we have with the food industry on a day to day basis. Whether its in the grocery store, or passing through McDonalds to grab a quick bite to eat, we all have our opinion on the service that has been provided to us. The purpose of this essay is to hopefully help you to understand the life of a food service employee and how a small change in our behavior towards them could have a positive change on our experience.

First, in order to change our actions towards food service employees, we must understand how the food industry came about and where our expectation for good service came from. America’s food industry has become one of the biggest and most profitable businesses in the world today. You can find a various array of foods to satisfy your every craving, from chocolate chip grilled cheese cookies to heirloom tomato cheesecake, you can find just about anything you can think of. So how did it all start?

As far back as we can go, food has been prepared and sold to the public in exchange for goods. According to Kim Evelyn, a professional educator on the history of science, food and environment, “agriculture began around 12,000 years ago, but early Europeans were baking bread many thousands of years before that time.” This bread was provided to help those hunter-gatherers of each colony. This provides for us a small foundation for the first food prepared by man that could be sold in exchange for goods. The process of creating foods of many types began, expanded and has evolved from this time until now.

In America we have commercialized the process of food and services and can now be found just about anywhere you go. With a plethora of choices to satisfy your hunger needs the food industry has caped america from east to west. Over the past 100 years restaurants have evolved from small bakeries, vendors, and shops to fast food eateries and commercial chain restaurants while still having the existence of traditional mom and pop diners. Before the 20th century these mom and pop diners, usually one of a kind and unique from one another, were business’ that had been in family for generations. This is wear our expectation for good food service begins. During the age of roller skates and and great american burgers, we see these fast food eateries portrayed as a great source of entertainment and food. In an article known as “The Filter: Dining” it says “the service at these warmly elegant local faves are gracious.” We fully expect to be approached by a beautiful waitress with a great smile and a pleasant attitude asking us what we would like to eat. These servers truly appeared to love their job. With a great service comes a great reward. We have been raised to personally thank our server with gratuity based on their performance and service. These were the beginnings of what we knew america to be in the food industry. Providing its customers with service equal to its quality of food.

But at the turn of the 20th century restaurants grew and dotted the land. Starting with McDonalds, fast food became a staple for a cheap and satisfying meal that could be found in just about any city of any state. These restaurants were famous for providing cheap food fast. As the food industry changed to accommodate for the growing demand for food needed. Thus the service and presentation of that food changed as well. No longer was a food order taken at the table and brought to you by one single server. Instead an assembly line of workers was created to prepare, create, and serve the food. This new approach changed the interaction between the customer and the employee. As the interaction between customer and employee changed so has our perception of our food service that is provided. We see employees at fast food franchises as mindless workers who know only their responsibilities at their assigned stations. No relationship is formed between the server and their costumer. This is purely because of the sheer volume of food produced by these restaurants. Time is money, as the old saying goes, and there just isn’t time to socialize in the fast food industry. I interviewed a McDonald’s employee about their job as a fast food employee, Brittany said, “there just isn’t a whole lot of interaction with the costumers, its pretty much they tell me what they want, I take their money, and I get them their food. I often think I will probably never even see that person again to be honest.”

As fast food chains emerged, so did the conventional chained restaurants. Restaurants such as Red Robin, Applebee's and Chili's came into thousands of cities all over America. Chain restaurants are known for their guarantee that no matter where you go your experience and quality of food will be the same at any location. They have the feel of a fast food restaurant but the service and etiquette of a mom and pop diner. From diners to fast food to chain establishments, the history of the food industry in america has evolved to suit the every growing and busy lifestyle of the everyday american.

The general mindset of the public is that food service jobs, particularly fast food jobs, are inferior to those of a professional. No one seems to be proud of their job at McDonald’s or Burger King or Red Robin. But it is not that one job is inferior to another or that one is more or less important than the other. Some people may say that a doctor is a very important job because he saves lives. On the other hand, how would we live if we didn’t have waste management come and take away our trash? How much harder would life be for the busy doctor, or long term business man if the food industry did not exist? Food is just as important as medicine when it comes to sustaining life. We as humans need to recognize the very important role that food servers play in our life, weather it be fast food, or even down to our local grocery store. The food industry helps us sustain and move the very lives we all live.

For such an important job in society these workers generally receive the lowest pay available. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, “The federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour... Many states also have minimum wage laws. Some state laws provide greater employee protections; employers must comply with both.” In many states this wage is very low and desire even lower wages to be paid. Paddy Quick a magazine journalist says, “This is important to understand. A bicycle needs two wheels, two pedals, a seat, a set of gears, and any number of parts that connect them all together. Which is most important? The front wheel? The rear wheel? The seat? The pedals? The fact that a pedal costs less than a wheel doesn't make it any less important. Similarly, all of the people who work in a restaurant play their part in the production of the meals you serve your customers, even though they "cost" their employer different amounts. If the pedal of a bicycle cost a bit more, it wouldn't be eliminated. Why then do you think your job would be eliminated if they had to pay you a little more?” These wages do not properly incentivize food servers to give great service, in fact they threaten the employees the stress of not having enough money to make ends meet. This is why it is customary in many establishments to tip your server an additional wage for the quality of work they provided.

We have all heard of incidents where a disgruntled food server tampers with a costumers food, or maybe there has been a time when you received free ice cream due to the pleasant interaction you had with an employee. Does the way we treat our servers really affect the way our food is prepared and presented? There are laws restricting the tampering of food and poor quality food known as the FDA Food Code. The Federal Food and Drug Administration states, “The U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) publishes the Food Code, a model that assists food control jurisdictions at all levels of government by providing them with a scientifically sound technical and legal basis for regulating the retail and food service segment of the industry (restaurants and grocery stores and institutions such as nursing homes).” These laws give a standard of food for all establishments. One anonymous employee has stated about their service in the food industry, “Yeah you get treated poorly sometimes, but that’s just part of the job and to be expected, you can’t let the customers control what you do how you feel. there is bound to be that one person that just can’t be satisfied.” Sometimes it is hard as a customer to sympathize with the person who is bringing our food. We often rationalize our treatment of them and judge them according to how they are in the short hour to two hours we spend with them. One time as a customer in the restaurant chain Red Robin, I was eating with my family and and a pair of police officers entered into the restaurant. It is custom in my brother-in-law’s family to always pay for the food of service men. When he told the waitress he would be paying for what ever the officers ordered the general manager of the store caught wind of it and decided to comp our entire meal that night. In my experience I could see that not only the treatment of the employees, but also other costumers, can affect your food and service in the food industry.

Apart from the interaction with customers I asked the same two employees, Brittany and the Anonymous interviewee what their bosses were like. The Anonymous server said, “I have several bosses, and I have worked at a few different restaurants, usually there is a nice boss, a mean boss, and a boss that just doesn't seem to care about anything. I don't know if they pick them like that on purpose or not; but it makes my job pretty stressful knowing I have to act a certain way depending on which boss I am working with for the night” In my line of work I too deal with the sale of foods and drinks, although I am not waiter or server, I know that my boss constantly pressures her workers to be pleasant, accommodating and happy. While at the same time she pushes for us to be selling more and using less. The job of a food server is difficult, trying to remember the orders and directions of each customer can be taxing all while having a smile on your face. The bosses are usually stern and don’t like to hear excuses. Brittany said this about her bosses at McDonalds, “They usually try to help me when I am in need of a favor or something, but when its time to work they always walk around like they are some kind of power trip, never really doing much themselves but making sure everyone is doing the most they can.” Both employees agree that the wages they receive is not really worth the work and effort they put into their job. Although the anonymous food server says that the tips do make you feel a bit better at the end of the night for their efforts.

The service and treatment of employees vary from restaurant to restaurant, and it is important to distinguish the roles of those employees of each environment. At a fast food restaurant the employees have little interaction time with the customer in comparison to those waiting on customers at a sit down restaurant. You typically get what you pay for, but regardless of how much time is spent with the individual, how does the service of these two employees compare in customer satisfaction? As humans we have the tendency to align ourselves to what is attractive, elegant, and inviting. Sit down restaurants have the advantage of what it means to please its customers by providing a welcoming environment that invites your business. Fast food restaurants aim to serve high volumes of customers in a short period of time, but are these customers any less satisfied with the ettiquecy of their server than those that serve them in a high end restaurant? Many people would come to find that while focusing on the attitude of the server or employee, the goal of the server is to please the customer. In my experience I find that typically the service is relatively equal. Employees at a fast food diner are no more polite or rude than those at a sit down diner. They adequately try to meet my expectations equally. I find that my expectations are higher at a sit down restaurant, therefore, I tend to judge with that in mind and according to the service provided me. Overall the treatment of those working as servers in either condition receive equal treatment for the amount of service they provide for each customer.

In our country it is customary that in most restaurants we pay gratuities to those who have served us for the evening. These gratuities in some cases are even included as part of the bill at the end of some meals. My brother Taylor is a server and buser at the chain restaurant Hometown Buffet. He is paid minimum wage to pick up plates, clean tables, and check on customers. He says that his job is very hard and some nights has to carry 40 lbs worth of dirty dishes to the back from tables he has to clear. In asking him about his pay he says, “Its kinda funny, I work really really hard so that I can get the most amount of tips possible. I’ll refill peoples drinks, bring them balloons, and take their plates to make sure I get that extra bit of cash at the end of the night.” In response to if it pays off or not he said, “Oh yeah it does! Sometimes I’ll get seventy, eighty bucks in tips a night! I look at my tips as my wages, and my paycheck as the extra bonus really.” My brother views his work as hard, but rewarding because he feels what he earned is equal to what he gave. So how do we look at tipping? I see tipping as a form of grading from the client to the server. If you do an exceptional job you will receive an exceptional tip, if not, then you will receive something medial and less than to be expected. You don't have to be at a sit down restaurant, or have a designated waiter to thank someone for the service they have given you. At my job we are not allowed a tip jar on the counter, needless to say I have received tips for my service.

The work of food server is demanding, and the expectations we have as customers are high. We see going out to eat as a treat and a form of entertainment and we desire to receive it as such. Even at fast food restaurants we demand perfection in exactly what we have asked for. As a fellow food service employee I know that the job of a waiter or fast food employee can be difficult, and the general public sees it as a remedial task that can be done by anyone. It is looked down upon as something less than necessary and performed by the meager. I am here to explain the importance our food industry is to our communities, and the valued service of their employees. We need treat them with respect and dignity for the efforts the give to feeding us. As the Outback Steakhouse Commercial says, “Give respect to the man whose bringing you your grub, because you could be getting it yourself.”

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