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Best / Worst Breakfast

July 18, 2021 pm31 11:23 pm

Today I had the most delicious breakfast – but it came with the worst service I’d experienced in a long time.

After breakfast I went for a long ride, which gave me a lot of time to think. I thought about how lousy the service was (this isn’t just a teaser – I’ll tell you further down what got me so bothered) – but I it got me mostly thinking about the nature of serving, and of service work.

This was a diner, far from any big city. The cooks are regular, maybe one is the owner. White men. One server, mid-20s? I think has been there. The other two servers seemed younger. All women.

Is serving by its nature a temporary job? Were these high school kids, who needed some summer money? If that’s the set-up, are we devaluing both service work AND our young people, by treating this work like it is worth a few bucks, and that’s it? Do we send the message that this work doesn’t matter much? And neither does the worker?

If we think that serving is important – and I do – don’t we need to send a different message?

It’s true – astronaut, ballerina, cowboy, doctor, server – which one do kids NEVER say they want to be when they grow up?

Clearly one thing we can do is pay servers more, pay all service workers more. The drive to raise the minimum wage to $15 completely necessary, and, frankly, completely inadequate. (Think about $2400 a month, and then tax taken out, and then pay for housing, food, transportation – include all fares, car payments, gas. Is there anything left?)

And remember, this is serving. There is a LOWER minimum wage for servers. This whole “tip” business is unfair – servers should be paid correctly, and not have to rely on the sometimes unpredictable or arbitrary whims that go into tip calculations (or non-calculations). Here’s something interesting on the subject. I am not an expert, but I am convinced. And, by the way, yes, I considered not tipping this morning. Probably the first time ever I seriously considered that. But I did tip. Just shy of 20%.

But back to the minimum wage – raising it seems like the right way to go. Abolishing the lower minimum for servers? Clearly. But things may be more complicated.

This was a small business, in an area where there’s not a lot of money. People walk in and out of service jobs (not sure if that is true of this place – hadn’t been there since before COVID). But between various sources of assistance, including stimulus unemployment – there are ways to get some money. And these jobs are around – there is seasonal tourist industry, so there’s cycles of employment.

Now, after COVID (I hope “after” is true), there are fewer businesses around. Bigger companies got the stimulus money, and lots of little guys got shut out. Chains got treated as separate businesses, and each got a check. But my diner and the businesses like it in these poorer communities that are dependent on tourists? Didn’t do so well. And those businesses that made it through are, many of them, hurting.

So the point: minimum wage. What good does it do to raise it if these small businesses can’t afford to pay it?

Don’t forget, bigger businesses can afford to pay it, and should.

But we need some sort of cushion for small businesses. They should not be forced out of business in our attempt to help poor workers, service workers.

Some sort of guaranteed income might help. And some sort of payroll assistance to small businesses?

Ok, this morning. Place was about 1/3 full. “Take any table” and I did. Server shows up, asks for beverage, I ask for coffee with whole milk (this is half and half territory). Tell her I’m ready. “Classic Breakfast” (their #1): “2 eggs scrambled well, home fries, sausage, dry rye toast.” “Rye?” – “Rye, no butter”

Back with the coffee, I ask again for whole milk. I wait, fidget with phone. A few minutes (not moments) later, look up, see her chatting with other server. I try to get her attention – she doesn’t see the room (which is small). I try more. Nope. Finally get her – I say “whole milk” and exaggerate the words so she can lip read as well. A minute later she shows up – with coffee. I ask again for milk, she returns. I pour, and realize that my coffee is now luke warm.

Server appears a few minutes later with my plate. This place makes tasty stuff, but the portions are a bit small. I look, portion looks nice. But the bread, on the plate with the eggs/meat/potatoes – is buttered. I send it back, and ask for more coffee (and water). And then I eat. And the coffee comes. And I ask again for water, and it comes, and actually the food is tasty. And I am thinking about how minor these annoyances have been, as I enjoy the flavor.

And she takes everything away, and I wait a little too long for the check (again I see the server schmoozing, not watching the room, and not making eye contact with me), and when the bill finally comes it is for almost double what I expected.

“You got three eggs” – I didn’t ask for three eggs “Yes you did” – She brings over the senior server. “What did you ask for?” “2 eggs scrambled well, home fries, sausage, dry rye toast” “Did you eat what came?” “Yes. But wait a second, even if I had 3 eggs, not two, the upcharge for an extra egg is $2, not $6” “Let me check with the manager”

The senior server returns. “You ordered three extra eggs”

So, ladies and gentlemen, no. And wtf?

Here’s the story, what probably happened. I said “classic breakfast: 2 eggs scrambled well…” and the server, paying little attention, took that as a classic breakfast PLUS 2 eggs scrambled, and then somehow thought 3 instead of 2 because, well, who knows? Maybe an earlier order. Maybe this was her third shift.

And then it came out, and the eggs didn’t look short, like they’ve seemed before in this place, and maybe they looked a little more than a regular 2… could have been 3. But 5? no way. And anyway, I was focused on the buttered toast when I’d said not buttered and she’d repeated it, and I’d repeated it.

Back to my little friend. Someone gets a breakfast with eggs, and then orders extra eggs, and you don’t say “so you want 5 eggs altogether?” (or four, if you were listening only half as badly).

Manager/cook came out – asked what happened. I explained. He said they’d been busy (maybe yesterday. Not while I was there) and said they’d take it off my bill.

I don’t need this tension, and I’m glad it’s over, and wait for the new bill. And wait. And wait. Over five minutes, pushing ten. The servers are chatting amongst themselves. The place is just about empty. I finally get the senior server’s attention, ask if I should come up or if they’re bringing the ticket to me. She runs back, they huddle and decide to make me a new check, and she brings me it. And then she brings my credit card back, fast. And I think, and I tip. Still have to tip, no matter how bad the service. And this was bad. Out of extreme indifference.

Good food. But an hour fifteen (too long!) of pretty awful service.

So no excuses for my server. She didn’t give a fuck, and not in the cool way. Inattentive, indifferent, that’s not right.

But look at the set-up. She’s got a temporary gig – this is not her life, her career. The pay is lousy. And the message all over the place is that serving is a no-skill job that doesn’t matter, and neither do servers.

We need to change that – the entire set up.

But in the meantime, if you are headed way upstate, Essex County, message me, and I’ll tell you the diner and the server you have to avoid.

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