Streams

Out From Behind the Apron: Servers and Bartenders Dish

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Psychologist Robert Schmehr (L) and writer, actor and former bar owner Malachy McCourt Psychotherapist Robert Schmehr (L) and writer, actor and former bar owner Malachy McCourt (Stephen Nessen/WNYC)

Many New Yorkers are eating out during this Restaurant Week. And that means a busy time for a lot of people — one in every 15 workers employed in the city's private sector are in the food and beverage industry. But getting a job as a waiter is not easy.

Araby Smyth, who works as a server at a Brooklyn restaurant, said because she wears glasses it was hard for her to get a job in an industry that often asks for pictures to be included with applications.

“I never got a call back, and I stopped going to open calls and I stopped sending photos because six years of experience doesn't matter,” Smyth said.

Smyth was one of the people who attended WNYC's forum "Out From Behind the Apron" Tuesday. The event took place in The Greene Space, where servers, bartenders and the general public gathered.

Rekha Eanni-Rodriguez, co-director of employee advocacy group Restaurant Opportunities Center, said most restaurants have discriminatory hiring practices. She pointed to a study the group did in 2009 looking at how 200 fine dinning restaurants dealt with a white applicant and a person of color applying for a server position.

“People of color were half as likely as white workers to get the server position even though, by the way, the person of color would always be more qualified,” Eanni-Rodriguez said.

Sever Rafael Duran, who is Mexican, said when he applies for a job, people assume he is qualified only for the lower-paying positions.

“First question that the manager or the person who is in charge would ask me is: what do you want to be: A bus boy or a front-runner?” Duran said.

Restaurant owners say discrimination charges are not productive. Andrew Rigie, with the New York State Restaurant Association, said there are other ways to make changes.

“When you have a report that there is a divide, it sets you back," he said. "We need to move the conversation forward in a way that is helpful rather than making employers scared that they are going to be sued.”

Restaurant Week continues through Sunday, and those in the hospitality industry want customers to remember one thing: “If you go out to eat dinner and you and your girlfriend are going to spend $60, you better bring $72. Because it's $60, plus $20, and guess what? If you don't want to tip, don't eat out, don't come out,” said waiter and bartender Robert Lacovara, who’s currently unemployed.

His view that the tip must be 20 percent was shared by most servers attending the event. Many also confessed that they don’t feel incredibly optimistic that the job will be seen as a bona-fide career anytime soon — even though at least a half dozen have been employed in the profession for more than two decades.

Stephen Nessen/WNYC
Out From Behind the Apron: WNYC Talks to Servers and Bartenders
Stephen Nessen/WNYC

Out From Behind the Apron host Kathleen Horan

Robert Schmehr and Malachy McCourt
Stephen Nessen/WNYC

Psychotherapist and former waiter Robert Schmehr and Writer and former bar owner Malachy McCourt

Writer David Sax reading his controversial article on tipping which appeared in the New York Times
Stephen Nessen/WNYC

Writer David Sax reading his controversial article on tipping which appeared in the New York Times

Robert Lacovara, a bartender of 22 years who is currently unemployed
Stephen Nessen

Robert Lacovara, a bartender of 22 years who is currently unemployed

Writer and former waiter Steve Dublanica discussing myths about tipping
Stephen Nessen/WNYC

Writer and former waiter Steve Dublanica discussing myths about tipping

Rekha Eanni, the co-executive director of Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York
Stephen Nessen/WNYC

Rekha Eanni-Rodriguez, the co-executive director of Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York 

Shailesh Shrestha works for the Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York
Stephen Nessen/WNYC

Shailesh Shrestha waits tables at a unionized Upper East Side private club and says the union provides job security, especially if he has a grievance

Waitress of 32 years Fanny Alava
Stephen Nessen/WNYC

Waitress of 32 years Fanny Alava

Tags:

More in:

News, weather, Radiolab, Brian Lehrer and more.
Get the best of WNYC in your inbox, every morning.

Comments [2]

TheBitchyWaiter from NYC

Hey, Ed. Had you actually attended the event, you would have learned that it wasn't just complaining. What about the people who brought up the issues of discrimination against women, race and age in this industry? Or the fact that so many people in the this city make a living (a good one as you acknowledged) but still have no health care or retirement benefits?

So you are complaining about people complaining. Real nice.

Feb. 03 2011 11:48 PM
Ed from Queens

I was a waiter for 15+ years and I knew this story would be completely negative and complaint-oriented. Waiters love to complain and that's all this was - a complaint forum. I complained, too, but I made a lot of money that wasn't all recorded for a job that I didn't bring home with me, that gave me a lot of freedom to do what I want. I see the topics and yet I didn't read any stories about how serving can change your life. The only people attracted to an event like this are current industry people who have something to complain about. Haven't we heard this ALL before?

Feb. 02 2011 08:03 AM

Leave a Comment

Register for your own account so you can vote on comments, save your favorites, and more. Learn more.
Please stay on topic, be civil, and be brief.
Email addresses are never displayed, but they are required to confirm your comments. Names are displayed with all comments. We reserve the right to edit any comments posted on this site. Please read the Comment Guidelines before posting. By leaving a comment, you agree to New York Public Radio's Privacy Policy and Terms Of Use.

Sponsored

Latest Newscast

 

 

Support

WNYC is supported by the Charles H. Revson Foundation: Because a great city needs an informed and engaged public

Feeds

Supported by