Bad Food Service Bosses: Joe (by Kate Eyth)

There are many reason why I have disliked working in the food service industry: crap pay, crazy hours, lack of benefits, smelling like food, wearing food, slippery floors, man-ish “unisex” uniforms, feeling like a flunky when the economic down-turn is really to blame, etc. Yes, customers can try you, and your co-workers can try you, but for me, it’s usually the management that brings it all down. The problems in these pages are anecdotal, but common. The good managers I have had, have been too few in an industry rife with unprofessional behavior, bad business sense, drugs, dishonesty, poor leadership, and general sleaziness.

I dedicate these articles to my brothers and sisters in service, who are trying to get through school, keep roofs over their heads, feed their children, and smile through abuse, stupidity, and economic uncertainty while they smile and keep everyone else’s glass full. Hopefully, owners and district managers will read this and vet their store managers better, because they will see how bad managers bring down the staff and damage business.

Joe should have been sacked well before they caught him embezzling.

I can still see his bald spot, and I can still hear his hick twang. Joe went over various company policies, including the sexual harassment policy, with his personal and clichéd addendum: “You just have to have a sense of humor.”

Ha ha. “I’ll give you a raise if you give me a raise,” he said. So I giggled that nervous giggle, because it was humorous? No, it was embarrassing, and that’s what young girls do when they’re embarrassed.

The humor was in the scene in my head of me screaming, “Get your fucking hands off of me,” followed by the sound of forks falling on plates in the dining room, chairs scraping back from tables, and my boss running out the door face in hands, crying out of fear and shame.

Later scenes in my head were more slapstick, and involved my knee and me standing over my whimpering boss, crumpled like a used kleenex — also funny in this scene are the waitresses high-fiving while the guy on the grill says, “what a tool.”

We all hated him. He was a sexist bigot who told everyone on their first day to call the police if they saw any black people in the parking lot after dark, because they had no business being there.

And, he was an idiot. After telling me to lift a 10 gallon pot of boiling pasta that I couldn’t possibly lift, he yelled at the dishwasher who lifted the pot for me, spilled the pot, and plunged his scalded arms into the ice bin.

“Now all of the ice has to be thrown out, and the whole machine has to be sanitized.”

So what is the lesson here for owners and district managers? Look at the applicant across the table, and ask yourself if you would leave that person alone in a small room with your 16-year-old daughter.

After all, he or she is going to be in tight quarters with someone’s daughter: the walk-in, dry storage, manager’s office; and she will nervously giggle and waste a lot of production or service time avoiding him and discussing her violent fantasies of his demise with the other workers, who similarly avoid him and imagine scenarios of pain and humiliation.

Sure, there are laws and corporate policies to protect women, but kids don’t complain to HR, they giggle nervously, avoid the boss, and waste company time in an industry that clocks the cooking and serving of fries to the second. Well before the real potential for law suits and settlements, the humiliation and disrespect that sexual harassment causes the staff results in eroded morale and wasted man-hours.

We’ll save the topics of bigots and thieves for another day. Just know that major character flaws usually come in groups, and they always cost.

“Kate Eyth” is the pseudonym of a legal professional based in the Southern United States. Names in this column have been changed to protect those who probably don’t deserve protection, but oh well.