| Where Do We Grow From Here ?
Bartenders today are taking their jobs more seriously and seeing it as a true and honest
working profession, which includes the practice of creative mixology as culinary art.
Management and ownership want it to be perceived in just that way in hopes of stronger tenure
and longevity, responsibility and dependability, With this being the case of the craft, what’s in it
for these practicioners beyond the hourly minimum wage and tips ? In its current state, there
are no support mechanisms in place to fall back on for emergencies. Health coverage is little or
nil. This goes for food servers as well as other floor staff positions, front and back of house.
Even managers today are more and more without.
The revolving door of salary-starved management and turnover rate of security-starved staff
leaves nothing for the clientel to rely on when they enjoy and prefer seeing a familiar face on
the floor and behind the bar that they can instantly communicate with and count on for
experience, knowledge, excellent service, quality attention, and perfectly prepared dishes and
drinks. Good work comes from contented people.
If establishments in all types of food and beverage venues cannot afford to increase the loyalty
with incentives and benefits to their best qualified and journeymen bar and floor staff, then why
should customers who want to come in and see that great personality again and again, be loyal
returners if half the reason why they come in is now gone for a more secure/stable situation ?
These stability issues need to be addressed. When good front of house talent leave the
workplace, it’s like kicking out some of your regular customers, even if for awhile. Does the
industry feel it a business obligation to keep someone around who the customers love ?
How do we explain in the last couple years of the many tenured bartenders across the country
who’ve either left the profession or reduced to a part-time or on-call status only, taking jobs
as brand ambassadors, master mixologists for liquor distributors, or creating mixology training
programs sponsored by fine spirits companies ? They’re not stupid. It’s a smart move if you
can get it. The reason is always the same – Security issues. Who wants to operate without a
net ? How can you properly grow, move forward and progress in our industry without it ? We
drive good and great people out of this business all the time. The suits have health insurance
and their companies pay for it. That’s all fine and good. What’s needed is a health insurance
association for F & B staff, a pay in program. We are deserving of the most basic logical
necessity for doing all that we do for the industry.
I’m beginning to feel like James Spader’s character of Alan Shore on Boston Legal when he’s in
the courtroom, yet to think that after 20 or 30 years of continued great service and doing so
much for bar and beverage over this period of time that one may have absolutely nothing to
lose, is a sad tragedy ! Are we not the vital organs and moving parts of the machine ? One
might say this is where the term “Hospitality” could get a failing grade. What a shame to devote
your life to the hospitality business and get little or no hospitality in return !
The security of a group rate pay-in insurance program that covers both medical and dental is
what’s needed. An independent insurance company for bartenders, servers/waiters, kitchen
staff, floor staff, and managers. I’m sure the sheer numbers alone (potentially millions) would
be enough to make it worth it. And if you end up leaving one job and going to another in the
bizz, the insurance does not stop. A program operating outside of individual establishments.
Preferably a new organization started from scratch for F & B industry workers only, where any
return on investment expected by shareholders is kept to both a minimum and maximum, to
insure optimum quality care and services for all of the unknown soldiers of our industry.
Not return on investment.
Though hotels and chains do offer some insurance coverage for their full-time employees,
there’s a huge number of us that work with a lot of independents and caterers that either can’t
or won’t afford to offer an in-house benefits package. I remember 20 years ago I checked into
it for insuring myself. The agent told me the reason monthly premiums are so high for the
bartending occupation is due to the job’s stress and lifestyle. Insuring bartenders was at the
same risk level as insuring jackhammer operators.
If that’s the case, bartenders and waiters should be getting paid $15 an hour plus tips at any
and all establishments. What if the house created a percentage commission on each bar and
food sale so as to afford insurance on their own. Imagine if the IRS didn’t hijack the credit
card sales with an 8 % tax on gratuities. Those extra monies could be used to pay for their
insurance premiums, independently on our own, without the need for an F & B hub or an
association. This discussion would then be completely unnecessary. And heaven help you if
you end up working in a fine dining establishment where the far majority of payment is by
credit card where the customer doesn’t possess the concern or foresight to cash-tip you.
Sales vs. Service. What are we, anyway ? The industry looks at our jobs as service
positions. The IRS looks at our jobs as sales positions. This is like two wildcats looking out for
their own food supply while we get caught in the middle with the leftover scraps, and we’re
doing all the work ! As a service position, the industry doesn’t want any of our gratuities, cash
or credit, to be taxed from our end-of-shift receipts, for they know what we’re missing and what
we need. The unfairness is understood. Yet they still have no problem perceiving the positions
as worthy of only the minimum hourly wage required by state law, regardless of the incredible
stresses we go through during busy volumes to make the establishment money, while the bi-
weekly paychecks received are basically, financially raped.
As a sales position set forth in a justifyingly convenient manner by the IRS for their benefit,
they are the attackers. Hypothetically, let’s say the IRS is right, for the moment. If we are to
perceive our work as sales positions, than should we not be receiving a commission on each
and all of our sales, plus the gratuities and the hourly, from the establishment that we basically
“Rep” for with the products they supply us to sell ? The positional terminology that both the
industry and IRS use for our work and the jobs that we perform seems to be by design to
benefit them only. We get taken at both ends with nothing left in the middle for insurance
compensations, not to mention little or nothing for the future. And to think that all we would
require to take care of our health insurance needs on our own is for the IRS to reduce their
taxes on bartenders and waiters from 8 % to 4 %. In fact, here’s another optional idea: What if
the IRS automatically transferred 4 % of the current 8 % to a health insurance association set
up for the F & B industry to have our full medical and dental already paid for each month,
without us touching it at all ?
However, I don’t necessarily agree with all of what the agent mentioned. If the insurance
industry has marked us as a bad risk, I think a degree of what they perceive is misguided.
We’re all doing basically the same thing here in one form or another, and like any job, you
get used to it. And it’s only on an average of 24-32 hours a week, as that’s our full-time.
So if there’s any spot that needs covering for us in a bad way, this one is the “Big Empty”.
Having this kind of program made available would lead all currently without, to feel more
secure within our profession and take the work with even more appreciation and good effort.
If we’re going to respect our positions as legitimate professions in F & B much in the same
way that Europeans do theirs, this is the least the industry can help out with. The staff doesn’t
want to burden anybody or any of the establishments they work in with insurance costs They
just want to be covered affordably and pay for it themselves. The industry would be better off
as so would all the staff. Like a pressure lifted away. A healthy move in itself. Imagine the
renewed energies and vitality in the work environments. Tell me that’s not going to increase
revenues with more customer frequency !
Career Bartenders and Waiters work in the trenches for decades. Executives get to work and
perform their jobs well into their 70's. Physically and mentally, we can't anymore. Executives
have retirement pensions and paid health insurance. We have neither. Like the Hollywood
machine, we get used up and spit out onto the street. There is no retirement home for aging
career bartenders or other service positions. Or even worse, like old jazz musicians with
nothing to fall back on after years of entertaining, but without the drugs, or unions, unless of
course one wants to be relegated to work in a hotel downtown, exiled to virtually nowhere until
they die off. Right now, that’s how we take care of our own.
Doesn't the industry want us to be healthy with clean teeth ? Or should we continue to work
handling food and beverages with staff having colds, flu's, and other ailments where it would be
best to take a paid day or two off for rest, and come back healthy, instead of exposing others ?