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Thursday, January 31, 2013

Just a tip

Although I don’t eat out a lot, when I do, I like to support vegan restaurants. And admittedly, when I can, I like to support vegan desserts. I do it for the cause – you know, so they will continue to have vegan desserts – or that is what I tell myself.

I have always tried to tip the wait staff well – over 15% – and give it to them in cash.

But when I saw a video (not vegan, so heads up) put out last year about some of the workers in the “supply chain” of a restaurant, I was appalled.  And I realized maybe just tipping the wait staff was not enough.

In addition to being paid low wages, many restaurant workers don’t have health insurance or any benefits such as sick leave. Clearly it is not just restaurant workers (we know that the plight of farm workers is dire), as this description fits many who work in the service industry, but since we are about food here at Food Empowerment Project, that is what I want to address in this particular blog.

As with many issues facing our society, it is easy to not see what is right in front of us, especially if we don’t want to. Sometimes it takes a disaster to reveal these everyday realities, as was the case with the most recent large hurricane to hit the US.

Hurricane Sandy’s devastation was not as obvious as Hurricane Katrina in revealing inequities in our systems, but as the powerful Atlantic Monthly article “The Hideous Inequity Exposed by Hurricane Sandy” pointed out, some of it was:

Those with a car could flee. Those with wealth could move into a hotel. Those with steady jobs could decline to come into work. But the city's cooks, doormen, maintenance men, taxi drivers and maids left their loved ones at home.

I am a solutions person, and it grieves me that I cannot create solutions for every injustice I encounter, but I always try.

And this is what I have been doing. In addition to tipping the wait person, I ask if they split their tips with the busser and the dish washers. Thus far, I have been impressed with the honesty of the people I have spoken with. For those who do not split, I have either been able to give tips directly to bussers or I have been able to ask the wait staff to give the tip to the dish washer. At many of the smaller restaurants I eat at, they do split the tips – so I try to give them a larger tip. (For the most part, this reflects vegan and/or vegetarian restaurants in the Bay Area, LA area, and a few other states I have traveled in recently. And while I know it sucks when I find out that some vegan restaurants treat their workers pretty badly, too, that’s a topic for another day.)

At one vegan restaurant, I was excited when I heard the wait person push open the door to the back and say, “Guess what, Antonio, you got a tip!”

Now, is this greatly impacting the wages for those workers? Of course not. But I would like to think that it is indeed planting seeds for the restaurant and those who work there that these issues are important and the workers are not hidden behind the kitchen door.


  1. I find this article frustrating. Do you ever think that the reason manufacturers DON'T provide you with their suppliers is that they need to protect their source? Not for reasons that are due to child slavery but rather if they disclose their source another manufacturer will swoop in and buy up their raw ingredients? I'm appalled that you outwardly bash companies that do good for this earth, fight for our rights (i.e. Amy's & Organic Trade Association). Shame on you. Get your facts straight and quit painting all companies with the same brush!

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  3. I believe you are commenting on our work on the worst forms of child labor in the chocolate industry.

    We have at least a hundred companies that have disclosed the country of origin for their chocolate - both large and small companies that care more about being transparent about such an important issue.

    Also, we are not asking for the name of the farm, producer, or even city and state. It would be hard for a company to steal a supplier based on only knowing the country of origin.

    We do not bash any company - we are only asking for transparency. Most consumers who care about these issues, want to know.

    And we are thankful for those companies that care.