Not So Fast, Fast Food Workers…

I’m not someone who delves into political discussions. I don’t know enough about politics in general and don’t believe in giving my opinion on subjects that I am ignorant on.

One subject I do know about is having to support a family on wages earned in the food service industry.

This is becoming a hot topic because of the movement by fast food workers to raise their pay to $15. an hour. My feeling about this is a firm and resounding no. Uh-uh. Sorry, but I do not agree.

In the past year alone I have worked at jobs in the culinary world where the range of pay has been $14/hr to $1,250 per week each based on a 40 hr week. I am no kid either, I’m in my early 50’s.

I have a culinary degree, an excellent and varied resume. My background includes, corporate chef, private chef. restaurant owner, culinary teacher. I have glowing references to show for all of this. Not too shabby, but sometimes I have had to take jobs that were not the pinnacle of my career. Life ebbs and flows.

As I always tell my students, we do not go into this business to get rich but because we love it. We work very, very hard. We work some lousy hours and most holidays. We are extremely fortunate if we get health insurance or any benefits at all. And please, do not think you are going to be on tv as a “celebrity chef”. Did I mention that my background also includes being a regular on a cooking show for five seasons?

However not everyone works in a kitchen because they love it. That talk really is for those who aspire to a career in cooking rather than it being just a job. Some people have to make a living and this business is more lenient than many others when it comes to giving people a second chance. For example, people who might have been incarcerated or addicted to drugs and are making a fresh start. If they can do the job then they are welcome.

Some people work in the industry because they are not educated and cannot obtain a job in another field. Some cannot speak English, or read. Give us your tired, your poor, your hungry – we’ll take them!

I know that whether I was freelancing as a prep cook for that measly $14 or I was working as a consultant for much more money, I always gave it my best. I like to look in the mirror at night and even though I see a tired and aging face, I can look myself in the eye. I work for my money. Many, many people in my world feel the same way.

But not all do. I am going to use the McDonald’s across the street from a school that I teach at in New York City as an example. I don’t eat their food, but I do buy the $1 coffee occasionally. During breakfast rush it is not uncommon for there to be only one register open with a long line of customers. Meanwhile I have seen other employees there meandering around and making jokes with each other. Real restaurant professionals understand the concept of teamwork, they know to jump in and help one another out when they are in the weeds (overwhelmed with orders). Even if you are not permitted to use the cash register, maybe you can help with some drink orders. If there is no one at the drive in window you don’t have to just sit there and text on your phone while ignoring customers.

The cashiers are often rude. They are often impolite. This is McDonald’s. They have you by the short hairs. Where else are you going to go to get a meal for under $5?

If these lazy and obnoxious folks start earning $15 per hour, then there is something truly wrong with this picture.

I know, I know, not every fast food employee is this bad. There are working parents and students who are earnestly busting their butts to stay afloat in this world.

The problem is not with fast food, the problem is with the industry overall. We are severely underpaid as a whole. The prep cook who is making your goat cheese and arugula salad at a fancy restaurant is possibly making less than the rude kid at McDonald’s. Chances are that he is working more hours and probably more than one job. Take another example, say an executive chef that is making $60 grand a year. This individual may have graduated from a prestigious cooking school, has a breadth of experience and whose job includes more than just being behind the stove. Working 14 hours a day, 6 days a week, do the math and you will see that this chef is working for less money per hour than the $15 the fast food workers are claiming they should get. And this is before taxes are even taken out.

McDonald’s and its fast food counterparts have lower food costs and higher profit margins because of the way their food is centrally purchased, delivered and produced. They are huge, well-oiled operating machines. The small business struggles every single day. A snowstorm could kill a Saturday night and deeply affect their bottom line. McDonald’s can afford to sell you a $1 hamburger and STILL make money. Small businesses can barely cut it with a much better quality meal that costs you more money.

For the parents who are struggling and working those fast food counters, I feel your pain. Unfortunately your image is tainted by your coworkers who take their jobs as a joke. I just cannot swallow the fact that those folks will be paid more money than the ones who have studied and sweat their way up the food chain. Until there is a way to pay everyone who cares about what they do a fair wage, I am not on the bandwagon. We need to up the wages for the pros before we up the wages for the amateurs.

About Margot Olshan (1 Articles)
Margot Olshan is a chef with a rich and varied background. One of her early jobs was running the commissary at Martha Stewart Living Television in Westport, CT. During that time, Margot was cast as a host on the PBS cooking show "Everyday Food", produced by MSLO. Margot was also a frequent guest on the "Martha" show in the subsequent years, while running her own cafe in Stamford, Ct. Margot has worked as a private chef, a caterer and a culinary instructor. A single mother of two grown children, Margot now lives in New York City with her two rescue dogs and works as a chef consultant and baking instructor.