Listen to Facts, Science & Experts-Shut it Down, Now, America. Humans Will Not ‘Do the Right Thing’ On Their Own

By: Patrick Maguire

Book Chapter: Human-to-Human Service

Posted: 3/15/2020

It’s time to take the guesswork out of the equation and shut all non-essential businesses down, now. Yes, that includes dine-in restaurants. Given the facts and science, the crowds gathering in tight quarters in South Boston, MA last night were disgraceful. The joints packed to the gills with long lines down the sidewalk shot themselves in the foot. It was selfish and short-sighted. Shutting it all down now is the responsible thing to do for the greater good of all. And the US, state, and local governments sure as hell better step up and help restaurants, small businesses, and all of their employees suffering through this crisis. If we can spend trillions of dollars bailing out big banks in 2008, we sure as hell can take care of restaurants, small businesses and their workers, many, pillars of our communities.

Sad to say, but too many humans can’t be trusted to ‘do the right thing,’ despite great intentions. Please read this post from (Restaurant) Industry United group member, Danielle Egger:

Thank you for creating this group. As a former state health inspector and foodborne illness investigator/biological scientist, I’d like to weigh in on this.
I understand closing restaurant doors is going to be financially devastating for many folks (I’m in the biz – this impacts me as well). We all have to make a living. However, this is a special circumstance that affects EVERYONE – not just the restaurant industry.
While we’d like to believe our restaurants are practicing the sanitation plans they claim to have activated in light of this situation, let’s be real. It’s not possible for them to maintain those standards when they’re 20 people deep at the bar.
Yes I was guilty of being in the masses yesterday. NO MORE. I’m not going to throw the restaurant under the bus, because every single restaurant here has the same issues – no matter how well they’ve trained their staff.
The restaurant I visited yesterday posted signs adamantly stating their “increased sanitation measures”. Here is a list of violations I observed while sitting at the bar:

1. On 14 different occasions, servers pushed the tongs out of the way to grab fruit garnishes with their bare hands. Four of those servers were observed handling cash immediately before touching the garnishes. No hand washing.
2. A bartender cleared soiled plates and glasses from the bar to the bus tub, then proceeded to reach – with their bare, unwashed hands – into the mint to make mojitos. No hand washing.
3. The wet rags were not placed in sanitizer solution between wiping down soiled spots at the bar.
4. The sanitizer solution in the pail was heavily soiled with food debris, visible from ten feet away. Food debris drastically reduces the efficacy of the sanitizer.
5. The fruit garnish tray was wide open and directly in front of where patrons walked up to order drinks. This includes one gentleman who graciously turned his head 20° to the right to sneeze.
6. The 3 compartment sink water was cruddy – all three compartments.
7. We were there for approximately 2.5 hours. In that 2.5 hours, ONE bartender washed his hands. ONE, folks. And it was one time. The cash changing hands here was too frequent to count.
8. Servers were scooping ice with cups instead of a handled scoop. The cup they just handled with their unwashed hands has now potentially contaminated the ice.
9. The bar caddies were placed with unwrapped straws directly in front of bar patrons, some of which reached over those straws to pay the bartender, coming in physical contact with the straws.
10. The menus were sticky and visibly soiled.
11. The condiment baskets were also sticky and visibly soiled.
I’m not blaming the staff. They were in the weeds and just trying to pump out the orders. This is the pattern everywhere, though.
No matter how well written your “increased sanitation measures” may be, they’re only as effective as the team that follows them.”

I will repeat one more thing I have shared everywhere I could: Restaurants, small businesses, and their teams are the first to answer the call and donate their spaces, time, creative effort and energy, food, drink, gift certificates and hospitality for people who are hurting and charitable causes in their neighborhoods and communities. It’s time that we step up and demonstrate our appreciation as neighbors and a nation and prove that we really mean that “we’re all in this together” and save their lives and livelihoods, please. Thank you-Patrick Maguire

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Rent Reprieve-Emergency Legislation Required to Save Restaurants & Small Businesses

By: Patrick Maguire

Book Chapter: Human-to-Human Service

Posted: 3/13/2020

The notifications popping up on our phones are relentless. Disneyland shutting down, travel banned, Broadway shows suspended, pro sports suspended, March Madness cancelled, Boston Marathon postponed, the stock market wiped out, and hoarding of supplies underscores the severity of the pandemic. Amidst the chaos, one of the scariest realities is that no one knows how bad things are actually going to get before they get better. Even the most cynical should temper their sarcasm and mockery–‘this shit is real,’ and no one is exempt.

Social media and our email inboxes are flooded with messages about what restaurants and small businesses are doing to survive in the face of the crisis. After a while, they all start to sound the same. The fear and anxiety are real because many lives, livelihoods, and jobs have already been impacted, and many are at considerable risk.

Restaurant Business Magazine featured a story by Heather Lalley titled, “Is Seattle’s Restaurant Emergency  a Sign of Things to Come for the Industry? Restaurants in the biggest city in the first state hit by coronavirus are struggling to survive amid the quarantines.” From the piece:

Washington was the first state to report a coronavirus case. And, in the weeks since, its restaurant industry has been shaken to its core.

At least a half-dozen Seattle restaurants have closed permanently, according to local media reports and restaurant social media, and more than a dozen have announced temporary closures, including the stunning announcement late Wednesday that Seattle’s best-known chef and restaurateur Tom Douglas would be temporarily closing all 12 of his establishments, effective Sunday, after sales declined up to 90% since the outbreak began, according to The Seattle Times.

“I am sad for our city,” Douglas told The Times. “It’s tough going for Seattle now. I am optimistic [that] at the end of the day, in eight to 12 weeks, we will be back at it.” 

There are huge risks to temporary closures (like losing staff), and not all operators can afford zero income for 12 weeks and survive. Those who don’t have the financial reserves to weather the storm will be forced to close without a lifeline or dramatic adjustment to how they conduct business. From the same RB piece, here is how one restaurateur is adapting:

Award-winning fine-dining bastion Canlis announced Thursday it will temporarily shutter its restaurant Monday and open three new concepts in its place: A “bagel shed” for breakfast, a drive-thru burger spot for lunch and a family-meal delivery service for dinner.

“Fine dining is not what Seattle needs right now,” Canlis said in a Facebook post. “Instead, this is one idea for safely creating jobs for our employees while serving as much of the city as we can.”

Restaurant operators and staff are beyond anxious and searching for creative solutions beyond the obvious. Short of modifying their whole business plan, some are taking thoughtful, proactive steps to adjust the best they can. This Instagram post from Mom & Pop, full service restaurant, Farmstead Table in Newton, MA is a good example:

The Ashmont Grill, another independent restaurant in Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood, posted the following;

And the good, neighborly folks at Narragansett Beer posted this, including the excellent idea of buying gift certificates online or by phone from their partner restaurants and retail stores for future use;

If enough people step up, this will help, but it’s not nearly enough. Something drastic needs to happen to save many restaurants, shops, and small businesses teetering on the brink of closing. As I have often stated before, the restaurant business is one of the most difficult grinds to make a living, and the profit margins (if any) are painfully thin. Despite thin margins, restaurants and small businesses are often the first to donate gift certificates, food, and products to help local charities in their communities. Now it’s time for us to step up and help them survive.

In an almost unprecedented move, Irene Li, the well-respected chef/owner of Mei Mei, a counter service restaurant in Boston, MA, shared her full profit-and-loss for Mei Mei for 2019 with Eater this week. The piece is titled, What Does It Really Cost to Run a Restaurant? From the piece, “I have always thought to myself that the version of Top Chef that I would want to watch would be chef-owners plunging a toilet, cleaning an overflowing grease trap, balancing a balance sheet, and running payroll as fast as they could — a decathlon of all the administrative bullshit,” says Irene Li, the chef and owner of Mei Mei, a Chinese-American restaurant in Boston. “And obviously, people would be bored to death by that show, but that’s what it really is.”  I strongly encourage you to read the full piece.

I love the Eater piece, and Li’s subsequent, genuine commentary in a webinar the evening the article was released. Her transparency, candor, and humility are very refreshing.  A few things stood out after studying the piece and webinar. Li cares very deeply about her staff, their compensation, benefits, and quality of life, her vendors, her mission, and how she conducts every aspect of her business. The monthly rent at Mei Mei is $7,225. On $1,215,000 in income, including paying herself a VERY modest salary, the net income total (‘profit’) was only $22,116(1.8%). And that’s before paying taxes, debts, investors, new equipment/improvements, or into an emergency ‘cash reserve’ fund. Obviously, this is just one example, but it’s real and more common than most customers and restaurant staff are aware of.

Given extremely thin ‘profit’ margins across the industry, many restaurants and small businesses are a minor ‘event’ away from closing, never mind a major pandemic. We need to talk about tangible steps to save these business, now.

Walking to one of my neighborhood ‘locals’ last night (Thursday) was eerie. When I walked in at 8pm, there were 12 people in the entire 75-seat restaurant. One of the servers said, “It feels like The Twilight Zone.” I responded, “It reminds me of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” As I enjoyed my Manhattan at the bar, I read the Eater NY piece: “Starting Friday at 5 p.m., all venues in the state seating 500 people or less will need to reduce capacity by 50 percent — including restaurants and bars, Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Thursday afternoon. Events for more than 500 people have been completely banned. It’s the latest measure hoping to curb the spread of COVID-19 as numbers rise in New York. As of press time, New York City had 95 confirmed cases, while the state had nearly 330. Mayor Bill de Blasio declared a state of emergency.”

Mayor de Blasio issued a statement on the official website of the City of New York, “The City will provide relief for small businesses across the City seeing a reduction in revenue because of COVID-19. Businesses with fewer than 100 employees who have seen sales decreases of 25% or more will be eligible for zero interest loans of up to $75,000 to help mitigate losses in profit. The City is also offering small businesses with fewer than 5 employees a grant to cover 40% of payroll costs for two months (an average of $6,000) to help retain employees.”

Ideas and information are coming at us fast and furious, and it’s extremely hard to keep up, pivot, and adapt to our “new reality.” I realize that the federal government is working on emergency legislation for paid sick leave and unemployment benefits in order for restaurants, small businesses and their staff to survive, but I believe we need to do more that. If we can bailout big banks (to the tune of trillions of $$ in 2008), we can certainly take care of some of the most important people in our communities and our country, the owners and workers at restaurants and small businesses.

I propose that the US federal government (and worldwide governments) immediately create a tax incentive for landlords to give restaurants and small businesses a 3-month reprieve on rent beginning on 4/1 to allow them to breathe, take care of their employees, and plan next steps for their survival. It’s almost impossible to strategize when you’re preoccupied and stressing about money and day-to-day survival. And it’s easy to mandate that restaurants and small businesses offer more sick days, but very hard to cover the cost when you’re living week-to-week.

This rent reprieve would not be an advance or a loan, it’s money that would not be paid back. Yes, conditions would need to be included to prevent the incentive from being exploited, but this immediate savings could be the difference between shutting down on 4/1 and a renewed sense of hope for thousands of restaurants and small businesses across America. If something like this doesn’t happen, thousands of small businesses will tragically close for good in the next few weeks. In the case of Mei Mei above (and many others), 3 months of rent is the equivalent of their entire ‘profit’ for a year. This proposed rent reprieve could make or break them, and at least gives them a chance for survival. If we truly are “all in this together,” we need to prove it at every level. I will be sharing this idea far and wide, and with every public servant I know, hoping it gains traction. I encourage you to do the same.

These are drastic times that call for drastic measures. As my dad (and many others of his generation) would say, “Money talks and bullshit walks.” Rhetoric is bullshit. ‘Buy local.’ ‘Shop local,’ and ‘Support small businesses that support our communities,’ mean nothing if we’re not willing to step up and help restaurants and small businesses on the brink of survival.

I will add to the list of resources below as I discover them. Please fell free to email at Patrick@servernotservant.com, or add more resources and ideas in the comments. Thank you-Patrick

Industry United is a Facebook Group dedicated to informing and educating the restaurant industry about the COVID-19 outbreak. It is a place to ask questions pertaining to your restaurant, staff, safety and general information.

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ROC United Reveals True Colors in Wake of Abrupt Closure of Colors Restaurant in NYC

By: Patrick Maguire

Book Chapter: Human-to-Human Service

Posted: 1/22/2020

When your ‘socially conscious’ mantra is embracing the ‘high road,’ you don’t blindside the leader of your restaurant via text, ever, never mind only 3 days before closing your business for good. And exploiting and abusing the very people you claim to be advocating for, is even worse than the ‘low road.’ It’s the gutter.

From the official ROC (Restaurant Opportunities Center) website:

TAKING THE HIGH ROAD – A HOW-TO GUIDE FOR SUCCESSFUL RESTAURANT EMPLOYERS

What is the High Road?

Employers defined the “high road” as employment practices that support workers and unleash their loyalty, creativity, and productivity to make the restaurant successful. High-road employers emphasized that the benefits of increased productivity of invested long-term workers and the reduced cost of employee turnover outweigh the short-term costs of high-road practices.

While specific practices varied, these “high-road” policies fell into the following three areas:

1. providing livable wages
2. maintaining a healthy workplace through paid sick days, vacation, or health insurance; and
3. creating career ladders for employees through training and internal promotions policies  

From early on, ROC United set themselves up to fail because the foundation they ‘built’ (I should say, ‘sold’) their business model and ideals on is fraudulent. They do not practice what they preach and lead by example. With the shameful closing of Colors restaurant, they have zero credibility.

As I stated in a 1/20 tweet:

Shortly before Colors restaurant reopened after a 3-year closure, Eater NY reported, “It’s a comeback attempt for the 70-seat restaurant at 178 Stanton Street, between Clinton and Attorney streets. After the September 11 attacks, surviving Windows of the World employees regrouped and organized to build Restaurants Opportunity Center United, one of the country’s most important restaurant labor organizations. They also opened Colors, a restaurant intended to embody their ideals of fair pay, diversity, and employee equity. But while ROC and its advocacy took off, Colors never mastered the balance of running a profitable business with a nonprofit heart. Former employees have filed lawsuits, and many claimed that their fair wages weren’t paid on time.”

The 12/11/19 Eater piece also quoted Colors’ leader, Chef Sicily Sewell-Johnson just before the reopening:

Sewell-Johnson also is working to regain New Yorkers’ trust. “Colors did the community a disservice. We weren’t open for three years. We were inconsistent and let them down,” she says. “Then, among peers, ROC challenged the [industry’s] sub-minimum wage and tipping policies, but we weren’t co-laboring to make the changes. We have to repair those relationships to be taken seriously.”

There was no mention of Colors as a pop-up or “test drive.”

It’s ironic that the entity that prides itself as the standard-bearer of loyalty, equality, and trust betrayed one of their top leaders and advocates in a disgraceful fashion. They didn’t even have the intelligence and courage to meet with Sicily and her team in-person to tell them they were closing and why. And it gets worse…

Excerpts from Eater NY (1/21/20):

After only one month of service, the surviving Windows on the World employee restaurant Colors has closed yet again. Head chef Sicily Sewell-Johnson announced the closure Friday — saying that the restaurant’s owner, labor nonprofit Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, had suddenly pulled the plug.

And in another twist for the embattled restaurant, the chef tells Eater that ROC United is currently not letting her release the more than $2,000 that she raised over the weekend through Venmo to provide “a cushion” to staffers who have just lost their jobs. It’s another bump in what she says has been a “crazy” time with ROC, which she alleges has mismanaged the restaurant from the beginning.

“I’ll never look at this organization the same,” she says.

Management, though, was “a mess” from the beginning, she now says. Structures such as payroll, health insurance, and worker’s compensation were not in place, she says. Sewell-Johnson alleges that she sometimes paid vendors for food and other products out-of-pocket and filed for reimbursement, despite multiple requests for ROC to put a business debit card into place. When her finger got injured during business, she paid for care herself because the nonprofit never gave her health insurance that it had promised, she alleges.

Plus, ROC did not properly tell locals that Colors was open for business, Sewell-Johnson says. The restaurant was still showing up as closed on platforms such as Google and Yelp until the last week of business, she says.

“It was already a mess,” she says. “There were no systems. There was no structure.”

But business was also difficult because ROC did not seem committed to figuring out a financial plan that worked, she says. The nonprofit touted how it pays servers a $15 minimum wage plus tips, an extension of its ongoing fight to end the tipped minimum wage.

In practice, though, trying to pay $15 plus tips while creating an equitable pay structure throughout the restaurant created some bumps, Sewell-Johnson says. Because pooling tips is illegal, Colors also paid its kitchen staff above minimum wage. Entry-level positions like a dishwasher made $18.30 an hour, and with taxes, the restaurant ended up paying much more for labor than most restaurants in the city.

Sewell-Johnson wanted to start considering what other models would work, such as eliminating tipping, but she faced opposition from ROC. Ultimately, she says, paying a dishwasher a high wage doesn’t matter if the restaurant closes and the dishwasher can’t leave with additional skills.

“It’s easy for a lot of people to say — everyone deserves better, and this is what you should do,” she says. “It’s hard to find the middle to make that work.”

The New York Post, who broke the story on 1/19/20, quoted Sewel-Johnson, “…systems weren’t in place to make Colors succeed, when this place is the epitome of what ROC stands for.” BINGO. In other words, if you don’t practice what you preach, you have absolutely zero credibility. Remember, this comment is coming from a former ambassador of ROC.

The Post also stated, The chef said she was blindsided late Thursday when Sekou Siby, a former employee of Windows of the World and ROC’s executive director, informed her the plug was being pulled. Johnson was informed by Siby in a text that the eatery would close Sunday since funding could no longer be provided.

Reached by The Post for comment, Siby denied Sunday that the restaurant was closing, claiming the latest opening was always intended as a “test drive.”

“It’s not a closing, per se, but we are assessing the financial situation,” Siby said. “the last six weeks was a test drive, to analyze what is possible.”

I’ve had email exchanges with ROC ‘leadership’ in the past, so I sent the following email to Sekou Siby and cc’d Fekkak Mamdough and Saru Jayaraman on 1/20/20:

Hello, Sekou- I’m working on a blog post about Colors NYC closing. Could you please provide answers to the following questions/comments:

#1- Chef Sicily Sewell-Johnson told the NY Post on Sunday, “… systems weren’t in place to make Colors succeed, when this place is the epitome of what ROC stands for.” Your response, please.
#2- If your own staff of your own failed restaurant feels this way, how do you expect restaurateurs around the country to see you as trusted and credible advocates?
#3- Have you ever offered independent, full service restaurateurs a financial pro forma clearly demonstrating how they can operate at a profit while raising server pay to $15/hour and eliminating the tip credit? If you have, can you please furnish a copy?
#4- Do you regret texting Sicily on Thursday that Colors was closing Sunday (3 days later) after service?
#5- Why wasn’t Sicily told in-person?
#6- Why was there such short notice?
#7- How were all of the other Colors employees informed by senior ROC leadership?
#8- On 9/10/19, amNewYork published a piece that referenced a press release from Saru, including this quote, “We are truly excited about the reopening of COLORS in honor of our brothers and sisters who worked at the Windows on the World,” Saru Jayaraman, president and co-founder of ROC United, said in a news release. “Through the lens of COLORS, we are proud of all the hard work that our members and supporters do to continue raising the issue of race and gender equity and fighting for living wages in every restaurant across America.” There was no mention of a “test drive” and probable closing. Please provide a copy of the full press release from ROC announcing the reopening of Colors.
#9- The 12/11/19 piece from Eater NY included, “It’s a comeback attempt for the 70-seat restaurant at 178 Stanton Street, between Clinton and Attorney streets. After the September 11 attacks, surviving Windows of the World employees regrouped and organized to build Restaurants Opportunity Center United, one of the country’s most important restaurant labor organizations. They also opened Colors, a restaurant intended to embody their ideals of fair pay, diversity, and employee equity. But while ROC and its advocacy took off, Colors never mastered the balance of running a profitable business with a nonprofit heart. Former employees have filed lawsuits, and many claimed that their fair wages weren’t paid on time.” There was no mention of a “test drive” and probable, temporary closing “to analyze what is possible” as you mentioned to the NY Post. Are you now saying that contrary to the omission in the press release, the amNewYork piece, and the Eater NY piece, that a ‘trial run,’ then shut down to re-evaluate was planned from the get-go? Feel free to provide evidence.
#10- To reiterate, the 1/19/20 piece in the New York Post stated, Reached by The Post for comment, Siby denied Sunday that the restaurant was closing, claiming the latest opening was always intended as a “test drive.” “It’s not a closing, per se, but we are assessing the financial situation,” Siby said. “The last six weeks was a test drive, to analyze what is possible. We didn’t have a grand opening — this was just a test drive.” Is Colors closing or not? Feel free to elaborate.
#11- If ROC can’t successfully operate a 70-seat, full-service restaurant with grants and outside financial help, after 2 tries (including a 3-year closure) paying servers $15/hour and BOH starting at $18.30/hr (Eater), how do you expect independent, full-service restaurants across America to survive, given the same ‘playbook?’
#12- From the 12/11/19 Eater piece mentioned above: Sewell-Johnson also is working to regain New Yorkers’ trust. “Colors did the community a disservice. We weren’t open for three years. We were inconsistent and let them down,” she says. “Then, among peers, ROC challenged the [industry’s] sub-minimum wage and tipping policies, but we weren’t co-laboring to make the changes. We have to repair those relationships to be taken seriously.” How do you expect anyone to take ROC seriously now?
#13- Feel free to add anything else that you would like me to include in the blog post.

Siby did not respond to my email or reply to my voicemail left on 1/21/20.

It has been widely reported that Colors restaurant and ROC United have been partially funded by millions of dollars from the Ford Foundation. From and old post the Ford Foundation website:

In her new book, Forked: A New Standard for American Dining, Saru Jayaraman, co-founder of Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC United), explores the good, the bad and the ugly in the American restaurant industry. The book profiles fabulous restaurants taking the “high road to profitability” and provides ratings of America’s most popular eateries based on the wages, working conditions, and promotion practices they afford workers.

I sent an email to Sarita Gupta, director at the Ford Foundation on 1/21/20. In addition to copying Sarita on the email I sent to Sekou Siby, I included the following:

#1- How much money did the Ford Foundation grant ROC United in 2019? And in 2020?

#2- Was any of that $$ earmarked specifically for Colors NYC?

#3- In light of the recent egregious behavior of ROC United senior management, will the Ford Foundation sever their relationship with ROC?

#4- Did you read this damning Eater piece? Would you like to comment on it?

#5- Would you like to make a statement on behalf of the Ford Foundation as it relates to Colors restaurant closing or on your relationship with ROC?

I will update this blog post if Gupta responds to my email or a voicemail left this morning.

Edit/update: I received the following response from Sarita Gupta via email at 1:56pm on 1/22/20:

Hi Patrick,

We are aware of this situation with Colors NYC closing. The Ford Foundation has a practice of conducting extensive due diligence processes for grantees, and particularly in times of changes. We are doing our part to look into this matter. In the meantime, I wanted to pass along the statement from ROC.

[I will publish the statement from ROC if they send it.]

Kudos to Daniel Cassady & Jackie Salo at the New York Post and Caroline Hatchett, Serena Dai & Morgan Carter at NY Eater for covering this story.  The truth about the hypocrisy and the egregious, fraudulent actions of ROC United exploiting their members and the people they claim to be advocating for, needs to be exposed. And their leadership must be held accountable.

Please contact me with additional/related information. I will update/edit this blog post or write new posts as more information becomes available. Thank you.

Previous Server Not Servant blog posts:

Saru Jayaraman, Fekkak Mamdouh, ROC United Leadership & Members: Is ONE FAIR WAGE really FAIR for ALL? Tip Credit & Tipped Minimum Wage-Part 1

Is Lobbyist ROC United’s ONE FAIR WAGE Really FAIR for All Workers? Tip Credit and Tipped Minimum Wage-Part 2

1/23/20 edit:

In the wake of the Colors restaurant public relations disaster and the decision by NY Governor Cuomo to leave the tip credit in place for restaurant industry workers, ROC United posted an evasive statement that didn’t answer my questions and this:

You can’t make this shit up. When you don’t exhibit dignity, equity, and respect for your own employees, you have no business or credibility preaching about. Stay tuned.

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Whining over Waiter Spilling Wine on $30k Hermès Handbag

By: Patrick Maguire

Book Chapter: Human-to-Human Service

Posted: 11/14/2019

A job posting  from approximately 1 year ago, for the General Manager position at Alpine Country Club in Demarest, NJ states that the “exclusive private country club” was “Seeking a General Manager who demonstrates a leadership style promoting a culture that results in Member satisfaction and employee engagement…” And under, “KEY ATTRIBUTES AND AREAS OF FOCUS,” the posting states that, “The successful General Manager will demonstrate:

  • The ability and desire to engage sincerely and proactively with members and staff in a manner that drives high levels of engagement, excitement, and enthusiasm.
  • A hospitality professional who has the ability to create an environment where the staff looks forward to coming to work every day because they are developed and respected.”

“KEY INITIAL PRIORITIES” include:

  • “The GM will be present and positively approachable where needed to develop strong member and staff trust and confidence; approachability, follow up, and candid, respectful interactions are key.”

It’s hard to be engaged, excited, enthused, trusting, and looking forward to coming to work every day when you are being sued by your own employer…

On 11/12/19, a longtime member of my Server Not Servant Facebook Group posted the sarcastic comment, “This will really boost staff morale,” accompanied by a link to a USA Today story with the headline:  “Customer: Wine spill on Hermès bag was $30k mistake. Country club: Our waiter should pay.” The piece states that plaintiff, Maryana Bader sued Alpine Country Club for $30,000 on October 29th, close to a year after a server allegedly spilled wine on her “ultra-expensive” purse during dinner, and the Country Club, in turn, sued their server to cover the damages.

From the piece:

“So basically, what this is is that they’re asking the employee to pay whatever they owe under the law to my client,” said Alexandra Errico, Beyder’s attorney. “So they’re suing their own employee that they hired.”

And the internet exploded with outrage, mostly in support of the server, and with fury directed at the posh country club with a $65k+ initiation fee and $19k+ annual dues. 

Not so fast, says Alpine Country Club attorney, Ken Merber.

Here is my email exchange from 11/13/19 with Atty Merber.

Patrick Maguire(PM): Good Afternoon, Ken- I write a blog supporting a forthcoming book advocating for service industry workers, I’m your Server Not your Servant. I’m working on a blog post discussing the lawsuit over the wine-stained Hermes bag, and the Alpine lawsuit against their own waiter. I would like to give you and Alpine Country Club an opportunity to offer your sides of the story.

Attorney Merber(AM): Mr. Maguire, I am writing to acknowledge receipt of your email dated 11/13/19 with your questions regarding Ms. Beyder’s lawsuit against Alpine Country Club. See Alpine’s responses to your inquiries below. The issues disputed in the lawsuit do not involve employer-employee relations between Alpine Country Club and its employees.

PM: Why are you suing an Alpine Country Club employee?

AM: Alpine Country Club is not suing any of its employees. Alpine is not asserting any claims and is not seeking damages against any of its employees, including the waiter who allegedly caused damage to Plaintiff’s handbag.

PM: Does the employee being sued still work for Alpine Country Club?

AM: Alpine Country Club is not suing any of its employees. Alpine is not asserting any claims and is not seeking damages against any of its employees, including the waiter who allegedly caused damage to Plaintiff’s handbag. Alpine Country Club respects the privacy of its members, guests and employees. Alpine will not comment publicly regarding its employees.

PM: Are suing your employee with their consent in order to defeat the plaintiff?

AM: Alpine Country Club is not suing any of its employees. Alpine is not asserting any claims and is not seeking damages against any of its employees, including the waiter who allegedly caused damage to Plaintiff’s handbag. Alpine Country Club is confident it will prevail in the litigation Plaintiff filed. Alpine Country Club intends to and will successfully defend Plaintiff’s claims in the court in which the lawsuit was filed and not in the press.

PM: Is the lawsuit against your employee still pending or have you withdrawn it?

AM: Alpine Country Club is not suing any of its employees. Alpine never filed a separate lawsuit against any of its employees. Alpine is not asserting any claims and is not seeking damages against any of its employees, including the waiter who allegedly caused damage to Plaintiff’s handbag.

PM: Are you getting a lot of backlash from your staff as a result of the lawsuit against your employee?

AM: No. Alpine Country Club is not suing any of its employees. Alpine never filed a separate lawsuit against any of its employees. Alpine is not asserting any claims and is not seeking damages against any of its employees, including the waiter who allegedly caused damage to Plaintiff’s handbag.

PM: Don’t you think suing your server is an awful strategy for morale and recruiting and retaining employees, especially during a period of record low unemployment?

AM: Alpine Country Club is not suing any of its employees. Alpine never filed a separate lawsuit against any of its employees. Alpine is not asserting any claims and is not seeking damages against any of its employees, including the waiter who allegedly caused damage to Plaintiff’s handbag. The health, well-being and privacy of Alpine Country Club’s employees are of Paramount importance to the Club and its management.

PM: Aren’t you concerned about PR and the public’s perception of your lack of support for your own team?

AM: Alpine Country Club respect and supports the privacy and dignity of all of its members, guests and staff. Alpine Country Club is not suing any of its employees. Alpine never filed a separate lawsuit against any of its employees. Alpine is not asserting any claims and is not seeking damages against any of its employees, including the waiter who allegedly caused damage to Plaintiff’s handbag.

PM: Is there anything else you would like me to include in the blog post from you or on behalf of Alpine Country Club?

AM: Attached is a copy of Alpine Country Club’s statement regarding this lawsuit:

My law firm and I have been retained to represent Alpine Country Club in a lawsuit filed in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Bergen County, Law Division. This matter has received substantial media coverage. Alpine Country Club provides the following statement regarding the lawsuit.

ALPINE COUNTRY CLUB
MEDIA STATEMENT
November 12, 2019
Beyder v. Alpine Country Club

Alpine Country Club and its management respect the dignity and privacy of the Club’s members, guests and employees. The safety and well-being of Alpine Country Club’s members, guests and employees are of paramount importance to the Club and its management.

Alpine Country Club is aware of the allegations of wrongdoing asserted against it by one of its members in her publicly filed complaint and her counsel’s orchestrated media campaign. Alpine Country Club has been aware of Plaintiff’s allegations since the subject incident occurred. Alpine Country Club, its management, counsel and agents have taken Plaintiff’s allegations seriously and have acted reasonably and responsibly in response thereto. Neither the Club nor its counsel or agents have ignored or refused to address Plaintiff’s complaint. The pleadings raise issues regarding the property damage Plaintiff claims she suffered, the authenticity of the handbag and its value. Plaintiff has not provided any receipt pertaining to the purchase of the subject handbag.

Alpine Country Club is not making any claim against and is not seeking any damages from any of its employees, including the waiter who allegedly caused damage to Plaintiff’s handbag, pertaining to the subject incident. Alpine Country Club looks forward to its opportunity to successfully defend Plaintiff’s claims. The disputed issues will be adjudicated through the court proceedings and not in the media.

PM response email at 1:43 on 11/13/19: Thank you, Ken. I will be sure to quote you verbatim. Can you please tell me your perception of why so many media outlets are reporting that Alpine Country Club sued their own employee who allegedly spilled wine on Ms. Beyder’s $30,000 handbag?

PM 4:13 on 11/13/19: Hello, Ken- Thanks again for your timely response and the detail. FYI, to be clear and fair, if I don’t hear back from you on my outstanding question by tomorrow morning (11/14), I’ll include that you did not respond. Thank you. [He did not respond.]

On the morning of 11/14/19, after email and phone inquiries on 11/13, I received email responses from Attorney Alexandra Errico, counsel for the customer with the wine-stained Hermes handbag, stating that, “The attorney for Alpine is lying in his statement to the media,” and that “The answer crossclaim (against the waiter) was filed on 11/07/19. The amended answer removing the cross claim was filed on 11/12/2019.”

Attorney Errico also sent me a link and the statement, “I emailed you a crossclaim that Alpine’s attorney filed against their own employee on November 7, 2019.”

I was not able to open the link because it was registered user and password protected.

I spoke to someone working at the NJ Superior Court Clerk’s Office at 609-421-6100. They told me that there is no online, public access to the cases I referenced.

I have invited additional comments/evidence from Attorney Ken Merber (for Alpine Country Club) and Attorney Alexandra Errico (for handbag plaintiff), and will update this post when I receive more information.

Despite numerous inquiries, I have been unsuccessful in attempting to track down the Alpine Country Club server at the center of the lawsuits. I welcome the opportunity to communicate with them if anyone can help facilitate.

Updates are also welcome in the comments below. Thank you.

Permalink | Posted in Human-to-Human Service, Rules of Engagement | 1 Comment »

Taylor Misiak: How Not To Be “The Worst” Customer-TEDxWabashCollege #ServerNotServant

By: Patrick Maguire

Book Chapter: Human-to-Human Service

Posted: 6/30/2019

“Difficult customers get in their own way of receiving the best service” is the pervasive theme of Taylor Misiak’s recent TEDx Talk.

I witnessed an extreme example of this a few weeks ago at a local hardware store. After finding what I needed with the help of an employee, I went to the front of the store and there were no cashiers at the checkout area. I waited patiently, scrolling through my phone, when another customer approached the cash register. Within a few moments, he tried to ‘build the coalition’ against the staff by kvetching within earshot of me, “No one working here?!?” and other unintelligible grumblings. I didn’t budge or make eye contact. After a short period, Grouchy Guy walked halfway through the store to the end of an aisle where the employee who helped me was working and yelled, “Hey, can we get some help here?!?”

“Excuse me?” the employee replied.

Grouchy Guy: “There’s nobody at the fucking cash register!”

Worker: “I’m sorry, but that’s no reason to be disrespectful. I’ll be right there.”

Grouchy: “Forget it,” and throws the item he was going to buy down the aisle at the worker.

The employee quickly followed the customer to the door and yelled, “Get out of the store, now!! I won’t tolerate disrespect.” After a tense exchange outside (during which I had to throw my 2 cents in siding with the worker), the customer actually had the nerve to say, “Just let me buy what I came here for.” No dice, the employee banned Grouchy Guy for good. Talk about getting in your own way of receiving service…

Taylor’s TEDx talk deals primarily with less hostile customers and examines the question, “How often are customers unintentionally being ‘The Worst?'”

As a restaurant server, Misiak notes that, “In my job, when I deal with these terrible customers, I’m working around the challenges they create more than I am giving them the good service they deserve.” Such a great point–Bad customers often sabotage their own service experiences.

Some of my favorite quotes from Taylor’s thoughtful talk:

  • “…what is so flawed in ‘The customer is always right’ mentality is it doesn’t acknowledge the possibility that the customer may in fact be naïve or misinformed or unaware of something.”
  • “When we operate with this mentality, we conduct ourselves with a sense of entitlement and a ‘gimme this!’ attitude.”
  • “Sometimes customers aren’t just annoying, but by not staying in their own lane, are making the problem worse for themselves.”
  • “When we’re customers we could stand to operate with a little less entitlement and a little more empathy.”
  • “And on the other side, when we’re the ones working, we could stand to do the same. We can operate with more patience and communication rather than writing someone off and calling them ‘The Worst.'”

I reached out to Taylor and asked if she’d like to add any additional comments for this blog post:

“It means so much to hear a fellow server enjoyed my talk because I totally know that these few topics I address are just the tip of the iceberg! While I could talk for days about terrible customer habits or typical miscommunications, I thought it was important to avoid alienating anyone in the audience. I tried to analyze the more common mistakes that I truly believe are unintentional.

I can also honestly say that working on this talk really pushed me to take a better look at myself when I’m a customer! Not only in restaurants, but other service industries. I’ve tried practicing a little more patience and empathy. And while not always easy, it usually leads to a much more positive experience.”

Amen. Please join the conversation in the comments below, and share this post on all of your social media platforms. Hopefully more humans will heed Taylor’s advice, “We could behave like polite guests rather than kings of the castle.”

Please watch Taylor’s TEDx Talk and share.

Follow Taylor Misiak on Twitter & IG @taylormisiak.

To encourage more blog posts and expedite completion of my book, please click on ‘Support Server Not Servant’ in the blue box on the upper right hand side of this post.

Thank you-Patrick

Permalink | Posted in Human-to-Human Service | 1 Comment »