People always think that I’m Mexican. Maybe it’s because I speak Spanish really well. Maybe it’s because I have dark hair. I think it’s mostly because I used to work almost exclusively at Mexican restaurants. I used to live in Washington State where I got my first restaurant job as a hostess at El Sarape. I soon quit and moved to another city where I got a similar job at El Toro. El Toro’s owners knew the owners of El Sarape well. The restaurants were ran almost exactly the same, only El Toro had it together a little bit more. Employees worked harder, made more money, and were nicer. Nobody was stressed the way they were at El Sarape, because the restaurant was better staffed. I worked shorter shifts and made more tips. And as is customary in most family-owned restaurants, I got a free meal every time I worked. El Toro’s food was awesome. I ate at work basically every single day, if not twice a day (if I worked a double). Everything on the menu was free to employees with the exception of seafood.
About a year later, I had to move. I gave El Toro two months’ notice, letting them know I would be starting school in another city in the fall. After moving, I job hunted for about a week in my old hometown before stumbling across The Mayan. I was hired the day of my interview. I worked a full shift and started getting to know my coworkers. When my shift was over, my manager asked if I would like to eat my free meal. I’m always hungry (no, I’m not fat) and I wanted to try out their food, so I obliged. He showed me my options on a computer screen. I must say I was a little disappointed. The employee menu consisted of five simple items: taco, enchilada, nachos, hamburger, or salad. This was a serious down-grade from my previous meal options.
It didn’t take me long to figure out that the owner, Jose Sanchez, was cheap at best and didn’t give a shit about his employees. It took me about as much time to realize that everyone who worked for him hated his guts. Eventually, I didn’t need to order my employee meal on the computer. All I had to do was hint to the cooks what kind of food I liked, and they would whip me up something special. I probably ate a pound of unpaid-for guacamole on a daily basis.
When I moved to Texas, I soon realized that the free meal I had been allowed to eat at The Mayan, however meager it seemed in comparison to El Toro, was much more than I would be offered here.
It took only a couple of corporate restaurant training weeks and I began to miss working for a small family-ran place. I was excited when I got hired at El Meson on South Lamar. Yves and Atticus Macias (brothers) had just opened up their first full service restaurant. According to them, they had waited tables for years when they were presented with the opportunity to buy a commercial produce company. This venture soon proved successful and they wound up with a meat company, a small restaurant on Burleson Road, and a lot of commercial and residential real estate in the South Lamar area (their newest acquisition being La Reyna on South 1^st^ St).
I figured that surely Yves and Atticus, who used to be waiters themselves, would treat their employees with utmost respect and appreciation. At the very least, I expected I would soon be eating dinner at work again. I thought wrong. I can honestly say I have never been treated as disrespectfully as I was at El Meson. When I was treated like shit by Jose Sanchez, I endured it because I made so much money working for him. But working at a brand new restaurant, with underpriced food, for $2.13 an hour, was a different situation entirely. I think the reason I’m still so butt-hurt about being fired from El Meson is that I should’ve quit long before things ever got to that point.
It’s so stupid not to feed your employees. Yves and Atticus couldn’t be at El Meson all of the time and they had the same problem Jose Sanchez had – everyone utterly detested them. Nobody respected Yves and Atticus. And none of their employees gave a shit if the restaurant made a little extra money, because the owners didn’t care whether or not the staff did (I was told this explicitly on the night of my firing). Cooks didn’t care if the kitchen had a ticket; all anyone had to do was ask. Servers didn’t ring up extra tortillas or chips and salsa for their tables because “the customer might get mad,” and the money would just be going into Yves’ undersized jeans pocket (he’s 6’3” and wears pants that would fit his ten year old son).
Recently someone told me I was excessively stuck on the $2.13 per hour problem. She said that in New York, waiters used to make zero per hour. Still, she had plenty of cool bosses and good jobs. When she found out about no free meals here in Texas, however, it was a different story. I think she’s right. I think that if someone paid me $2.13, or even zero, and treated me as if they were paying me $10 per hour, then it wouldn’t be an issue. Feeding employees costs most restaurants close to nothing; it’s simply an insignificant benefit of working in the foodservice industry.
Yves and Atticus feel like they can’t trust anyone and, at this point, they probably can’t. Once everyone knows you’ll do anything to save a dime and that you’re a huge jerk, you can’t trust anyone to see your best interests in every situation. If El Meson had taken better care of me, I would probably still work there. In short, to all you restaurant owners and managers out there: if you aren’t giving your peeps a free meal, I can guarantee it’s going to cost you in the long run.