I was employed at the Route 9 Diner from September 2010 until May 2014 when I left Amherst. I hit the ground running, working close to 50 hours a week almost immediately, and quickly became at home within that aluminum box. I was having a very tough time personally since being dismissed from my previous serving job a few months earlier, and the diner gave me a place I could belong and thrive. I did well there for a few reasons: I was available, I was reliable, I already had seven years serving experience, and most importantly: I was a man. Initially my main desire, beyond the pay, was acceptance. I laughed at the sexist jokes. I chuckled at the kitchen staff’s leering. I even took part in ranking the waitress’s attractiveness with the other managers. Although I never directly verbally abused any coworkers, I was certainly complacent to the occurrences because I was a pushover, seeking friendships and validation for the failed life I was living. I was never harassed. I was never insulted. I cannot ever remember really being yelled at. However, I saw all of this behavior on a daily basis.
Managers and owners alike openly took pride in being able to make waitresses cry. One manager even went so far as to say, “Watch this.” He then waited for the next waitress to enter the kitchen and began viciously chastising her to the point of tears, just to prove that he could. The verbal abuse continued with the primary overnight manager, whose incompetence still baffles me. He would frequently call waitresses idiots, morons, and repetitively exclaim, “What are you, stupid?!” for minute errors that he himself would make. When complaints about this manager were made, the owners simply ignored the claims because they obviously had no concept of verbal abuse; they were repeat offenders themselves. I particularly remember once instance where one of the owners swore at a waitress for trying to recycle old useless receipts as she was leaving, having just completed a 16 hour overnight shift; 2 p.m.-6 a.m. I still to this day remember the words verbatim because the ordeal shocked me so much: “I don’t want that fucking shit leaving my restaurant.”
I 100% believe that I never was harassed or berated solely due to my gender. When it was happening, I was just glad to be with the “in crowd.” I hung out with the managers outside of work and I always got my choice of section in the restaurant. I even got free food from the managers (a practice that the owners greatly opposed; they would rather throw food away than have their staff eat for free.) They made the waitresses pay for their mistakes, every ounce of food they ate, and even made them pay for walk-outs.
I was hired as a server, but in the spring of 2012 the longtime manager moved away, and they asked me if I would take the position of third manager. I was hesitant because manager pay is hourly and tends to be less lucrative than serving. On some shifts as a server, I would walk out with $250 in an eight hours. If I wanted to make that kind of money managing, the only option was to work a 22 hour shift. (Which I did, on multiple occasions.) Despite my hesitations, I decided to accept the offer because I had been serving since I was 17 and I was ready for a different challenge and more responsibility. I was now in a position of authority, but I was the lowest man on that totem pole. They offered me $12/hour, most of it in cash and “under the table.” A few short months later, I sat down with an owner to discuss a raise. I told him the immense pay cut was too much. He could only offer me one more dollar per hour, as he considered my inclusion on the Diner’s health insurance as part of my raise, saying he was basically giving me a $2/hour raise. He further explained that, “We all have to make sacrifices with business being slow.” The example he then gave to me was that he was forced to only lease his brand new BMW, rather than buying it, as he’d prefer to do. I accepted his insult, feeling defeated.
The owners consistently devalued their staff and knew of the sexual harassment that existed in their restaurant. They made a practice of checking the cameras religiously, occasionally calling in to complain about a waitress or manager. They used the cameras to make sure that any waitress that experienced a walk-out had to personally pay for that table. When I was managing alone, I would tell the waitresses not to worry about it, only to later be scolded by both of the owners. Once, while working a weekend morning shift, a waitress had a table walk out. I went into the owners’ office to watch the cameras, confirming the non-pay, and was then instructed to inform the server of her obligation to pay the balance. We were aware this practice was illegal, but had no authority to debate it because we needed our jobs. And they knew that.
I was told about various behaviors that the cooks and managers engaged in on a daily basis from nearly every girl who worked there. It was not a few of the girls, nor was it a few isolated incidents, nor was it just about one or two of the staff. The times I heard claims of,
“Coco grabbed me,”
“Jiovanni asked me out, again,”
“The dishwasher tried to take a picture of me,” and
“Antonio showed me the porn on his phone,” were unfortunately, too many to count.
When I did eventually get into it with one of the cooks over some disgusting behavior, they then proceeded to make my work life very difficult. When I took these issues to the owner he would say, “Well I have to get both sides of the story, and then I can figure out what to do.” He never got both sides of the stories and nothing was ever done.
One time the complaints became so rampant we eventually had a manager meeting. The owners said, “Hey, if this ever happens, we need to know, because I don’t care who they are; I’ll fire them.” When I and the Head Waitress used that claim to address the numerous atrocious complaints against the head chef, he then went on to acknowledge how invaluable the cooks (specifically Coco) were to the business by stating, “So we kind of have to let him be himself.” All their decisions came back to the bottom line: their personal paychecks. Their actions consistently reiterated the idea that as long as the numbers were good, the restaurant was good.
Any ignorance of the sexually abusive environment was a willful ignorance. They turned a blind eye to the camera evidence, and didn’t follow up on any complaints because the admittance of knowledge meant they’d have to confront it. Confrontation of the problem would have led to the termination of valuable assets and that would be bad for business. Dismissal of the problem was far more profitable.
Many of the victims worked for years under this duress, simply because finding a new job is never that easy. As in many abusive relationships, we searched for minor silver linings and often didn’t see the true horrors until after we left, at which point we’d rather forget than pursue the past.
I acknowledge my part in the abusive settings in which I worked. I can no longer stand by and keep silent. My former coworkers who’ve come forward deserve my words and support. The owners knew the extent of the verbal and sexual abuse and continued to dismiss it because dismissal was easier and more profitable. Maybe things will change and get better. If that happens, it’s not because of new allegations being brought to light; it’s because actual facts were exposed to their clientele. Their practice of dismissal is no longer good for business.