Anyone who has worked for a significant amount of time in the food service industry has seen the dark side of the restaurant business. While food service can be incredibly rewarding, and can provide many opportunities for advancement with little or no formal education, there are also many in the industry who struggle to make ends meet, fall on hard times without a safety net, and fall into alcohol and substance abuse.
That’s because the restaurant business is a tough business. Half of all restaurants fail in the first three years. Employee turnover rates are much higher than most other industries. Because turnover is so high, both in operations and employees, benefits are much more restricted.
That means a lot of food service workers don’t get the support they need when they get into trouble, either financially, emotionally, or physically.
Kevin Finch, a Spokane, WA food critic, has been observing the restaurant industry for a long time and saw firsthand just how tough the business can be. Realizing there was little support for the hardworking people in the restaurants he visited, Finch started Big Table, a non-profit that treats food service workers to a 5 course meal every other month. More importantly, Big Table uses their meal events as a way to find the people in the restaurant business who need help. At the dinners, guests are asked who needs help in the local restaurant scene. Once they’ve identified those who are struggling, Big Table offers no-strings-attached help. They have fixed cars, paid medical bills, and even sent flowers to people in need.
Food service is the single largest job category in the U.S., and that means there are a lot of people who need support. Big Table eventually hopes to expand their concept to other regions in the U.S., but in the meantime food service certainly could do a better job taking care of its own.
Striking the right balance between competing in a tough marketplace and taking care of staff at the same time is a difficult task for any business, and the restaurant business is tougher than most.
That said, the dark side of food service is a place most know about, but few discuss. It took a food critic to shed light on the difficulties food service workers live with every day. Now it’s up to the entire industry to work towards making the table big enough for everybody.