Your English Major Kids May End Up Serving Tables In Chicago

I live in the River North area of Chicago, which is full of restaurants of every type and description. There is also intense competition among many of the smaller restaurant groups, since apparently some level of scale (5+ or more restaurants) is helpful and these restaurants tend to have very high levels of food quality and service, based on my experience.

When you interact with the bar staff, hostess, and server you can usually tell if you are working with someone who is “going through the motions” or someone “who is good at their job”. There are many subtle details that are much larger than “getting your order right” – they include knowledge about the food and presentation, recommendations based upon your input, and generally anticipating needs and solving problems without having to be prompted many times.

Recently I’ve come to the preliminary conclusion that many of the waitresses and servers in these higher end restaurant groups must have gone to college and are well educated. When you talk with them they are very sharp and quick and they seem to have the type of drive or energy that could make them successful in a variety of careers. I would never ask them directly because that’s none of my business and it could embarrass them.

This article form Bloomberg titled “College Graduates Taking Low Wage Jobs Displace Less Educated” confirms at least my anecdotal impressions here in Chicago.

She got a job as a hostess at Blackbird, a One Off restaurant, while pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Germanic studies and communications at the University of Illinois at Chicago in 1999. “The formality of classes, papers and grades did lend a hand in where I am today because I had a broader sense of cultures, interactions and interpersonal skills,” said Galban, who is now also a partner at the restaurant Nico Osteria, one of seven Chicago restaurants managed by One Off. Of the company’s more than 700 employees, more than 60 percent hold college degrees or higher, yet fewer than 10 positions require a degree, Galban said.

The willingness of college educated adults to take on these jobs will likely cause at least three side effects, one of which was the “main” topic of the Bloomberg article I linked to above:

1. These restaurants will be more competitive than typical restaurants, because the higher educated and higher skilled workers will drive customer satisfaction and drive efficiencies within the food and drink serving processes. As these workers move “up the chain” at the restaurants, they will also offer career paths for other college degree holders as well
2. Less-skilled workers will have less opportunities because they won’t be able to compete with these individuals. It would be a simple “screen” to give preference to individuals with a degree who apply for jobs, even if it isn’t a requirement of the job. In the past the assumption was that if someone “over-qualified” would work at your restaurant or business, they would leave immediately when a new opportunity arises, but in today’s stagnant economy (especially in Illinois) there don’t seem to be a lot of opportunities for them to “jump to”.
3. Since the cost of higher education is so high today, parents need to think of how they will feel when their liberal arts (or lackadaisical business) degree holding children are potentially serving them in a restaurant, and if this is worth the vast expense and financial impact of the degree that they are seeking

Another side effect to consider is that these restaurants are not just randomly seeking out applicants from the pool. Their employees are not only young, they are disproportionally above-average looking. Perhaps if you aren’t college educated you can make up for it in attractiveness.

Cross posted at LITGM

17 thoughts on “Your English Major Kids May End Up Serving Tables In Chicago”

  1. In The Bell Curve, Charles Murray gave the example of the New York City police department at the onset of the Great Depression. Normally, being a policeman was a blue collar occupation ( at the time, disproportionately Irish)and a H.S. diploma was not, if I recall, required. Thee Depression had sent the department thousands of applicants who normally would never have considered being a cop but the job was during the Depression, highly prized; there were many college graduates and even some with advanced degrees (extremely rare back then). Tracking them until retirement age, this was the most successful, most decorated, most promoted cohort of policemen in New York City history who closed cases, solved crimes and shot bad guys at unprecedented rates

    No word on the men who normally would have been accepted and made careers as cops but were displaced by competition of an unusual caliber. Chances are some of them ended up on the other side of the law

  2. My youngest daughter worked as a waitress all through college. She was promoted by the employer on several occasions such as being responsible for closing the restaurant at the end of the day and, in one, being made bartender which earns more tips.

    She was also fired by a manager in one restaurant in Tuscon for no reason she could discover except the manager was sleeping with one of the waitresses and she thought he was interested in her. She was not, and after the firing wrote a letter, at my urging, to the company complaining but she told me the owner had the reputation of being no better than, and perhaps a model for, the manager. It’s a sizable chain in Arizona.

    She got a job last summer, a couple of months after graduation from U of A, with an insurance brokerage and has now moved to a larger firm with her previous employers’ encouragement and plans to move to Scottsdale where they are opening a new office. She told me the new “office” will be her apartment until they get enough business to hire more employees and get a formal office. Her salary is pretty good for a new grad and includes all benefits. Being a waitress was good experience, even the part about sexual harassment.

    It helps that she is very pretty and has a bubbly personality. The experience may be more important. I wish she had been an accounting major but her French major is at least one with a fair amount of rigor. One of my medical students was a French major. Annie has hope of moving to and living in France but that is on hold.

  3. “No word on the men who normally would have been accepted and made careers as cops”

    Now they would be replaced by gangbangers and other affirmative action candidates. Los Angles and Chicago have both had scandals in police and firefighter ranks in recent years. The “dog food scandal” was a case of a bullying senior firefighter whose underlings secretly mixed dog food in his spaghetti sauce. He is multiracial like our president and made the most it when he found out. The city paid him a large amount, millions, and fired the police chief hiring a black chief in his place.

    The LAPD has been worrying about young LAPD officers who graduate for the academy and, a few years later, move to the departments of smaller cities in southern California. Those that remain in LA are sometimes the sort that make headlines. Bratton has improved the LAPD with better tactics but they still have affirmative action driving the makeup of the force.

  4. I keep thinking of Pope Francis’s words in his exhortation — we don’t face a problem of the exploited or the oppressed but the left-over. The flip-side of our overall productivity is that there are more and more folk who can’t help (can’t provide an economic ROI for their wage-cost) and who are thus idled. We can either subsidize their wages (so their wage-cost to the employer is less than their total earnings), or pay them to play World of Warcraft, or pair them to exist, but they are useless as individuals.

    As Carl mentions, public-facing service jobs are biased towards the competent and the attractive. Non-public-facing service jobs (gardening, etc) are biased towards the competent and the able. Whither the rest?

  5. Point 2 tends to negate point 3. Perhaps point 3 leads to the suggestions (a) Graduate as cheaply as possible, and then (b) Move to a part of the country where there are more jobs suitable for young graduates. Alternative suggestions would presumably include learning a trade instead.

    “Annie has hope of moving to and living in France but that is on hold.” Be careful: a cousin of mine did that and never came back. He’s been French now for many decades.

  6. Dysfunctional systems have bad incentives or hire low-quality people or both. Hiring good people can make up for poor management and poorly structured incentives to some extent, but badly run systems will have difficulty hiring and keeping good people except under extraordinary circumstances, as during the Great Depression. Race- or sex-based hiring for govt positions that have a lot of discretionary authority, such as police, is generally a disaster.

  7. “Be careful: a cousin of mine did that and never came back. He’s been French now for many decades.”

    France is busy killing its economy with an even worse president than Obama. Annie’s uncle works for a French aerospace firm and she had hopes of an internship with them in France. However, they are moving a big part of their operations to South Carolina.

    Thus it goes with France.

  8. It would be interesting to know how college vs noncollege really correlates with the goodness or badness of the servers. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the lackluster ones actually *are* college graduates, who feel that the job is “beneath” them and hence are simply going through the motions.

  9. Most of the nude dancers in Chicago are working their way through college or paying off student debt. Liberal arts majors mostly, some have or are working on advanced degrees. Many are single mothers.

    All the official economic measures prove we are in as strong, healthy recovery and official stats prove that there are plenty of jobs begging for these collegians. The best educated dancers are said to make the best tips, but their tax returns show that nude dancers have very low income largely because they get no salary; these dancers have to pay the club owner to let them dance.

  10. In “A Farewell to Alms,” Gregory Clark “demonstrated that in England for centuries the higher status middle and upper middle classes left more progeny than the poorer lower classes,” thus replacing the lower classes with poor people with upper class habits. Perhaps that’s what is going on here.

  11. ” We can either subsidize their wages (so their wage-cost to the employer is less than their total earnings), or pay them to play World of Warcraft, or pair them to exist, but they are useless as individuals.”

    This is not a positive development.

    The people being idled are generally intelligent and educated.

    The problem with a society that over produces people educated and intelligent relative to the jobs available to them is that these people have the capacity to provoke societal unrest and an even stronger motive to do so.

    Strong waves are coming.

  12. The immigration laws in this country have been perverted by the Democratic Party with the Republican Party in collusion. The reason this happens is, of course, because of corporate funding of the parties. The corporate farmers, hoteliers, and other sundry employers of lower skilled people favor this as it keeps expenses low and the corporate entities lobby accordingly. The gov. keeps less ambitious natives happy with a welfare check and the general public gets their tomatoes at $3 instead of $7 per pound. The Democratic party gets new immigrant voters and the corporations get cheap labor.

    AND (WRT, at least tangentially, the subject of this post) young U.S. citizens are not motivated by the low wages to get entry level work which inevitably leads to skills and management level positions.

    For my part, I’d rather have $7 tomatoes.

  13. The reason college students and graduates have waitress jobs or are nude dancers and rely on tips for income is the enormous increase in regulations and regulatory bodies at the federal, state and local levels of government starting with JFK and LBJ in the 1960s.

    The US experienced amazing growth in new technology and new busineses from 1870 to 1969. Then it ended. Nuclear power has nearly disappeared, space exploration is done the medieval way – with telescopes and imagination. There are no supersonic passenger planes. Oil drilling is illegal. Home building is carefully regulated to prevent innovation and, of course, mail order homes are illegal. Compare a movie made in 1920 with one made in 1965. You see vast improvements in cars, buildings, clothing, even in movie making. Compare the 1965 movie wth a 2010 movie. There is almost no improvement. Change has been stopped dead in it tracks. Innovation in the past 40 years was in industries too new to be regulated such as cell phones and internet.

    The only jobs that won’t be taken over by automation. or eliminated by regulation, are waitressing and nude dancing.

  14. People vote for this. It makes them feel secure. And the more the economy stagnates and founders under the tax and regulatory burdens imposed, the less secure they feel, so they vote for more security. It’s exponential decay.

  15. ‘Your English Major Kids May End Up Serving Tables In Chicago’

    At first glance I read that as ‘being served on tables’. Are English majors good with ketchup?

  16. Grey Eagle: I imagine one reason that nude dancers have “low income,” as seen by the IRS, is under reporting of tips.

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