Neal: Restaurants dominate the landscape of Iowa City — let’s respect the people who operate them

Serving in the restaurant industry deserves to be rid of its deprecating stigma and why it is important for that to happen in places like Iowa City.


Jared Krauss

The Iowa City Downtown District’s Taste of Iowa City drew locals and visitors from a little further afield on Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2018.

Noah Neal, Opinions Columnist

Starting at 15 years old, I gained experience of what it is like to work in a fast-paced and emotionally draining environment when I took a job as a host at a bar-and-grill restaurant. The initial thing that I came to realize is that although I was hired to be the host, there was an automatic expectation that my list of duties would include being a busser, bar-back, food-runner, server, occasional expo, and bartender despite obvious legal restrictions that were occasionally enforced.

Serving — and the stigma of futility the job carries — is influenced by its racist and sexist beginnings, a concept that Gavin Jenkins touches on in his short article “Serving is Labor” featured in The Outline. The lack of opportunities that people face contribute to their stagnancy in an occupation that is unreasonably taxing physically, emotionally, and mentally also fails to go unmentioned in the writer’s rhetoric and advocacy toward this particular blue-collar work.

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Jenkins’ article served affirming words toward my biased attitudes that were emplaced from experience in the restaurant industry, reminding me of the importance of such an undermined industry that I continue to work in. Being a student at the University of Iowa, my job opportunities are limited to mostly restaurant and service jobs. With daily trips to Prairie Lights’ Times Club and a work schedule that places me in the intensity of MELK’s breakfast and late-night rush, I find myself on both sides of the server-customer scenario on a daily basis.

Serving is viewed and the stigma of futility the job carries is influenced by its racist and sexist beginnings.

With Iowa City culture revolving around party culture, many find themselves at bars and restaurants regularly. It is essential that as customers, we are mindful of the overall stress that a job such as serving demands and realize that not many other job opportunities are granted to people in these positions. Therefore, many find themselves lodged in situations in which they aspire to find jobs with a more stable form of primary payment but simply are unable.

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Many people have mixed emotions when it comes to tipping their servers, and often people will say, “It’s not my responsibility to pay them,” and they are absolutely correct. However, political change has not federally enforced laws on the restaurant industry and people’s inability to switch jobs puts them in an unfair situation. Even though the well-being of someone else may not seem as if it is a direct personal responsibility, it is necessary in order to maintain a civilized society. Therefore, tipping is our responsibility, whether we agree with it or not.

Jenkins’ article acknowledges the deprecating stigma that serving carries, especially to servers who have been part of the industry for many years. As an individual who has experienced it firsthand since the age of 15, the accuracy of his writing is definite; I have worked with many people who have earned impressive diplomas find themselves stuck in a position of languish because of the insufficiency of opportunity.

With Iowa City being a haven of college students, they make up a large section of the city’s workforce. It is important to contribute to the wealth of students who spend a large amount of their time and energy working jobs to sustain their bare-minimum lifestyles.