Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Waiter Sues Wolfgang Puck For Being Called 'Old'

Anyone who has worked in a restaurant will know just how much abuse flies around in the kitchen, especially between cooks and waiters. Much of this is good-natured joshing, and helps wind down the long hours. But some is downright degrading.

I’ve seen the worst kind of racism and sexism in restaurants, and nobody reports it and nobody does anything to stop it. In fact, when I came up with the title for this blog, I had initial misgivings because “Chef Sandwich” is also the name given in some kitchens to an unsavory act involving an orange, a budgerigar, and a bin bag...in fact, let’s not go there.

Tales from the old-timers suggest kitchens have been cleaned up to some extent, and it was worse 20 or so years ago, but it still goes on as I’ve blogged about in the past.

But compared with brandings, hurled pots, and sexual assaults, jabs about someone’s age must barely scrape into the list? As someone who retrained as a chef in my middle years, I know all about age-related insults. I’d get it all the time.

“What’s black and lives in the oven Grandad?” was a particular favourite of mine.

And once when I sat down to rest my aching feet, an irate sous chef shouted over: “Oy Papa! Work surfaces are for rissoles, not arseholes!”

But the old age put-downs didn’t even touch the sides. It was far harder being ordered about by spotty teenagers while being paid a pittance for appallingly long hours only broken by sleep. The added nickname “Grandad” to the end of every sentence just made me smile.

And that’s why I find it baffling, and a tad amusing, to read that a 52-year-old waiter who got the chop from Wolfgang Puck’s plush steakhouse in LA has launched a lawsuit, claiming he was “subjected to various negative age-related comments” – according to TMZ.com.

David Kallman - who says he was the oldest waiter at CUT - claims his beastly colleagues would call him hideous names like "old man" and "pops" and crack jokes implying he would die soon. Grim things like: "It's not like you'll be around too long."

Seems pretty tame stuff to me, even by the standards of America’s ludicrously litigious culture, where people sue restaurants for falling off toilet seats, slipping on dry floors, or getting head-aches because their ice cream’s too cold (alright, I made the last one up.)

But Kallman is clearly confident. According to his lawsuit filed in LA County Superior Court, he is suing Wolfgang Puck Worldwide Inc, among others, for unspecified damages exceeding $25,000 (£16,000).

Sixteen bags of sand! If only I had a pound for every time I was called Grandad.