The Keg

A restaurant I used to work for was just bought out by a large conglomerate. Cara Operations is purchasing the Keg for $200,000,000 adding it to their current holdings. Cara actually has a long history in Canada, originally selling newspapers, goods, and snacks at railway platforms in the 19th century; 150 years later the company’s yearly revenue is $2 billion. It was at this point when I realize that I don’t really get capitalism. What is the point of constantly accumulating money, goods, or restaurants.

To me The Keg has always been a fancier restaurant and if I wanted to impress a date or just really needed a steak it would be the place to go.  The Keg has gone from a single kitchen in the 1970’s to a Canada wide company and to me it has always had the appeal of being somewhat local. Scrolling through the Caras holdings I don’t think I would go to a single one of them by my own choice Kelsey’s, Milestones, Montana’s, East Side Marios, etc.

On the West Coast we have an amazing restaurant culture and great food and when deciding where to eat me and my friends will always choose a locally owned establishment. It’s not even a thought it’s just something we do. Franchises are often owned by locals, but it isn’t the same as going to the Turkish guy down the street to buy kabap, the Greek restaurant owned by a Greek family, or the local pub where the owner has drinks with his friends. There is an authenticity to these kinds of places that franchises lack.

Honestly, it doesn’t really matter, The Keg was already a large company and it is unlikely it will change much. At least it’s owned by a Canadian company still and not a Brazilian investment firm, ie Tim Horton’s. That is a company that has gotten worse and worse. The food has gotten worse, coffee is fine I guess, and the corporate side of the business is apparently nasty. Employees are getting thrown under the bus in Ontario because of the wage increase. (Wynne doesn’t seem to think of repercussions to her governments actions, she just keeps making horrible decisions and I am confused why she is still the Premier. Although it doesn’t seem to matter who is in charge of Ontario the province just keeps flailing, but I digress.) The corporation has not been allowing owners to increase prices to compensate for higher wages, so the employees lose.

I have worked in the restaurant industry for much longer than I wish to say and it is an industry that has some of the fewest protections for workers. A couple years ago a sister pub of ours had a unionization vote (it failed because the union wanted to control the tips and take a portion) and I understand the desire to have voted yes.

With most jobs in Canada if you work for a certain amount of hours you get breaks, paid and unpaid, not in the restaurant industry. I have worked twelve hour shifts without a break. If, heaven forbid, you take a break the manager gets irritated that you are not working. There are no benefits, no ten year gold watches, no loyalty from the company, you are a replaceable part and they let you know it. “But I’m sure if you were a good worker they would value you,” you say. Oh oh oh imaginary voice if only that were true, there is no benefit to being a good worker in this industry, because there is next to no recognition. (recently I was told from a manager that I got a gold star, I don’t know what that means but it hasn’t paid a single bill yet)

Part of the problem is that restaurant workers are not valued. I’ve seen amazing cooks come and go because they are paid poorly. There have been amazing restaurants shut down in Victoria  because they couldn’t get enough kitchen staff. Funny enough this lack of cooks doesn’t translate into better wages. I worked at one establishment where the kitchen workers asked for a raise and the owners refused, instead they forced the servers and bartenders to increase their tip out to the house. Yes that is right your server is actually subsidizing your meal, and if you don’t tip the server still has to pay the kitchen. I’ve seen servers crying because tables that spent hundreds of dollars didn’t tip and they still needed to pay the house. Instead of paying a fair wage the owners screwed over their other underpaid employees (Servers are paid less than minimum wage).

It is a pretty messed up system that is open to abuse and there is no one to protect workers. This is why when I expedited and was in charge of my small group of workers I did everything  I could to put myself between them and abuse from chefs, managers, and customers. Unions might help, but so would seeing employees as human beings.

Well that got away from me, this was supposed to a blog on capitalism with a nice anecdote about The Keg’s recent purchase. I guess I will leave that for next time.

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