Saturday, February 6, 2016

"Pity the panhandler" (restaurant article)

Nov. 11, 2015 "Pity the panhandler": I cut out this article by Corey Mintz in the Globe and Mail on Oct. 28, 2015.  It's about cooks working at restaurants and how it's very difficult without much work- life balance.

I work at a restaurant, and it can be stressful.  However, the cooks work 8 hrs.  I work for a big company so full-time employees do get benefits:

Embedded in the fabric of restaurant culture, as deep as the belief in fresh ingredients and sharp knives, is the idea that asking for fair compensation is greedy or lazy. For years, I have heard cooks and chefs describe it as a badge of honour to work so hard with so little financial reward in aid of greater goals — like ownership, camaraderie and personal culinary greatness.

That misplaced pride in suffering is key to a cycle of exploitation. Cooks are worked as if they are labourers but paid as if they are artists: Often, Toronto cooks make just over (and sometimes under) minimum wage, currently $11.25 an hour in Ontario. Hourly kitchen rates for seasoned grill cooks hover between $13 and $15, the higher rate reserved for skilled labour with probably at least five years experience at the demanding work over long hours.

There is no such thing as industry standards (or collective bargaining) in a business in which the majority of companies are independent entrepreneurs. Each restaurant is its own fiefdom, subject to the laws of the land, but operating under cover of metaphorical and literal darkness, governed by the decree or benevolence of owners (who have their own headaches).

If your response is to say, “Well, I’d never eat anywhere that treats people like that,” get ready never to eat out again. The problem is industry-wide. Of the dozen cooks I asked about wages, most did not want me to use their names for fear of losing their jobs.

“Line cooks that work 60 hours a week don’t do anything with their two days off. They just recover from that grind,” says chef Kris Schlotzhauer of Enoteca Sociale. He has been in charge of the kitchen at the rustic Roman-style Toronto restaurant for two and a half years.

Up until recently, his six cooks were each on a weekly salary of $700. That covered five work days that started at around 11:30 a.m. and ended just before midnight, which works out to $11.66 an hour, far from uncommon. But Schlotzhauer is tired of seeing cooks burn out in five or 10 years. “By the fifth day of a 60-hour work week, they’re dragging their feet,” he says. “They’re useless.”

A few weeks ago, Schlotzhauer made a big change. Starting on Oct. 12, kitchen staff at the restaurant were switched to hourly pay, and told that they were expected to work no more than 11 hours a day, four days a week. For a company selling anything but Che Guevara T-shirts, this is a radical move.

“That’s an extra 52 days off a year,” one cook said upon learning that Enoteca Sociale would pay the same amount for four days that it had for five. When Schlotzhauer told his cooks about the changes to their hours and pay, they hugged him. It balanced out the chilly response he says he has felt from chef peers.

This may sound counterintuitive, but one universal truth is that cooks get paid less in fancy restaurants. A typical shift in a “fancy” Toronto restaurant (let’s not get bogged down in a dispute over what constitutes fancy and just agree it is where you might go for your birthday) is 12 hours, although I repeatedly hear of people working 14.

A cook with 10 years of experience just quit one restaurant in Toronto’s Yorkville neighbourhood because he was unable to afford the gas from Brampton, Ont. He has found something else at $13.50 an hour, for which he had to fight. Another is on salary at the same spot for $32,000, working 10- to 12-hour days. Before that, he was sous chef and got $40,000, but was required to work 15-hour days, six days a week. A pastry chef at another restaurant said she earns $40,000 a year, which sounds decent, but since she works 10 to 18 hours a day, it comes out to less than $10 an hour.

The will to succeed in this competitive industry sometimes causes employees to come in regularly before their official start times and work a couple hours off the clock for free. Pastry chef Cora James of Mamakas says she has done it in the past. “Yeah, that’s Buca,” laughs James of the celebrated high-end Italian restaurant. “That’s standard for Buca. I worked at Buca for six months prior to working at Bar Buca. You work an hour or two prior to your shift, for free.”

Buca chef and co-owner Rob Gentile says anyone who comes in to work for free is doing so of their own volition – he says his cooks are so enthusiastic he has had to force them to take a break for a staff meal.

“So the problem is that you have guys that are like, ‘I’m coming in at noon. I don’t care that start time is two o’clock. I’m going to come and help.’ That’s our culture,” Gentile says. “You have students and younger cooks that are incredibly motivated and driven. It’s hard to say to somebody, ‘You can’t come in to learn butchery on a fish or take down a pig with us.’”

The chef, who has run Buca for six years, says that while other employees might feel pressure to keep up with their eager colleagues, coming in early is not a requirement of the job. “The guys that don’t come in two hours early, they do absolutely not get flak as long as they’re on top of their s--t. These guys are just as valuable as anybody else,” Gentile says. Hourly pay at Buca ranges from minimum wage to $16 an hour; at the junior sous chef position, cooks segue into salary, with benefits.

The attitude that asking about money is treasonous begins at the top, whether in cooking school or in the kitchens of the world’s most famous restaurants. Meg Westley, program director of Stratford Chefs School, says she is not aware what current industry pay is. “It’s not a lucrative field,” she says. “People go into this because they’re passionate about it.”

In 2008, I interviewed chef Ferran Adria when he was still running elBulli, arguably the world’s best restaurant. Like most high-end restaurants, elBulli participated in the tradition of staging, which means working in a kitchen for free, to learn or in hope of being hired. I asked Adria how many cooks he had staging: At the time it was 25 stagiaires to 10 cooks on staff. Asked to justify the majority of his kitchen labour being unpaid, Adria told me that elBulli could not be thought of as a business or even a restaurant, that it was “a way of understanding life.”

To be fair, everyone with artistic cooking aspirations wants to work for and learn from the best. I would not argue against a popular axiom that staging for two years is a cheaper, better education than cooking school. No one becomes a great chef without working their butt off. But by exploiting this passion, restaurants get workers on the cheap.

Or, they have up until now. Chefs keep telling me poor wages are behind a growing scarcity of cooks.

“A cook can find a job at 10 places today,” Schlotzhauer at Enoteca Sociale says. “Not only are we losing people, we’re not attracting new people.” As the shortage becomes apparent, fewer cooks are willing to accept being paid day rates, a practice that allows restaurants to circumvent overtime. One restaurant told me they start people at $125: For a 12-hour day with no breaks, that works out to $10.42 an hour.

When Dimitra Psomopoulos graduated from cooking school in 2012, she knew she would be working long hours for low pay. But she was not prepared for 20-hour days followed by chasing owners for missing wages, then having her hours cut when she asked about a raise. “It’s bad enough to get paid so little, but all the other deception that comes along with it is disgusting,” Psomopoulos says.

She found a new job in the events section of the Art Gallery of Ontario, which is unionized. In cooking circles, working in a unionized job (usually a hotel) is often spoken of the way movie cops talk about taking a “desk job:” with a mixture of pity and derision. But Psomopoulos started at $16.50 an hour, has already got a bump to $19.49 and gets overtime pay, breaks, regular raises and the potential for benefits.

“I realize that this limits my choices of where I choose to work and learn and grow as a cook,” the 35-year-old says. “I also realize that I will not be cooking for much longer, because physically and financially, it just isn’t feasible in the long run. It’s not built as a sustainable industry.”

This is not just happening in one restaurant or one city. Disparity of pay is a problem all over. Montreal restaurateur Fred Morin says hourly wages are a bit higher in his city, going up to $17 or $18 an hour, but he believes restaurant cooking has become too complicated and labour-intensive to be made without exploiting cooks.

“Part of it is the chef’s ego. How many people work for nothing just so a guy can see himself in the pages of The New York Times,” says the co-owner of Joe Beef, known for less fussy fare. “There’s a lot of vanity in that.” Morin advocates for simpler menus and outsourcing the repetitive production of things such as beef stock, using the time and money saved to compensate cooks more fairly.

Another flashpoint is that servers in popular restaurants can make two or three times what cooks earn (a lot of it undeclared and therefore tax-free, but that is another story), creating resentment and tension between front and back of house.

In New York, high-profile restaurateurs Amanda Cohen and Danny Meyer are eliminating tipping to recalibrate these pay structures. The two are planning to increase menu prices and distribute profits more equally between front and back of house. Cohen starts dishwashers at $15 an hour, about $19.50 Canadian.

Florida chef Eileen Andrade, who co-owns upscale Asian/Latin restaurant Finka, says all restaurants in Miami pay overtime after 40 hours and cooks usually do not work more than a nine-hour day. “Toronto’s dark,” says Matty Matheson, executive chef of Parts & Labour on Queen Sreet West, who pays his cooks $150 a day. “In my whole cooking career, I only got paid overtime from one restaurant.”

It does seem that a few Toronto chefs are starting to think progressively, to reject the premise that their employees should suffer as they suffered. “I went through many years of extreme poverty doing this,” says Danny McCallum, executive chef of Jacobs & Co., a luxury steakhouse owned by King Street Food Co., which also operates Buca. “But I’m trying to change that here. I believe cooks should be able to make a living.” At Jacobs, day rates range from $135 to $165, with benefits covering dental, glasses, massage and prescription drugs.

For Schlotzhauer, the decision to move to a four-day work week was not made overnight. It took three months of discussion with the owners of Enoteca Sociale, who also own four locations of Pizzeria Libretto, with another 88 back-of-house staff. There was a lot of crunching the numbers to make it work without raising prices – he will have to hire another person, which will increase kitchen costs by about 15 per cent.

A less appealing alternative is to raise prices and let customers absorb the true cost of paying people fairly. “We in North America are hooked on cheap food,” Schlotzhauer says. “And no one wants to get tagged as an expensive restaurant.”

"Finding a table with no reservations" (restaurant article)

Oct. 25, 2015 "Finding a table with no reservations": I cut out this article by Liane Faulder in the Edmonton Journal on Sept. 2, 2015.  I don't like to wait in line at a restaurant.  If I see a long line, I don't go there.  Also, if my family go out for dinner, we go in the middle of the week so it won't be as busy:  

In the restaurant industry, it’s called “managing disappointment” — the dance performed by front-of-house staff when hungry customers arrive to discover there is a two-hour lineup for dinner.

The unhappy news may come after a lengthy drive from the suburbs, and a frustrating search for parking. Sometimes the word “disappointment” doesn’t cover it. Sometimes, people are flat-out “livid,” according to Nick Martin, the general manager at downtown’s Rostizado — one of the hottest eateries in Edmonton, which features a waiting list that can take three hours to clear on a Friday or Saturday night.

Rostizado doesn’t take reservations except for parties of eight or more, and even then, 48 hours notice is required. But the restaurant is having some success managing the chaos with an app called NoWait, designed to take the sting out of learning that the restaurant is booked solid and then some.

“This alleviates a lot of that stress and disappointment, provided people use the app in the way it’s meant to be used,” says Martin of the NoWait app.

Launched in 2010 in the United States, NoWait switches out the traditional pen-and-paper waiting list for an iPad-based system. Users download the app on their cellphones, and can then put their name on a waiting list without having to visit the restaurant. They can monitor the lineup from home, or a nearby bar. NoWait will alert customers 10 minutes before their table is ready.

The app, available for free from iTunes, is also used by Original Joes and State and Main restaurants here in Edmonton, neither of which take reservations.

“We’ve looked at a lot of different technologies and NoWait is seamless, quiet and easy,” says Richard Homer-Dixon, director of operations for Western Canada for Franworks, which owns both chains, noting NoWait replaces the buzzing, blinking coasters that customers used to cling to as they waited for a table. “And everyone has a cellphone.”

Homer-Dixon says his restaurants don’t traditionally have waits of more than 20 minutes at “high-revenue times,” such as 6:30 p.m. on a Thursday, Friday or Saturday, when all of Edmonton is dying to dine. He says Franworks’ no-reservation policy is in place because owners want their restaurants perceived as places where you can decide, last minute, to go out to eat.

Restaurant owners who prefer to make people wait in line rather than reserve a spot defend their position by saying diners often don’t show up for reservations (estimates say that happens with up to 20 per cent of reservations in a big-city restaurant). This throws the restaurant for a loop, making it hard to staff the floor, and to make money in an industry with tiny profit margins. It also hurts servers, who rely on booked tables for valuable tips to top up wages. NoWait, and other table management systems such as OpenTable’s Rezbook, offer something in-between a reservation and a discouraging waiting list.

The trend toward refusing reservations, particularly in restaurants catering to the young and the casual diner, has grown in the last decade. While a lineup can be irksome for some customers, it can signal a hot spot, contributing to a buzz around the restaurant. Industry experts also say that, so long as your customer base is clamouring for a seat, refusing reservations moves customers in and out more quickly, thereby increasing revenue. At The Keg, for instance, which doesn’t accept reservations on Friday and Saturdays nights in three of its four Edmonton locations, turn-around time for dinner during those busy times is roughly 70 minutes. A comparable restaurant that takes reservations generally sets aside two hours for a table to come and go.

At Rostizado, there have been bumps as customers and staff get used to working with the system. Martin says some people think using NoWait means they have a reservation, which isn’t true. The wait list is merely an estimate, and it changes depending how quickly or slowly people move through the restaurant, and on impossible-to-predict factors, such as the weather.

On a recent Friday night, I used NoWait to dine at Rostizado, which has 70 seats. I put my name on the wait list at 6:30 p.m. only to learn it was a wait of between 105 and 120 minutes. There were 21 parties ahead of me. The restaurant and I exchanged texts once or twice (note: this back-and-forth is key to the best execution of the app).

I knew they would let me know 10 minutes out that my table was ready. But I live about 15 minutes from the restaurant, so after 90 minutes, when the app told me there were only two parties ahead of us, we drove downtown.

On the way to the restaurant, however, it began to rain. People sitting on the patio at Rostizado moved into the restaurant, sucking up available tables, which meant our wait was longer than anticipated — about another half-hour. To be fair to the app, it had said from the beginning that the wait could be up to 120 minutes. Luckily, there were a couple of seats at one of the communal tables when we arrived, so we opted to grab those, rather than wait longer for a private table.

“It’s not a perfect app,” acknowledges Rostizado co-owner Dani Braun, noting the last thing that restaurateurs want is for customers to be “hangry” — that deadly combination of hungry and angry.

But Braun says the app gives people the opportunity to know what’s up, and to decide whether or not they want to wait in line at all.

different route/ Fiverr/ HI Investments scam

Oct. 27. 2015 Different route: I'm trying a bunch of different routes to look for a job. 

Edmonton Police Commission: I applied to be in the Edmonton Police Commission.  I talked to the woman who was hiring and she told me about the position.  I saw the ad in the Edmonton Journal.  She told me that I was a good writer because of my cover letter.

Oct. 28, 2015 Break from routine: Today I went and passed out my resume to a place in person.  I applied online, but it did say to go in person too.  I went to work and then I went home.  Then I looked for a job a bit on the internet and printed my resume.  I went to the place and talked to the receptionist.

Afterwards I went home and I felt really energized and looked for a job on the internet.

Nov. 1, 2015 Fiverr: Have you ever heard of this website before?  Last week, I was reading an article by Simon Houpt in the Globe and Mail about writing.  It mentioned this website.

There are people offering all their services in graphic and design, online marketing, writing and translation among other things.

The tasks are like:

"I will write a blog post."

"I will render a model in 3D."

All the tasks are for $5.

Fun and bizarre: There is a "fun and bizarre" section.  I clicked on "I will make a wish come true."

About This Gig

I can make a wish come true for you by using some ancient secret techniques that I've discovered after 30 years of practice, study and meditation. It is very effective and the success rate is very high. I am not accepting bad wishes.

From time to time I am going into mountains for meditation. In case I am responding late it means that I am gone. But will get in touch with you as soon as I am getting back.

There is a picture of a white guy dressed like a Tibetan monk.  There are currently over 1000 good reviews of him.

Lifestyle: In this section, there are lots of psychics and astrology here.

Well this website can help me think outside of the box.

Feb. 1, 2016 HI Investments scam: I found this job on Kijiji and I applied to it last week.  I then got an email and filled out the application.  I then got a call and another email.  I thought this might be a scam, so I emailed all my friends about it and forwarded the application.

Here's the job ad on Kijiji:

Date Listed01-Feb-16
Address#900 10665 Jasper Ave NW
View map

Job Offered By Professional Employer
Company H.I. Investments
Job TypeFull-Time

Customer Service Representative - Full Time
Hourly wage up to $18/hr!


* Conduct direct marketing campaigns
* Provide quality customer service
* Act as representative for our clients
* Answer questions regarding our client's programs and services

Job Requirements:

* Ability to multitask, and adapt to changing demands and shifting priorities
* Willingness to work independently and within a team
* Trustworthy, honest and dependable individual
* Ability to work in a fast paced environment
* Excellent Interpersonal and communication skills
* Polite and friendly demeanor

Send your resume for the consideration!

Feb. 2, 2016 Advice:


First I asked my co-workers if the job was a scam:

1. Je- 22 yr old guy with a science degree.  He said it seemed legit. 

2. G- he's East Indian with a hospitality degree.  He said it seemed legit.  He pointed out that the compensation was:

"Candidate receives a bonus of 3% for each completed order.  Ex. Candidate receives a bonus of $30 from an order of $1000."

It seemed like commission.

3. P- an European guy in his 50s.  He tells me I should look into it on the internet.

4. B- a 20 yr old woman told me I should look into it on the internet.


5. D- she is an East Indian woman her 40s.  She said it looks like a scam, and to tell her more about it.


6. P- my little brother with a finance degree.  He saw the bitcoin investments and it seemed like a scam.

7. Dad- he read it and said it was a scam.

My dad was the last one I asked.  I did follow my co-workers advice and look it up on the internet.

My dad says: "Where are you going to get the $1000 to process?  You have to find the people to invest in it."

Company Overview

HI Investment & Securities Co., Ltd. provides various financial services in South Korea. It offers brokerage, asset management, and customer management and specialized services. The company also provides capital market and advisory services; and engages in the fund management, maritime investment, ship financing, and shipping asset advisory activities. In addition, it is involved in the provision of retirement pension consulting and pension asset management services, as well as research services; and development and sale of money trust and wrap account products. The company was formerly known as CJ Investment & Securities Co., Ltd. and changed its name to HI Investment & Securities Co., Ltd. in 2008. HI Investment & Securities Co., Ltd. was founded in 1989 and is based in Seoul, South Korea.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

"How to give customers a nudge"/ "I was laid off is it too late to claim long term disability"

Nov. 23, 2015  "How to give customers a nudge": I cut out this article by Harvey Schachter in the Globe and Mail on Sept. 21, 2015.  This is like a psychology article:

A lawyer, an economist, a marketer, and a behavioural scientist walk into a bar.
This isn’t a joke but a way that University of Toronto professor Dilip Soman helps illuminate important changes in recent years in marketing.

The bartender, he continues, shares a serious problem: “If I want to get people to move from Option A to Option B, how can I do that?” The shift might be anything from an attempt to dissuade individuals from drinking large-sized soda drinks or to get them to order a more profitable beer at the bar.

The lawyer has a quick answer: Make it illegal to choose Option A. Assuming no other alternatives, Option B will be picked. That’s valid, Prof. Soman notes, even for companies selling products: They could make Option A unavailable, assuming they control it.

The economist doesn’t believe we need to ban anything. Incentives can do the trick, with some kind of economic tax on choosing A or economic benefit for choosing B. Companies, for example, could offer a discount or some loyalty points for buying B.

The marketer instinctively is inclined to suggest another approach: Advertising. People probably aren’t choosing Option B as they don’t know about it or understand why it’s superior. The advertising industry is framed around the premise that if you provide the public with the right information and a compelling reason to buy Option B, it will succeed.

Finally, it is the behavioural scientist’s turn. His recommendation is simply to make it easy for people to choose Option B. Create a world in which it’s harder to choose Option A than B. Give people a nudge.

The story elaborates on an incident a few years ago, when Prof. Soman, who teaches a behavioural science course to his marketing students, was in a bar with an economist, discussing choice.

He uses it in his new book, The Last Mile, because it illuminates the struggles that corporations, governments and social agencies face when persuading people to pick the preferred option.

In the past, economics and marketing ruled (with governments, of course, resorting to bans at times). Universities taught that “rational economic man” would make sound choices based on information and price. But now we know that simply isn’t true. First, the number of choices before us can sometimes be bewildering. When Prof. Soman was a kid, he had two choices of bread at the grocery store; now he faces about 60 alternatives. As well, human beings are irrational. We can be nudged, as many behavioural studies show.

If you’re selling an eight-ounce cup of coffee and a 12-ounce cup, for example, and want to increase sales of the latter, just add a third choice, 16-ounce. When three choices are offered, studies show people prefer the middle one. Context matters.

Prof. Soman says that we need to be alert to behavioural research and figure out how to use it effectively. He calls it the last mile problem. The first mile for organizations are their many activities to get a product to the marketplace, such as R&D and organizational processes. The last mile is when consumers make contact with the product or service – how it is presented in stores or online to them. “We have spent way too much time thinking about the first mile and not enough on the last mile,” he said in an interview.

He believes there are three pillars of human decision-making. One is how context influences our decision-making, whether the three sizes of coffee cups, putting healthy foods at eye level, or using smaller plates to encourage less food consumption. The second is explained by Isaac Newton’s laws of motion: A body at rest will continue to be at rest unless it is given an external push, and a body that is moving continues until some external force slows it down. People will continue with their default behaviour – what they prefer – unless pushed to do something differently.

The third pillar for understanding behaviour is intertemporal choice – how choice at one period of time influences choice at another time. For Prof. Soman, it is tied to a comment in one of his favourite books, Magical Thinking, by Augusten Burroughs: “I myself am made entirely of flaws stitched together with good intentions.” Or as Prof. Soman puts it in his own book: “Everyone intends to be good, everybody intends to eat healthy food, everybody intends to save more for the future. It is just that life gets in the way and they don’t act on their good intentions.”

If you intend to follow the advice of the behavioural scientist in the bar, Prof. Soman urges you to run tests in order to understand what is influencing your clients. “In the last mile, everything in the context matters – the displays in the store, the sequence in which the choices are seen – everything. It’s critically important to test, and keep testing,” he said in the interview. Keep in mind that much of the success of a new product or policy comes in that last mile, the land of behavioural choice.

"I was laid off is it too late to claim long term disability": I cut out this article in the Globe and Mail on Sept. 21, 2015:

Inline image

I am a 54-year-old woman. I worked for Company A from 1996 to 2006, then moved to Company B and while there, collected long-term disability payments from 2007 to 2009. I returned to the original company in 2012 and was let go in February of 2015. My contract guaranteed severance, and after some back and forth, they paid me that amount. But my pre-existing health issues have since returned. I can’t find other work and my doctor says that I should be on long-term disability, but the company says that benefit is no longer available. What are my options?


Bill Howatt
Chief research and development officer, workforce productivity, Morneau Shepell, Toronto

At this point, you are doing the right thing: Exploring your options by asking good questions. This is one of the best approaches when one is stuck. By asking others for their point of view, you may be able to shed light on issues you have not thought of before. There’s a normal grieving process when one’s health slips, but what one thinks and chooses to do ultimately defines one’s quality of life.

As you obtain options, it is advisable to write out the problem you want to solve and why. This will position you to determine what a minimal, viable solution looks like, and as you get your facts, you will be able to make an informed decision about where and how you want to spend your energy.

It appears that your work situation has ended as well as it can. However, if you still feel you have further entitlements, one option is to investigate this with an employment lawyer.

If you are convinced you can no longer work, the focus now appears to be on your health. What financial and emotional support can you get to stabilize or improve your short-and long-term quality of life? You may decide your priority is to put in place an action place that meets your minimal financial needs, and to focus your energy and efforts on what you can to do stabilize your health, improve it, or at least prevent any decline in your condition.


Daniel LublinEmployment lawyer, Whitten & Lublin, Toronto

Following a termination, employers have several obligations to continue health benefits, including long-term disability benefits, for a certain period of time but not forever. Once that obligation ends, if an employee is ill or injured, it is too late to make any claims under their former benefits plan or against the ex-employer.

Employers generally have to continue all benefits the employee held while employed for a reasonable period of time following termination. This time frame is determined by various factors, such as an employee’s age, tenure and position, the provincial employment standards legislation, any contractual agreement signed, an agreement made at the time of termination or a time frame set by a court.

In cases where employers have not continued all benefits for a fair or contractually required time period and ex-employees can prove that they would have otherwise received insurance or disability insurance coverage had those benefits been continued, courts have awarded damages against employers to compensate the employee for the lost benefits.

However, if an illness or injury occurs following the time frame when benefits should have been continued, then the employer and insurance company are no longer responsible to pay out any benefits. For any just-dismissed employee, this is one of the most important reasons to ensure that benefits continuation or replacement benefits are put into place.