November 6th, 2012
02:00 PM ET
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On a normal Tuesday, Summer Pendle takes orders of duck fat fries, bluefish rillettes and roasted chicken from guests at the dining room tables made from salvaged bowling alley lanes at Northern Spy Food Co. in New York City’s East Village.

On Tuesday, October 30, Pendle found herself nowhere near normal: stranded in California due to airport closures and out of work for the unforeseen future.

“It is hard being stranded in California and watching your city crumble,” she said.

That day after Superstorm Sandy hit the East Coast, an estimated 7.9 million businesses and households up and down the East Coast – including Northern Spy Food Co. – were left without power. As of November 6, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York said approximately 400,000 New Yorkers were similarly still without power.

As electricity returned this weekend and local businesses began to regain their footing, Sandy's impact had a serious ripple effect - especially for hourly wage earners in the restaurant industry, like Pendle, who lost up to an entire week of pay.

“We are so lucky that our sweet neighborhood shop didn't flood - that all we are faced with is a few days closed because the power is out,” said Pendle. “They are hard days without that income flowing, but at the end of it, we are all safe.”

Pendle, who makes about $5 an hour before gratuity, says she “absolutely relies” on the tips that guests leave.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean hourly wage for waiters and waitresses in New York in 2011 was $11.45, with an average mean wage of $23,820.

However, for tipped employees, under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), employers are allowed to pay servers as little as $2.13 an hour so long as the employee's tips add up to the minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.

“We are minimum wage workers. We often live paycheck to paycheck or shift to shift. A tragedy like this comes along and you really feel the sting of it all,” said Pendle, who typically works at the restaurant Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, plus additional shifts for other employees.

Like many in the foodservice industry, Pendle doesn’t have health insurance and isn’t granted any paid sick leave days. According to a 2010 report by ROC United, a restaurant workforce advocacy group, approximately 90% of restaurant workers said their employer did not provide health insurance, while 87.7% of those workers surveyed did not have paid sick days.

“A disaster like Sandy comes along and I'm out of luck. If I get really sick, I'm ruined,” she said.

On November 5, a week later than planned, Pendle finally boarded her flight from California to LaGuardia Airport. When her flight was cancelled, she didn’t know when power would be restored in the East Village and rescheduled it to the best of her ability. Luckily, she was visiting family and able to reduce some of the additional cost by staying with her grandmother.

As stories of struggling eateries and their employees came to light, industry heavyweights like Anthony Bourdain and Danny Meyer have encouraged those with healthy wallets to eat downtown and tip heavily.

“Just cause a little DIY place has got its power back on, doesn’t mean the bleeding has stopped,” wrote Bourdain yesterday in an op-ed on Eatocracy.

Restaurateur Danny Meyer tweeted: “Among many ways to help post-Sandy: IF you're able, leave 2x your usual tip for next week, as many workers lost minimum 1 week of income.”

Here, minimum is the key word. Many establishments, especially those closer to the water, sustained enough damage to shutter them until further notice.

Jen Grelier, who works at Made Fresh Daily in New York City’s South Street Seaport, voluntarily went to the bakeshop the Wednesday after Sandy to help the owner clean up and throw things away.

“Our owner let us know that it could be anywhere from a few weeks to over a month before we were ready to be open, and therefore the front-of-house staff would be out of work until then,” she said.

Grelier said most of the restaurants in the area were staffed by young people, struggling to make ends meet on hourly wages and tips.

“I've spoken with a lot of my friends who work in the area, and we all agree that we aren't sure where the rent will come from this month,” said Grelier, who filed for unemployment shortly after learning Made Fresh Daily was closed until further notice.

According to The National Employment Law Project, people can apply for Disaster Unemployment Assistance if “1) the individual must be out of work as a ‘direct result’ of a major disaster; and 2) the individual does not qualify for regular unemployment insurance from any state.”

“We were all encouraged by employers - and worried parents - to do so. I still have to wait two weeks before receiving a check, but it's better than no income at all,” said Grelier.

Until then, she waits.

Outside NYC and want to help? CNN's Impact Your World has a great list of resources that could use your time and money. Thinking about coming to New York to eat? Follow the Twitter hashtag #dineoutNYC to see the latest charity efforts and open restaurants and don't forget to #EatDownTipUp.

More on recovery efforts and food safety post-Sandy

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Filed under: 100 Places to Eat • Disaster • Environment • Flood • Hurricane • News • Restaurants • Service • Travel

soundoff (41 Responses)
  1. Jerv

    Man, that poor bas tard in photo number 5, I feel the pain. All those bottles of beer going to waste. What a shame.

    To all the haters, I voted and I tip, so there.

    November 9, 2012 at 8:22 am |
  2. beachgalone

    I was a server while building my business. The restaurant wanted to offer group health insurance but no one wanted to sign up. If they paid 100% of the cost, maybe, but really, no one wanted to even spend $20 a month. Meanwhile, we'd go out after work and spend our tips at the bar. So, can't feel sorry for anyone (especially young ones) that don't have insurance. Even at $23,000 a year I had some kind of coverage. Gosh, even Aflac can give you an accident plan for cheap.

    November 8, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
  3. Mitt Romney

    Most people don't understand that waiters and waitresses work hard for their money. Some of you were able to go to college and get to where you are now, because your mothers who were or are waitresses still, spent their hard-earned money to send you to school. You should appreciate their selfish acts and kindness, so that you don't have to be a waiter or a waitress, making 5 dollars an hour, and be a gentler and kinder character. Without these servers you cannot entertain your loved ones, your dates, and your hungry stomachs. Be generous, tip them well and be happy that they are there to serve you!

    And I approve this message...

    November 7, 2012 at 2:23 pm |
    • Voter With A Sticker


      November 7, 2012 at 2:30 pm |
  4. testEngineer

    Tipping has nothing to do with political party or compassion. Tipping is an accepted custom in the USA so everyone who goes to restaurants know when to tip and how much. I will tip according to the service recieved. If I like the service I have tipped 100% at times and even if I hated the service I tipped 20%. Some I did not leave a tip because I was seated and never properly served.

    I am a registered republican, but I also waited tables going to college so I know how the waiters make their living. Common sense has no party......

    November 7, 2012 at 2:21 pm |
    • glj

      I agree tipping is part of US culture. I to tip for service given, but I will only top 20% when I feel it is above and beyond.

      November 8, 2012 at 9:15 pm |
  5. Jim

    NY is a sanctuary city I wouldn't spend a dime helping them out after Sandy. When real Americans need help there will only be brown skinned non english speaking people waiting for assistance like always. Get them illegal people off assistance and start building a sea wall for the next perfect storm,

    November 7, 2012 at 11:52 am |
    • Kat Kinsman

      "real Americans" you say? Pray tell what you mean by that.

      November 7, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
      • Jdizzle McHammerpants ♫♫

        Jim is still pzzed about the election results.

        November 7, 2012 at 12:41 pm |
    • testEngineer

      I will spend in a disaster area because I can't punish an entire area for the actions of the few you claim.

      November 7, 2012 at 2:22 pm |
    • Squeezebox

      Sorry, but the only "real Americans" are the redskins we stole the land from. everyone else is an immigrant, and some are more legal than others.

      November 8, 2012 at 6:03 pm |
      • Izad

        PeterThank you for your kind words. I had a wonderful day with you all at Indian River Lodge and your ransiig ceremony was conducted extremely well by the past masters of both lodges. It is a slightly different format to ours but certainly very familiar and the wording to the charge at the end of the ceremony was almost identical. Enjoy your future masonry, its an amazing journey.

        December 25, 2012 at 1:06 pm |
  6. Highly Motivated

    The obesity epidemic is causing illness. It's causing health care costs to sky rocket. No American should be eating in restaurants with their large, fattening portions. Boycott restaurants! Eat apples, berries, oatmeal, veggies, fruits, nuts, yogurt, canned fish and chicken, salsa, beans. Run around the neighborhood. Stop weight-gain before it's too late.

    November 7, 2012 at 6:59 am |
    • Dan Ratherknot

      That's old news and only half the story. Move along, please. Move along.

      November 7, 2012 at 7:08 am |
    • Whatever

      More and more restaurants are coming up with ways to eat out and healthy. Even major chain restaurants like Applebee's and Friday's are doing that. Is it heathy to eat McDonald's everyday? Gracious no but is it ok to go to a restaurant and order a salad with the dressing on the side and be social with people? Yes. Instead of ranting on here, use your time wisely and go encourage restaurants to create healthy options that are actually healthy. Additionally, do you understand how large of an industry you are talking about? Billions of dollars and millions of jobs. What would you like to do without that money to our economy and those people out of work?

      November 7, 2012 at 9:06 am |
    • glj

      Wonderful idea shut down the food service industry. You want to see the economy collapse?

      November 8, 2012 at 9:17 pm |
  7. Jim38

    I never tip. It is not my job to pay the restaurant workers, that job belongs to the restaurant owner. The cost of service should be included with the food. I am ok with wait people making minimum wage, menial job deserves menial pay

    November 6, 2012 at 7:14 pm |
    • guest fighter

      You must get all kinds of tail...

      November 6, 2012 at 8:25 pm |
    • MARIA


      November 6, 2012 at 9:18 pm |
    • Rich

      Your such an arrogant piece of poop. Hopefully you never get another raise in your life. Because you agreed to do the job for the wage you make, you should never get a raise. You already agreed to your wages. Such an idiot.

      November 7, 2012 at 1:45 am |
    • Squeezebox

      I agree that tipping should be outlawed, but I also know that minimum wage is only a quarter of what waitstaff, cooks, and buspersons should be making, given how hard their jobs are. The staff should be paid a minimum of $10.00/hr and the menus should have those wages baked into the prices. A waiter shouldn't have to beg. In the meantime, I leave at least $1.00 per person or 15%, depending on the size of the bill.

      November 8, 2012 at 6:10 pm |
    • glj

      You obviouslly are either a troll or an idiot.

      November 8, 2012 at 9:18 pm |
  8. John Smith

    You're all correct, and i am wrong. I don't know why I post such judgemental and bitter invective on internet blogs. I think it is my low self esteem and general dissatisfaction with my life.

    I apologize to all and i hope you will be able to forgive me.

    November 6, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
  9. Mary

    Many people making $5/hr happen to be high school students. They can't actually make life decisions yet.

    November 6, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
  10. Eatocracy Seating Host™@John Smith

    Smith, Lonely, Embittered Party of One!
    Your table is ready in thee STFU cafe.

    November 6, 2012 at 3:49 pm |
    • Keita

      @Eatocracy Seating Host™ High Five! Please let me get his drink order!!! This has inspired me to tip even bigger than I already tip when dining out. As a former waitress and now married to a waitress your unselfishness blesses others which in return blesses you. Now what's the opposite of that? Specially when its intentional?? smh

      November 7, 2012 at 9:59 am |
  11. John Smith

    If you make $5 an hour, you really need to take a look at your life descisions and make a few corrections.

    November 6, 2012 at 3:33 pm |
    • Sarah Jane Smith

      Just feel the love.

      November 6, 2012 at 3:36 pm |
    • Tanya

      John, most of these people are college students or recent grads struggling to get a start in the world. Would you rather they relied on welfare?

      November 6, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
    • Rick

      John, Seriously, millions of Americans make less than $10/hr, no health care, no benefits. that is the world that we live in. At least Obamacare will force these people to buy healthcare or pay a fine/tax.

      November 6, 2012 at 4:23 pm |
      • Doug Lynn

        How is forcing young, healthy, moderate income workers to buy healthcare insurance, or pay a fine, going to help them?

        November 6, 2012 at 4:40 pm |
    • Doug Lynn

      You really are not in touch with reality John. Lots of talented, recently college educated young people cannot find jobs in their chosen field. Most of them did not make poor decisions. Most of them are victims of the current economy that Washington created by enabling the loose lending practices that let to the housing bubble that burst.

      November 6, 2012 at 4:45 pm |
    • Rohan the Lion

      What a compassionate thought John Smith. Perhaps ponder the this, not everyone can live up to your glorious accomplishments. Some people make next to nothing per hour and are grateful for it.

      You should look into your heart John Smith. What does it tell you about your comments?

      November 6, 2012 at 5:57 pm |
    • guest fighter

      This message brought to you by romney

      November 6, 2012 at 8:26 pm |
    • Keita

      You just want attention. Some people actually love what they do. Some people don't give up and will work where they can. There are some people who actually truly love being a waiter/waitress . I actually miss it.

      November 7, 2012 at 10:00 am |
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