Qualitative casual interviews with employees at Food Idol created the data for this study. The interviews initially took place within a two week time span, but as I am too an employee at Food Idol I added more interview data, for a total of four weeks of sporadic interview research in order to expand my study and talk to as many employees as possible. All but one of the interviews were conducted at Food Idol. The one that was not conducted at Food Idol was done in my car as I drove a co-researcher home after a lunch shift.
Accessing the participants included in my study was relatively easy as they the participants are also all co-workers of mine. All participants involved in the study were absolutely guaranteed confidentiality and anonymity, had the right to choose the extent which they wanted to contribute, had the right to refuse to answer any particular question, and were able withdraw from the study at any point. The participants were aware of the nature of the study and were able to ask questions at any time. The interview process was unstructured non-standardized (Denzin, 1989) in which there was a causal setting. The method used was a conversational style and the participants did most of the talking with myself acting as a listener for the majority of the time.
Not all employees at Food Idol were available to contribute to the study; there were two employees on holiday, and there were other employees who I simply never saw and did not take outside steps to contact in order to participate in the study. The participants who are included in the study are the co-workers I had shifts with during the time-span that I conducted interview process in. In total I conducted fourteen interviews, lasting from three minutes to twenty minutes in length.
The lengths were varied due to the level of interest and seriousness of the responses. All participants included in the study are either full-time employees or full-time studentsi (further referred to as full-time employees or part-time employees respectively). Out of the fourteen interviews that were conducted the participants consisted eight that were not in school and have not been in school since high school. Six of the eight are female, and two are male. The other six participants consisted of part-time employees currently enrolled in post-secondary education at either a College or University campus in Victoria, BC. Out of the six part-time employees, five are female, and one is male.
The Difficulties of Data Collection: Keeping Focus on The Topic During the interview process I encountered few difficulties. All interviews were conducted face-face, in groups of myself and either one or two participants. There was nothing coercive, or hidden from the participants as they were aware of the nature of the study and were able to ask questions or ask for clarification about the topic to ensure that their response would be accurate.
However, one problem that I encountered during the interview process was that in some instances the tension between employees rose due to the nature of opinions expressed. An example would be when those in school said they would never want to be a “lifer” in the business while some of the full-time employees had expressed that they wanted to advance themselves and make a career out of their current position. However, the tension was fused as I directed the conversation in another path, as I did not want my study to construct any further tension between employees.
Another testing complication that arose was the seriousness and depth of answers and the variation between those who seemed to want to express a clear a opinion and displayed a stronger degree of seriousness when voicing responses and those who accepted to be part of the study but lost interest more easily and often tried to change the subject towards something completely off topic. For example, I tried to interview Jessicaii, a full-time female employee twice, both times she lost interest quickly and wanted to talk about going to Vancouver to go shopping, or how her boyfriend had taken her out for dinner the night before.
In both the mentioned instances it was hard to restore focus on the topic and the interviews ended, after the second interview with Jessica I decided that although she had said she wanted to be included in the study she did not put forth any relevant information so she was omitted as one of the fourteen participants. In all of the other interviews I conducted if the focus of the interview became sidetracked I was able to re-direct it back to the topic or I was able to manage to relate what was said in a new way I hadn’t thought of to my study. Thus, the more I responses I came across the more my research expanded beyond my original topic of choice.
The Different Status’s of Sub-Cultures: Employees Divided As Hughes (1997) suggests within professions that require speed, energy, and to some extent physique, there are limits to how long one can stay in that particular business. This is very true of the restaurant serving industry. Servers only make minimum wage, it is their tips that make their job worthwhile. In order to make decent money in tips, the server must be able to take on many tables at once and remain constantly busy, often this requires speed walking, constantly being aware of your surroundings, checking up on tables to see how guests are doing and if they are enjoying themselves and perhaps most importantly concealing any negative thoughts you may be having with a smile. However, there is more to being successful server and that depends on the working relationship that the server has with the kitchen staff and the bartender.
There is a consensus among the part-time employees that because the full-time employees know all the staff better because they see them so much more that they get the quickest service and are treated with more respect. Many of the part-time employees also felt out of the loop with the going-ons of the restaurant and could be referred to as what Hughes may call an “out-group.” This may also be due to the fact that all of the part-time employees identified themselves as students, not servers, and the full-time employees identified primarily with being full-time servers.
At Food Idol it is more prestigious to be a full-time worker and know every item on the menu, and know all the ingredients in drinks off by heart, than be a part-time employee who always seems to have a question or who always seems to “need time off for exams.” Not surprisingly, and in accordance with Hughes (1997) it is the “in-group” of employees at Food Idol who move-up in the company, interestingly none of the current management at Food Idol has a diploma or degree. They all began as dishwashers, hostesses, servers, and then day, night, weekend managers, and one general manager. One of the male full-time employees, Anthony, remarked in an interview,
“What’s the job to you if you’re preparing for your future and it’s not in this industry? People in school don’t care as much about working here. They always want to leave early to study and barely ever pick up shifts because of exams.” Personally what Anthony said is absolutely true for me. Working at Food Idol is not what I want to do forever, and I barely ever can do more than two or three shifts a week because I always have to do some reading, write a paper, or study for an exam.
The Self: How Employees Maintain a Positive Self I asked the participants in the study what they thought their customers thought of them and this is what some of them had to say about how they feel they are portrayed: “When I am at work none of my tables know I am working on my major in political science, and sometimes it feels like they think they are better than you because you are just a server.” “I don’t know, most the time people seem nice, but I guess sometimes it seems like they treat me like I am lower than them.” “Carrie sells more than food, she is always flirting with customers” someone else adds “yeah but she always sells the most!” [A6]
These excerpts are typical of most of the responses that I received from my participants. It seems the audience servers face claim a higher worth than the server and more often than not are able to implicitly insinuate that they are “better” or “more important.” Due to the limitations of this study I cannot go into the reasons “why” customers act this way and I am sure that there are multiple reasons, but I can interpret the reactions of the servers. Being a part-time employee I am too treated like I have innately less value than some of my customers, sometimes it bugs me but I get used to it. I can think of one time I had a table and they were talking about the “Greatest Canadian Competition” on CBC, and I said that I thought that Dr. Banting, the Canadian founder of insulin should win.
And the two of them at the table just looked at me in shock as if they were surprised that I could say something other than, ” do you take cream and sugar and in your coffee?” According to Hughes (1951) that would have been an example of how I felt I had to fight for my personal dignity, and I am not the only one who has felt that way. All of the fourteen participants at one point have also felt like they wanted to stop being demeaned, this can be seen as a want for some kind of control over their environment (Hall, 1934). Perhaps that is the reason why all the part-time employees and five of the eight full-time employees do not see a future for themselves within the industry.