Dishin' That: Beef, wine age well, but what about employees?

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Older hospitality workers getting the bum’s rush in the hiring and retention process is a great human interest story when tales of woe are reliably corroborated. Sprinkle in timely statistics from local websites ending in .org, or better yet, .gov, and the story becomes newsworthy, no matter how commonplace.

As of late, the topic has been covered from both slants, with most of the research in the form of graduate school theses and hushed-up lawsuits.

Looking elsewhere for numbers to share, job posting sites such as Careerbuilder and are pumping out canned advice for getting along in a generationally diverse work environment. My favorite was an undated piece, “What Older Workers and Younger Workers Can Learn from Each Other,” by Dan Woog on

Apparently, older workers can learn tech stuff (such as shortcuts to intimidating computer systems) from the kids, and younger workers can learn interpersonal skills (such as “manners”), from newly hired Boomers. Dropping names like Disney and Marriott as potential employers, it reads more like a branding plug than a teaching tool.

Turning to the streets, I met Marcus Hanson, 57, of Portland, who told his own story. Chatting it up by chance at the bar at Vignola, he was saddened and surprised by his own current status of “non-employed.”

“Just this January, I’d been working 50-plus hours a week in New York City as a bartender,” Hanson said. “Our staff was not aspiring anythings. We were a team of professionals who made a lot of money, knew our clientele and worked together. I think the newest and youngest of us was my full-time bar-back, who just turned 34. He was an NYU graduate and I’m sure he was hoping I’d die someday. Everyone else has been there at least 10 years.”

Explaining his move to Portland was to assist his siblings in caring for their aging parents, Hanson thought finding a job would be simple.

“New places were opening here,” he said, “My resume is razor-sharp and I have references. I’m in decent shape and truthfully, I didn’t think it would be tough to get a job in a tourist trap like Portland.”

Struck by Hanson’s casual use of “my full-time bar back,” I brought up the days when changing a keg and shleping ice from the bowels of a basement were second nature for me.

“I used to work four or five doubles in a row and thought nothing of it,” I offered. “Now, I’m pooped after a baby shift of six hours and dread the thought of a late-night bar close. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m older, or if I’m simply all done with that part of the scene.”

Changing the subject to his parents, I couldn’t help but wonder if mention of his Sherpa made its way into the interview circuit. Hopefully, it hasn’t.

Next Week: Restaurant owners share their thoughts on ageism in the industry.

Peas & Qs

Q — My husband thinks it’s fine to share meals and is infuriated when there is a plate-sharing charge. What are your thoughts? — Linda R., Portland.

A — Plate-sharing charges should be clearly indicated on any printed menu, next to the blurb about the potential danger of using raw eggs. If if isn’t, and if your server is aware you’ll be splitting a meal, he or she should politely inform you of the house policy, leaving it up to you to decide if the cost is acceptable. If the intention is to accommodate smaller appetites, this shouldn’t be a problem. (Note the uses of the words “should” and “if.”)

Portland has an admirable amount of small-plate opportunities, so if the intention is to have a broader tasting experience, the two of you are in luck.

However, if the goal is simply to save money, I’m not such a fan. A case in point is the couple who recently ordered one evening dinner special and wanted to use a Portland Dine-Around coupon. The coupon was intended to be a buy-one-get-one-free offer for two dinners at the regular price. These frugal folks didn’t want two dinners. Instead, they wanted to pay half price on the one dinner special they shared. They also wanted extra unopened oyster cracker packets, and the three remaining bites of her garden salad, both to go.

With a clear conscience, and a bad tip as the result, I said no.

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Natalie Ladd lives in Portland. When not pecking away, she can be found serving the masses at a busy eatery, or tirelessly conducting happy-hour field research. Hospitality questions or comments should be sent to, and may be featured in a future column. Follow Natalie on Twitter: @Nhladd.