When the internet’s the only way to go to the grocery store
New York City has long been known as the epicenter of urban foodiedom.
Its proximity to New Jersey, the Jersey Shore, and its proximity to Silicon Valley mean that the city’s residents have an almost instinctive sense of the foods they’ll find at the grocery stores of their hometowns.
And yet, in recent years, the number of people who live within the city limits of New York has skyrocketed.
It’s not just the city, either.
In a city of about 4 million, the population has jumped by about 20 percent in the past five years, according to Census data.
And the trend is only likely to continue, with the number doubling each year.
As a result, the area has become home to more than 4 million servers—a figure that’s expected to rise further.
While the server industry is booming, New York’s server supply is still a relative rarity.
And as the demand for server jobs increases, so too does the supply.
“There’s a real demand for the type of work that you do in a restaurant,” says Jeff Biesek, who manages the servers’ union.
“And it’s not a lot of people coming out of college.
It requires a lot more education than most people get.”
In New York, the demand is especially strong for server roles that have traditionally been held by people who are in their 20s and 30s.
Biesecks is the executive director of the New York Restaurant Association, which represents more than 600 restaurant workers.
“We’ve seen the demand skyrocket in recent months,” he says.
“That was a good thing.
It means that more people are choosing to work at restaurants.”
But for many, it’s the opposite.
The average age of a server at a restaurant is 34, according Bieseks.
“People don’t know what it’s like to work a table.
People don’t realize that they’re on a conveyor belt of raw food and they’re working at a job that has a very low wage.”
And that, in turn, has a ripple effect on the wages of servers, who can make less than the minimum wage and are often in need of temporary assistance from the city.
Biedek is among the thousands of servers who work in restaurants across the city—the people who make up the core of the server workforce.
“You can’t make the living you make at the table without someone who’s been there for 20 years and has a job, who has an education, and who has the skills and experience to do that job,” he explains.
“It’s not easy.”
But while the demand has skyrocketted in recent times, the supply has not.
And even with the growth of servers’ demand, the labor force is still relatively small.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median age of servers is 34 and the median pay is just $26,000.
In New Jersey and Pennsylvania, the same demographics make up roughly 25 percent and 20 percent of the population, respectively, of servers.
But while New York can boast of a workforce of roughly 4 million workers, it also has one of the lowest labor force participation rates in the country, according the Bureau.
“The people who work here are people who have been working for years and years and people who probably don’t have any children, or no spouse or no kids, so they’re pretty well insulated from that labor force,” Biesegis says.
In the state of New Jersey alone, a third of all jobs in the state are held by women, and the labor participation rate for women is just 54 percent.
That’s not to say the workforce of servers are immune from the pressures of work.
The New York State Bar Association reports that there are more than 6,000 servers who are members, and that some servers have had to leave their jobs because of personal reasons.
“For me, the biggest challenge is being able to do this job while maintaining my health and my mental health,” says Biesechs brother, Matt Biesewicke.
“As long as I’m here, I’m happy to have this job.”
Matt Biedewickel, left, and Jeff Biedeske, right, are brothers who work at the restaurant that bears their name in New York.
They started as servers at an Italian restaurant, but they’re now running their own business.
When Matt first joined the server job at an Indian restaurant in 2008, he had no idea what the future would hold.
“I’m not really sure where I would be in five years if I didn’t come here and get into this business,” he recalls.
“So it’s really important to keep your focus.”
It’s also a huge responsibility.
“When you’re starting out, you don’t think about the future, you just start doing it,” Matt says.
As the youngest member of the group, Matt and Jeff have