The whole of Charleston's food and beverage scene is neither saint nor sinner (update: Burger gives 'The Other Side' a chance, but no apologies)

Image by Flickr user r0b1

First reporting September 18th, updates at the bottom.

If you've been following the media outside of TheDigitel, by now you've heard at least a bit of fuss about Post and Courier columnist Ken Burger's piece dubbed "Geting Trapped in F&B."

Topping out on the paper's site at number one for comments and stirring a critical backlash from the industry, Burger's piece describes the scene as one with an "after-hours party scene is fueled by alcohol and drugs."

As someone who made their way through college surviving off of the food and beverage industry and still works in the F&B industry, I just have to wonder: Why all the fuss?

To establish my credentials: I have worked in the restaurant industry for nine years, four of which have been in Charleston. I have slung drinks in local dives, and have served celebrities at some of Charleston's finest establishments. Given Ken Burger's description, I have  broken "the cycle" as I no longer depend on F&B.

But I still keep my job in F&B part time. Why? Because I love it, and I truly respect who I work for. And yes, it's my back-up plan.

I do greatly disagree with Burger for his generalization about those in the F&B industry.

I currently work for a wonderful chef, an excellent general manager, and hard working servers who make their living taking care of other people, and yes, most of them are "lifers." But they are lifers with families, kids, personal lives and interests -- they aren't sucked into a vicious cycle.  They simply love what they do, and are damn good at it.

But, I also must agree with Burger on some points. Every fault that he pointed out in F&B in Charleston does exist, unfortunately, and I have witnessed almost every single one, first hand. Not every establishment I have worked in has been as ethical and upstanding as my current employer. In other establishments, I have been sexually harassed by customers and employers alike, with management knowing and doing nothing about it.

I also have seen fellow friends and employees lose themselves in a sea of drugs and alcohol day after day, shift after shift.  

Yet, I must also side with the whole of my fellow service industry workers who are being splashed with shame. While things may be worse than average in the F&B business there are great parts to it as well.

We need to see both sides of the coin.

Not all service industry workers are mindless drug-addicts caught in a cycle of modern day culinary prostitution, but we must also realize it is the responsibility of service industry workers -- just like everyone in any profession should -- to make ethical decisions, and to not permit their employees and fellow workers to slip.

Stereotypes don't just come out of thin air, folks. But stapling thousands with such a negative one is unfair.

[Editor's note by Ken Hawkins: Feel it's only fair to mention that Kozar's and Burger's columns are both ones unsubstantiated by hard evidence and can only be backed by personal experience (of which Katie is quite arguably closer) and should really only be taken with as large doses of salt. Just because a crazy person says something doesn't mean it matters.]

Update September 18: This morning in "Another Side of the story" Burger expresses the views of Dick Elliot, local restaurateur of Maverick Southern Kitchens, and says, "There is an evolution afoot that continues to push the business toward respectable and rewarding careers," but then includes the quip "Just like a real job."

It's a half-hearted attempt at redeeming the integrity of his column that has upset so many, but Burger fails gloriously at giving a fair, unbiased view into "the other side."

How deep of a hole do you want to dig, Burger?

Obviously I must respect one's right to an opinion, but Burger is adding insult to injury, and is only continuing the public degradation of thousands of Charleston's most hard working citizens on a very public forum.  

I would highly suggest Burger to put down the pen, and work a week full-time in a restaurant so he can get an idea of what "a real job" is like.  

Any more updates on this discussion will not come from me directly, I don't see why I should bother, as this is already a no-win situation for everyone involved.  It's obvious this is just another incident in which "old Charleston" fulfill a growing insecurity about falling from the top by stepping on the toes of the progressive thinkers and workers of the city. Imagine, there are those of us out there who enjoy professions that don't include sitting in the traditional nine to five cubicle prison. What heathens we are.

I'm all about honesty and pointing out flaws in systems in order to encourage improvement, however I am not a supporter of kicking someone when they're down, or because they're different.

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