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3 Things I Learnt About Privilege And The Lack Of It While Working At A Pizza Place

Posted: March 15, 2021

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The recent Zomato incident with a delivery agent jogged some memories of mine from the time I worked in a pizza outlet at the front desk.

I had recently moved to Pune after I got admission into an MBA college in Pune, and since there was 2-3 months for the classes to begin I decided to walk into a fast food chain near my house in response to a help wanted poster.

I joined this named Pizza outlet as a part-timer and had to work about 4 hours or so daily. My job included sanitizing the counters, taking the delivery as well as take away orders, prepping the pizza boxes, etc. This short stint taught me many things and not just how to make pizza; I made interesting friends who came from diverse backgrounds, learnt customer management, and about how the fast-food industry works, among other things.

But let me put a few things into perspective before I continue.

Yes, I was working at a Pizza place, like the one most of us frequent and easily spend a few hundreds at. I earned a tiny amount as a part time student worker. But I still had a privilege most of my co-workers did not have. I came from a privileged, English speaking, middle class background, and unlike with most of them, my earnings did not run my household.

And this fact made all the difference.

Learning the work ethic of dignity in any honest work

For most of the staff, the job also included mopping the restaurant, taking out the trash and other such work; but my privilege meant that no one ever asked me to do such tasks. This did cause a bit of an issue with 1-2 of the staff. I would hence pick up a broom every now and then to impress on them that no task was beneath me.

This work ethic I have carried throughout my career where no task is beneath me, and I have also expected this of others.

It is here that I learned what up-selling was, how to pronounce jalapeños; this is where I first came to know the existence of oregano.

It is also here where I learnt what privilege was.

Recognising customer ‘privilege’ used wrongly

The rules of pizza delivery stated: 30 minutes or free. To get this ‘free’ pizza worth Rs 100-500, even well off customers would often give convoluted addresses on purpose so that the delivery person gets late.

Technically, the cost of the pizza was not cut from the delivery person’s salary, but there were always some consequences, like an angry manager, or this going up as a strike on your record. Since I handled the phone, I would get calls from concerned citizens saying that the delivery person was driving rashly, but if you put yourself in their shoes juxtaposed against this policy, you would know what the real cost was.

Let me explain.

Once I was missing Rs 1000 or so from my till at the end of the day, and the manager told me that they will cut this from my pay. Considering my pay was only Rs 3000, it would be a significant cut from my earnings, after having worked hard, without ever sitting down, for a month. Now if this pay ran my household like it did for many of the staff, this cut would have had long term repercussions, like it did to them. Later the manager found that the difference was due to a system error, and not mine.

It is worth considering this from a customer’s position of privilege – is your free food worth all this pain for a hard-working employee trying to make ends meet? You are in a position to pay for the food, your delivery agent is not. They would never be able to eat paying full price at the outlet they worked at, simply because it is not affordable, and yes, also because they did think it was unnecessarily high priced.

Classic entitlement of classism

I have also been at the receiving end of classism while working there.

Sometimes a customer would talk down at me or condescendingly at me, make fun of my pronunciation or whatever, because they thought they were better than me with their ‘education’ and English, and their ‘higher status’ in life, because none of them would be ever caught behind the counter of a fast food chain. That station in life was for the ‘poor’ in their convoluted brains.

I distinctly remember a boy with a fancy accent who had come to order pizza with two other girls. He spoke down to me throughout; made fun of my actions, which simply followed the due process to take his order. He continued talking this way, and because I was in uniform and representing a brand, I maintained my composure.

He finally threw the money at me and I had to pick it up from everywhere. I made sure to give him the exact change down to the paisa, and kept it at his table. I remember him telling his girlfriend, “throw it back at her.” Till today, I don’t see why he would act like this with a stranger who was just doing her job. The only reason was that he thought of himself as ‘better’ than me.

If this was not classism I don’t know what is.

Referring back to the recent Zomato delivery person incident

I don’t want to comment on this specific Zomato incident as the police are investigating, and both side stories have been heard. Also I would not ever want to pass judgement based only on what I see on social media; there is enough of it as is.

What I would like you to consider is this – Is the expectation of 30 mins or free fair to the employees? Is your free lunch worth a delivery person not having money for groceries that month?

It is also worth considering the effects of these discounts and policies on the people employed in the service industry. Shouldn’t the onus also be on the companies for creating such stark situations for their own staff?

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