Current and former servers at E.P. Taylor’s pub on the Durham College-UOIT campus are speaking out about what they claim are unsafe and unethical food handling practices, as well as an unpaid and inadequate training experience.
But Kristin Mitchell, one of the managers at E.P. Taylor’s, says the claims are false.
E.P. Taylor’s is run by the DC-UOIT Student Association and many of the staff are students, like Kennedy Latour who worked at E.P. Taylor’s from Sept. 2015 to Dec. 2015 and Alyssa Erwin who is still employed by the restaurant.
Erwin and Latour say since working at the restaurant, they have witnessed some questionable practices with food handling.
“Using their (cooks) hands to handle food, the cooks didn’t wear gloves to serve things, I just felt like it was a very unsanitary kitchen,” says Latour, who has served at various restaurants for four years.
“If someone doesn’t use their lemon, a lot of the girls will just take the lemon off of somebody else’s cup and stick in the new person’s cup,” says Erwin, who says the servers do this to avoid having to cut up more lemons.
But Mitchell says a manager or supervisor is always available to ensure that proper food handling procedures are being met. She says the allegations that the servers were transferring lemons between customers are false.
“That’s absolutely not true. There’s always lemons cut down and there’s always so many lemons cut, they end up throwing them out at the end of the day,” says Mitchell.
Mitchell has been employed with the restaurant since 2009. She says the pub has fewer than 100 employees and on average the restaurant serves 700 customers a day.
The Durham Regional Health Department gave E.P. Taylor’s a conditional pass on June 18, 2015, after noting eight violations. Some of the violations consisted of equipment, sanitation and food protection.
According to the inspection summary, the violations were rectified the following day.
Sendi Struna, a public health inspector with the Durham Region Health Department, says food handlers aren’t required to wear gloves, but anyone handling food is required to wash their hands frequently. She says re-using food is a violation and doesn’t consider the practice to be very common.
“It’s definitely a direct violation. You can’t recycle food. You don’t know what the first individual may have had. It’s general communicable diseases that may be passed,” Struna says.
The Durham Region Health Department annually inspects a little more than 3,000 businesses. According to Struna, the inspection visits are unannounced.
Struna says a risk assessment is done with each visit, and depending on the outcome of the assessment a business will receive more inspections.
Erwin says the sanitation practice wasn’t her only concern. She says she also witnessed a breach of ethics taking place at the restaurant. According to Erwin, if the servers sometimes make errors, accidentally punching in non-halal items when the customer orders halal, the kitchen staff occasionally refuses to remake the item.
“The staff has said, ‘Well, I’ve already made that so just tell them it’s halal’,” she says.
Erwin says she doesn’t escalate the issue because sometimes it’s the managers who are refusing to remake it.
“Management has done it,” Erwin says.
Mitchell says those allegations are also false.
Both Erwin and Latour say during their job orientation they were paid to watch a slide show on sexual harassment. On their first day as servers they didn’t receive further training and weren’t paid, either.
“They told us that we would be getting trained, on how to use the computer, how to deal with customers, and I was told they would start me off with just one table, and 20 minutes into my shift I had about seven tables,” says Erwin.
“I had no idea what I was doing, I had never served before,” Erwin says. Both say they had to pay $75 for the training as well as their uniform, which consisted of a T-shirt.
“Why did we have to work seven hours of free work to get a T-Shirt?” asks Latour.
Mitchell says that servers are required to obtain a Smart Serve and employees have to do Workplace Hazardous Material Information System (WHMIS) and online training once they’re hired. Mitchell says employees are paid when they’re being trained at the restaurant.
“There is a staff fee, they’re paid to be at work. They would have been paid for that day. It’s $75 for the uniform and training. Because some of the specified training courses are expensive,” says Mitchell. Mitchell says Smart Serve training is included in that fee.
Erwin and Latour say they paid for their Smart Serve before getting hired.
According to Service Canada labour regulations unpaid training is against the law, and employees must be paid for the time they put in.
Erwin says that apart from being unimpressed by some of the tacts used by some of the staff, she enjoys her job but feels a lot differently about dining out now.
“I want people to think twice when they come and actually order things. I’m more cautious when I go out. How I see it is it’s college kids running the kitchen, and college kids aren’t the most reliable,” says Erwin.
Several other E.P. Taylor’s servers were contacted for this story but declined to comment.