Ask The Salty Waitress: Can I Ask The Kitchen To Change Its Music?

Dear Salty, I'm a relatively new server at a local restaurant (although I've been bartending and serving for over 10 years), and something came up this weekend that has me stumped.

Our kitchen staff (African-American and Hispanic) gets to play their own music in the back of the house, and this past weekend their choice was some pretty hard-core rap. I actually like rap, but this was full on N-word stuff, and it made the white liberal in me die a little each time I went into the kitchen to run food.

If I say anything to the kitchen staff, I'll instantly make enemies and likely never get a correct order again. If I say anything to the management the kitchen staff will still know it was the new server who reported them. Do I suck it up and try to tune it out?

Thanks,White Guy

Dear White Guy,

Hoo boy, how to begin unpacking this rat's nest. You've got a couple issues here, so I'm going to try to untangle these.

First is the issue of the "hard-core rap" that offends you. Except, it doesn't actually offend you, does it? It seems like you're offended on someone else's behalf, but... whose behalf exactly? It's not the kitchen, since you say they've chosen the soundtrack, so it's... Black people everywhere? I'm afraid that's not your battle to fight. Without even addressing the weary "If they can say it, why can't I?" thing—it's not up to you to decide whether or not someone else should be offended by the n-word. These are grown adults working in the kitchen, and they've decided they're not only not offended, but they like this music.

Which brings us to the second half of this: territory. The dining room is yours, the kitchen is theirs. You don't want a line cook correcting how you pour wine, do you? It's a respect thing. They're working long, hot hours back there, often for little pay. All of us in hospitality are at other people's mercy: managers, customers, delivery guys. The kitchen playlist is something they can control, and I'm sure they're not playing anything they don't want to hear.

Presumably the dining room guests can't hear what's playing in the kitchen, in which case you'd maybe have grounds to flag your manager about it. If that's not the case, then it seems to me you'll just have to suck this one up—or say something and ruin any goodwill your coworkers ever offered you.

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