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Youngsters Go to Max & Erma’s for Prom, Not for Paychecks

We were going to eat at Max and Erma’s last night, but it was swamped with Aberdeen promgoers, so we went to Roma downtown, which had its own share of fineried youth but also a couple no-wait tables.

Wrong with this picture:

  1. Prom should be in May.
  2. Prom dinner should require silverware as surely as promwear requires bowties and boutonnieres.
  3. Prom dates should pack a fine downtown Italian restaurant before there is any tux-and-gown line-up at any burger joint in town.

Quizzically, my local (paywalled) paper complains that not enough kids went to Max and Erma’s… to work and keep the local franchise from closing:

Everyone looks forward to new restaurants coming to town.

However, few seem to want to work at them.

That was one of the reasons Max & Erma’s co-owner Mark McNeary gave about why he and the other owners decided to close the restaurant. He spoke with the American News earlier this week, stating that keeping a full staff has been an issue for a long time.

…But it seems fewer and fewer students are taking advantage of the numerous employment opportunities in the area.

If we want new restaurants — or any new business, for that matter — to come to town, we need people to work at them.

…So encourage your child to take that job serving food. Or washing cars. Or scrubbing toilets, planting flowers or delivering newspapers.

Take that job for the betterment of your community.

And the betterment of yourself [editorial board, “Young Workers Are Vital to Our Community [paywall],” Aberdeen American News, 2019.04.06].

Hold on: we’re not talking about joining the Peace Corps or becoming a teacher. The only people who say they wait tables to serve their community are weisenheimers. Work is work, and work is necessary and good, but work is not our prom date; there’s no need to dress it up as something it ain’t.

South Dakota’s labor shortage does pose an obstacle to keeping a busines afloat in South Dakota. But money talks, and blaming labor walks. If you’re making a good enough product, people will pay a fair price for it, fair enough, we should expect, to pay workers enough to keep making that product. If the pay for that work isn’t enough to entice workers to surrender their valuable time to your business desires, the problem may not lie with the workers. The problem may lie in your unwillingness to pay enough to make the job and the sacrifice worth your target labor pool’s while.

To suggest that young people bear the blame for grown-ups’ business closing makes a lot of assumptions. It seems just as plausible that the blame for the loss of a restaurant and 55 mostly part-time jobs rests with the grown-ups running the place. Maybe they overgambled on drawing business to the northwest side of town. Maybe the casual/burger dining market in Aberdeen is saturated.

Or maybe no one is to blame: running a business, ordering meat and asparagus, scheduling part-timers, keeping up with health code—that’s all hard work, and the three owners—Jim Thares, Mark McNeary, and Joe Hawkins, who all have important, necktie-wearing positions at Primrose Retirement—may have quite reasonably decided that nine years of restaurateuring on top of their full-time day jobs was enough.

We’ll try again next weekend, Max and Erma’s final weekend, to catch the end of Endless Fries (I’ve actually never taken them up on that: their burgers and one serving of fries have been good enough for me every time). But if Max and Erma’s is packed again for its last couple days, we won’t blame young people for denying us one more Garbage Burger. Kids will take their prom dates to eat where they want… and they’ll choose to work where they want, if the market offers a fair wage for their labor.

(Hmm… Frederick’s prom is April 13… hey! Frederick kids! Take your dates to Roma Ristorante Italiano downtown! Your selfies will look twice as classy… and if you insist on a familiar dish instead of Roma’s exquisite pasta and asparagus, you can order a really good pizza!)


  1. o 2019-04-07 15:29

    How about this variation on the theme: people should open restaurants or other businesses because it is their passion. They should do it to help their community and profit be darned!

  2. grudznick 2019-04-07 16:51

    grudznick could not agree more with Mr. H. And silliness about eating burgers in a frilly backless dress aside, things are swinging back to the days of these kids getting a Super 8 room and a bottle of cheap Canadian whiskey from a local homeless fellow willing to get carded for them and just promming it all up until they goff all over the place and then drive home by 6am for church.

  3. Curt 2019-04-07 21:57

    Prom. It’s PROM. Not sure why it pleases you more for Prom to be held in May, but it’s PROM. Hope the photos turned out nice.

  4. Donald Pay 2019-04-07 22:04

    Cory said: “The only people who say they wait tables to serve their community are weisenheimers.” Ok, but one young person, AOC, just might be one of those weisenheimers. She waited tables, and she has been pretty clear about how what many see menial jobs provided skills that helps her in her current position in Congress. There is dignity in this work, and serving requires constant use of soft skills that are transferable to many jobs. She even said that the major duty of a Congressperson is to serve people. It might help employers if they use AOC’s statements and example as a way to recruit young workers.

  5. Debbo 2019-04-07 23:53

    Don’s point about valuable skills is worthwhile, but I agree with Cory. If a business can’t attract sufficient employees, the business needs to make changes. Raise pay, benefits, adjust schedules, revise duties, etc. It’s on the employer to fill his needs.

  6. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-04-08 07:10

    Debbo, I don’t deny that there is dignity in all work. That’s part of why I support strong minimum wage legislation. However, I contend that if someone is starting from the motivation of, “I want to serve my community; how do I do that?” waiting tables isn’t the usual answer. One goes into waiting tables because one needs the paycheck. One can learn valuable skills and gain useful experience for future endeavors, as Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez is doing right now, but that doesn’t make waiting tables a primary direction to follow for community service.

  7. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-04-08 07:11

    Curt, prom should be as springy and culminatory as possible. Have it the weekend before graduation. Heck, have it the weekend of: big dance the night before, big ceremony the next day.

  8. mike from iowa 2019-04-08 08:37

    I read somewhere Japanese Geishas were not concerned whether a task was dignified or not. The honor came from doing each task honorably.

    Some time back pols used to feel that way when being elected.

  9. o 2019-04-08 09:05

    Fewer young people are entering the workforce. I believe part of this is caused by college costs and student debt. Although it seems counterintuitive, I say that the explosion in college tuition costs, increase of college admittance, the glut of lending available have all added up to show that there is no possible way to work a job and pay for college up front. A LONG time ago, the summer before my junior year, I worked a good, UNION, electrician/construction job and made enough to pay for my senior year of college. What kind of dent can a student make now in savings toward post-high school costs? Why bother? Borrow away!

  10. David Newquist 2019-04-08 13:43

    All of my children had part time jobs in restaurants when they were in high school. Our household rule was that they had to quit if their jobs conflicted with their education. While a couple of the jobs were good experiences, most were not. My son walked away from one job while taking a break at my insistence when the management insisted that he work late on a night he had to study for an exam. The restaurant was to be inspected and expected its work crew to work through the night at tasks that should have been attended to on a daily basis. My daughter seemed to have an unusual talent for finding work with people who modeled themselves after Donald Trump and his ilk.

    At that time the kids had an informal list of places that were lousy places to work where they were treated with disrespect and working conditions were oppressive. That list was passed from class to class, and I imagine is still in circulation. Rather than accuse young people of generational failures, the managers should ask why any young person would want to work at their establishments. Many kids may have parents like me who advise them not to put up with discourtesy, unreasonable demands, and incompetence. Kids have better things to do than be exploited.

  11. mike from iowa 2019-04-08 17:43

    So much has changed since wingnuts and korporations decided profit was the end game and the only goal worth achieving.

    How many times have we been told if we only cut taxes, businesses could afford to pay workers more?

    How many times have we been told if we eliminate burdensome regulations businesses could afford to pay workers more?

    How many times were we hoodwinked by the old standby “trickle down” economics?

    Businesses used to have a personal interest in their workers well being.

  12. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-04-09 17:55

    Dr. Newquist aptly reminds us that the market works both ways. I can’t speak to any particular management issues at Max and Erma’s, but workers aren’t obliged to work in any shop or industry sector that they feel doesn’t make their sacrifice worthwhile.

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