Publication Date


Degree Program

Department of Sociology

Degree Type

Master of Arts


The primary purpose of this research was to examine a sample of fifteen restaurant servers regarding the degree to which they feel alienated and exploited within their working environment. From this information several interpretive findings regarding servers' self-reported job satisfaction are made. In order to explore any possible socioeconomic effects the sample of servers was selected from two different restaurants that varied according to check average and mean dinner price. Data were gathered via indepth, semistructured interviews and overt nonparticipant observations. Although no SES effect was found, the data did suggest that servers experience high levels of alienation in terms of powerlessness, meaninglessness, and self-estrangement. Feelings of powerlessness that servers report appear to be largely provoked by the structural dynamics of the restaurant establishment and are negated a great deal by the power servers have with their guests. Servers report that they feel a sense of meaning in their work, but this meaning does not appear to extend beyond their working environment. Servers are afforded a sense of meaning by recognizing the importance of their work role in the functioning of the restaurant and also through interpersonal relationships with their coworkers. The meaning that they experience in their work appears to be greatly diminished by their awareness that they are held in low esteem according to society's perspective. Servers also report very little connection to their work beyond monetary gain; therefore, self-estrangement appears to be high, especially among male servers. Servers recognize that they are not paid adequate wages for what they do but acknowledge that they are limited in options based on education and skill. Moreover, feelings of exploitation appear to be produced by job-specific factors rather than anything inherent in the work itself. Finally, when alienation and exploitation are examined, several interpretations can be made regarding facets of their employment that provide satisfaction as well as dissatisfaction. Servers report a considerable amount of job satisfaction regarding quick monetary gain, relations with coworkers, and interacting with guests. Dissatisfaction was found to relate with preferential employee treatment by management, lack of positive recognition, and management's' inadequate hiring and reprimanding techniques.



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