Servers, bartenders and line cooks in Austin stay busy throughout the year, but when Valentine’s Day falls on a Friday, as it does this year, they’ll really be in the weeds.
And when they want to post somewhere about their experiences or ask a question for someone else in the industry, more than 16,000 of them turn to a Facebook group called In the Weeds, which started in Austin in 2013.
Founder KC Hensley started the group after moving here from Idaho, where he had been a bar owner. He didn’t know many people in Austin, and he started networking with fellow members of the service industry as soon as he could.
"About this time, I started seeing some value in a Facebook group," Hensley says. "There were groups for bartenders only or servers only, but I wanted to create an environment that was all inclusive so we could communicate with each other."
He named the group "In the Weeds" after the commonly used term in the service industry for being overwhelmingly busy, and although the kick-off party for the group was sparsely attended, within months, the community took on a life of its own. It‘s a private Facebook group, but anyone can join, as long as they have some kind of connection to the service industry.
"The service industry is a sub culture of society," he says. "We are awake when everyone is sleeping, and we’re off work when everyone is working, but we are our own tribe."
Just six years later, thousands of members of that tribe post daily with funny memes, vexing customer service questions or open job opportunities. People even use the group to find roommates or get recommendations for knives, shoes or point of sale systems, Hensley says.
Hensley started other In the Weeds groups for Dallas, Houston and San Antonio, and last year, he officially joined the team as community manager at Seasoned, an app that launched in San Francisco in 2017 and started as a job marketplace.
With the In the Weeds acquisition, Hensley says Seasoned is growing into a community hub where people in the industry can connect with each other and learn new skills that will help them advance in their careers.
Having worked in the industry for so long, Hensley knows there’s a sense that servers, bartenders and cooks are somewhat overlooked in the food industry.
"We all understand that no one is going to have our backs, so we have to have each other’s backs," he says. "The more people under one umbrella, the more powerful that group becomes and the more we can be taken seriously as a demographic."
Although some members turn to the Facebook group to vent or complain, most of them focus on the positive: helping others find jobs or sharing the encouraging stories that come out of the restaurants, cafes, food trucks and bars that you can find in just about every corner of Central Texas.
Hensley is now organizing free classes on Sundays at Buzz Mill, where service industry workers can sign up to learn basic sign language or how to buy a house when your income is based on tips. "I want us to celebrate this industry, to make it OK to call it your real job."
Last year, Seasoned - In the Weeds created Hospitality Industry Appreciation Day on Feb. 13, which earned an official proclamation from Gov. Greg Abbott, to remind diners on the day before one of the busiest restaurant days of the year that most servers make only $2.13 an hour.
Although they stay out of official lobbying, they do advocate for raising awareness about minimum wage and the difficulties that many in the industry face, such as trying to secure health insurance or paid time off.
Customers can’t do much about the minimum wage, Hensley says, but they can take it into consideration when they leave a tip. "The way it stands today, we tip in America," he says. "If you can’t tip, don’t go out."
That’s important for diners to remember when restaurants are especially busy.
"Valentine’s Day is supposed to be a great holiday, but it’s usually more stressful on everyone involved," he says. "Just remember to be cordial, be understanding and be patient, and we’ll do the same."