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Service industry walkout at Austin’s Easy Tiger after SXSW

Twenty-six frustrated Easy Tiger servers have quit or are considering leaving the local chain’s East 7th Street location, according to employees involved. But management has a different story about the “walkout” and the events leading up to it.

In an Instagram post from the Texas Service Industry Coalition page, an unnamed employee said a total of 26 employees left the company, put their two weeks off, or planned to leave after a new president, Sue Kim, joined the team in January.

“The basis of our mass walkout is the level of respect we have received since January,” the post read. “(Kim is) coming into full force by changing the layout of the place, forcing servers to repeatedly move over 50 tables weighing over 200 pounds, completely emptying our menus and even shortening our opening hours ( with little or no warning to employees.)”

An employee who spoke with Austinia and wished to remain anonymous to avoid possible repercussions said site staff met Kim at a meeting in early March. The Austinia source said Kim interrupted the manager and gave a “long and intense speech” about his passion for serving people, leaving the restaurant before staff members had a chance to introduce themselves.

Further turmoil arose during SXSW last month when the East 7th site was booted to be the chain’s main festival venue.

“(Kim’s) idea was to set up a kind of fair/carnival, where you had to buy tickets in order to buy anything else,” the source said. “Ticket prices were absurd and drove more than half of our customers to walk away instead of buying anything, so our tips were almost nothing by the end of the week.”

Shortly after, the Instagram post and source said Kim called the restaurant’s general manager and assistant manager “r****d stupid and unable to talk to their employees,” prompting two managers to dedicate their two weeks. Because the Easy Tiger staff had become what the two sources called “one big family,” as many as 30 others have followed or plan to follow suit.

“We don’t want to work in a place where we won’t be respected or have people standing up for us, and without those two managers (we) wouldn’t have that security,” the source said.

A representative for Easy Tiger told Austinia that the offensive event never happened.

“We vehemently defend our management team and deny all rumors that spread of verbal abuse and name-calling; that is simply not true and we will never tolerate it,” the rep said.

According to the representative, five employees did not show up at the scene immediately after SXSW. The rep said 12 of its 80 employees have since given their notice, representing short-term net revenue of 10% and “on par with industry averages.”

“The allegation of a 26-person ‘walkout’ is completely false,” the rep said. “Every employee situation is unique and personal and we respect that. People have a choice of where they work and we support that. For all employees who chose to leave, we paid them in full for their notice period. two weeks as part of our practice standard.”

The rep also said the ticketing model was designed “to speed up customer service and help our staff,” but when it wasn’t working, the company suspended it mid-stream and gave around $11,000 in cash. sales to support staff.

The Austinia source says others are considering leaving, prompting the ‘walkout’ request, and will not stay unless the manager is removed from the staff.

But with plans to “reevaluate (its) core service model” and “focus the menu,” according to the Easy Tiger rep, the source said there are rumors that Easy Tiger will soon rid its location East 7th of its servers.

“There was no attempt by (Kim) to explain the changes or accommodate any of the employees,” the source said. “We’ve all wondered about the security of our jobs… All of (Kim’s) time here has been extremely impersonal.”

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