Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

CNN Grill waiters complain of unprofessional treatment after RNC

Delegates and guests of the Republican National Convention gather on Aug. 30 for drinks at the CNN Grill. Waiters say promised gratuities have come late and are too small.

DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times

Delegates and guests of the Republican National Convention gather on Aug. 30 for drinks at the CNN Grill. Waiters say promised gratuities have come late and are too small.

TAMPA — With its live broadcasts and free food, the CNN Grill was the place to eat and be seen during the Republican National Convention if you were a CEO, politician, celebrity journalist or movie star, but a challenging place to work if you were a waiter.

"I cannot express to you in words the amount of labor that we had to do make this happen," waiter Samantha Fenwick said of the long days, late nights, bigger-than-expected crowds and nonstop pace of the job. "Everybody's a VIP, and everybody expects to be treated like a president of a company, and they mostly are presidents of companies — or anchors or political heavy hitters."

But one thing that helped keep the waiters going was the promise of a gratuity payment once the convention was done.

"CNN will tip all staff at the end of the event if you complete your schedule," said an email sent before the convention by an executive with Amerivents, the New York-based event staffing agency that recruited Fenwick and others to wait tables at the Grill.

On Thursday, after weeks of calls to three different companies, waiters began to hear by email what to expect in the way of a post-event check. In Fenwick's case, it was $329 for about 60 hours of work.

"Unbelievable," said Fenwick, who said 16 people were trading comments about working at the Grill on a Facebook discussion group. "There's a lot of anger right now."

The waiters said the lack of communication was unprofessional and complained the checks are chintzy compared to the money that CNN put into the Grill, a bistro with a TV studio at one end and an open bar at the other.

It was just steps away from the Tampa Bay Times Forum, and with its dark polished wood and glass accents, it looked nothing like the ground floor of a parking garage, which, in fact, it was. The menu featured burgers, salads, grouper, tacos and pork sliders, plus milk shakes, local craft beer and booze — all free.

"Really insulting," said Jaime Estes, 35, of Tampa, who was told to expect a post-convention check of $354 for 57 hours of work. "It's unprofessional how long it's taken to get answers from anybody. … I don't feel like we were compensated in a timely, professional manner."

Fenwick, 31, of Tampa said "we were all expecting at least $800 to $1,000. Some were thinking closer to $2,000, but I tend to think in worst-case scenarios, which for me would have been $500."

The post-event checks come in addition to a $10-per-hour wage, with time and a half for overtime, plus nightly tips. But Fenwick said management told the staff to discourage patrons from tipping and pooled and distributed the tips at the end of each night. Estes estimated she turned in $800 in tips for the week but received less than $200 back. Fenwick said the nightly tips she received ranged from $30 to $50.

Executives from Amerivents and Civic Entertainment Group, a New York company known as CEG that ran the Grill, did not respond to calls or emails requesting comment.

CNN did, saying it provided a post-event bonus to show its gratitude.

"CEG has assured us they honored every financial commitment made and that there was always a plan for an additional bonus, which has already been sent and should be received by the Grill staff shortly," the network said in a statement. "We appreciated their hard work."

CNN also said the Grill staff signed a contract agreeing to a flat rate, which was a catering wage. The Grill was not a restaurant open to the public, but an invitation-only event space.

As for the nightly tips, "it is CNN's understanding that the staffing vendor chose to pool those gratuities and pay them out to the staff accordingly," the network said. "CNN was not responsible for handling the collection or payout of any on-site gratuities."

While the city of Tampa owns the South Regional Parking Garage where the Grill was set up, the city had nothing to do with its operation. The city normally has an agreement with the Tampa Bay Lightning regarding the use of that part of the garage, according to city spokeswoman Ali Glisson. Under its agreement with the Tampa Bay Host Committee, the city agreed to let the Lightning allow the convention to use that part of the garage.

After the convention, about 40 cafe tables and 30 lights from the Grill were donated to the city. The tables are being refinished to handle high traffic and will be used at three community centers and one art studio. The lights need some electrical work, but they are expected to be installed at the city's four art studios by the holidays.

Richard Danielson can be reached at danielson@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3403.

CNN Grill waiters complain of unprofessional treatment after RNC 10/26/12 [Last modified: Friday, October 26, 2012 11:51pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Heights Public Market to host two Tampa Bay food trucks

    Business

    TAMPA — The Heights Public Market announced the first two food trucks for its "rotating stall," which will feature new restaurants every four months. Surf and Turf and Empamamas will be rolled out first.

    Heights Public Market is opening this summer inside the Tampa Armature Works building.
[SKIP O'ROURKE   |   Times file photo]

  2. Mariners lose lefty Drew Smyly to Tommy John surgery

    Ml

    SEATTLE — Drew Smyly was the centerpiece to one of Seattle's many offseason moves by general manager Jerry Dipoto. He was a priority acquisition as a proven lefty for the rotation the Mariners believed would thrive pitching at Safeco Field.

    Drew Smyly will undergo Tommy John surgery after being diagnosed with a torn ulnar collateral ligament. Seattle announced the diagnosis on Wednesday, ending Smyly's hopes of returning during the 2017 season. [AP photo]
  3. Author Randy Wayne White could open St. Pete's biggest restaurant on the pier

    Food & Dining

    ST. PETERSBURG — The story begins with Yucatan shrimp.

    St. Petersburg Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin, pilot Mark Futch, Boca Grande, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, and author and businessman Randy Wayne White,  Sanibel, exit a Maule Super Rocket seaplane after taking a fight around Tampa Bay off the St. Petersburg waterfront, 6/28/17.  White and his business partners are in negotiations with the City of St. Petersburg to build a fourth Doc Ford's Rum Bar & Grille on the approach to the St. Petersburg Pier with a second event space on the pier according to White. The group met near Spa Beach after a ground breaking ceremony for the new pier. "We want to have our business open by the time the pier opens," said White. Other Dr. Ford restaurants are located on Sanibel, Captiva and Ft. Myers Beach. SCOTT KEELER   |   Times
  4. Busted: How a Times photographer captured Donald Trump's fake news

    Blogs

    Tampa Bay Times photojournalist Scott Keeler was on assignment last summer for a story about Donald Trump’s presence in Palm Beach, a tale of glamour and conflict. Along the way he inadvertently captured evidence of a …

    Near the main entrance at Mar-a-Lago, the fake Time magazine cover is on display in July 2016.
  5. Jones: Steve Yzerman's plan for getting the Lightning back into the playoffs

    Lightning Strikes

    BRANDON — Seems like forever since the Lightning played a hockey game.

    If the Lightning season started right now, would Steve Yzerman be happy with what he has? "We're still a couple of players short,'' Yzerman said.. [DIRK SHADD   |   Times]