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Job Descriptions: The Casual Dining Server

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Snap judgments about the bearer of Boneless Buffalo Wings.

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On Tuesday, Darden Restaurants (DRI), which owns Olive Garden, preempted a disappointing quarterly report and forecasted an earnings miss. It also cut its full-year guidance, citing -- what else? -- an economy in decline and a consumer no longer in denial.

That's right. If we're prepared to forego the Tour of Italy -- a sacrifice that comes at great cost to our consumption-centric lifestyle -- this has got to be a recession.

No Boneless Buffalo Wings? Be afraid, pal. Be very afraid. The minute we start denying ourselves deep fried anything is the minute we know: Houston's, we've got a problem.

Ditto Ruby Tuesday (RT). Having seen its stock price tumble a disappointing 32.7% year-to-date, the chain attempted to reboot its brand image with an ill-advised "viral" spot.

Just weeks before, Bennigan's, which isn't publicly traded and isn't very good, filed for bankruptcy and began the painful process of cutting jobs and closing doors. The chain was founded in 1976.

Because of their direct contact with consumers, these businesses are often called consumer-facing - but nobody has more direct contact with the consumer than the servers who work there.

Brand ambassadors balancing trays for modest wages, they're the ones who have to put up with the smartass customer who feigns an Australian accent while placing his order at Outback, or the birthday party that attempts to bankrupt Chili's (EAT) by pushing its free refill policy to its outer limits.

So, next time 30 minute elapses between your entrees hitting the table and that magical moment when you're asked if "you're still working," find it in your heart to forgive - and double the tax to arrive at a generous tip. Tyler/Zack/Brett/Ryan or whatever his name is with the frosted tips will thank you.
No positions in stocks mentioned.

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