My summer, thus far, like most other students my age, has been consumed by a part time job. I began working at Jersey Mike’s Subs in early June. I had not heard of the franchise until one was opening in my small town of Ridgefield, Connecticut. I learned that this is a growing chain of restaurants just now expanding along the east coast. After applying online I went through the interview process and was hired a week later.
Like any job, there is a training and orientation, but I missed all of this as I was away on vacation. I had to learn the ropes as I went along. My first day on the job we were sent out on a “grassroots” campaign, handing out free sub coupons to local businesses, hoping to make our first week a success. Opening day came and due to my lack to training I was told to be “the hostess with the mostess”, in other words, smile and hand out menus. As the days went by I picked up new tasks, cleaning the lobby, prepping lettuce, answering phones, etc. I graduated to more important tasks such as working the register and baking bread. After asking every employee and manager individually I soon learned how to operate successfully as a Jersey Mike’s employee.
This job, like many others, exhibits characteristics of sociology such as culture, power, and social structure. Culture, as defined by the textbook Experience Sociology by David Croteau and William Hoynes, is the collection of values, beliefs, knowledge, norms, language, behavior, and material objects shared by a people and socially transmitted from generation to generation. Jersey Mike’s has a specific culture within its workplace. The uniforms come to mind as material culture, physical objects produced by people of that culture (Croteau 59). We are required to wear khaki pants, nonslip shoes and are provided with a polo, hat, and apron all embellished with the company’s logo and colors. We are not permitted to wear jewelry besides a single stud earring and we must keep our hair pulled back and kept. Not only do these rules make us appear more professional but are in place for safety reasons. Unruly hair and dangling jewelry could be caught or set on fire in a restaurant.
Cultural knowledge is a range of information, awareness and understanding that helps us navigate our world (Croteau 64). Jersey Mike’s has a knowledge and specific skills that are taught to you during training and learnt throughout your time there. You must learn the menu in order to make the sandwiches, communicate with the customers, and complete a transaction successfully. Learning to interact with the customers is also key, we are told to always smile and be overly friendly. There is certain technology and equipments we must use, certain places where things are kept, how and when to do things etc. The most significant cultural item at Jersey Mike’s would be “Mike’s Way”. Mike’s Way includes onions, lettuce, tomatoes, vinegar, oil, and spices, in that order. It is their guaranteed way to top the sandwiches and we preach it to the customers each time they order a cold sub. Employees learn the history of the business and the inside is decorated a Jersey Shore-like appearance. Surfboards and pictures of the beach don the walls.
Norms are rules, expectations and appropriate behavior, this job, of course, has many of those. Addressing customers in a respectful and friendly manner is one way. There are many other ways you go about the workforce that is ingrained in us. Respecting and listening to your boss, coming in on time, wearing the uniform, receiving pay on a certain date, these are just a few examples of the norms in the workplace. My job has its own norms. You come in on time for your shift after being emailed a different schedule each week, you clock in on the register and make your way to your appropriate station. In the beginning I would wait until I was told to do something but now I know what needs to be done and when. I clock in and go straight to the register and ring up a customer.
The customers have their own norms. During my first week of the job, three women came into the store and two went into line while one decided to save a seat. Our store is very small so with a lot of people in line and sitting it can be cramped. The woman then decided to join her friends in line, but in order to save her the table she propped up the chairs on an angle. A family of four came over to the table not knowing what this women had done and proceeded to sit on the table. This caused the woman to be very angry saying things such as “that’s not right” when she realized what had happened. She then turned to me to solve the problem which I couldn’t do much. The customers feuded about a simple problem of seating. The woman set the chairs up thinking that she could save her seat but the accepted norm would be to be at the table in order for her to claim the seating. The same situation applies in movie theaters. Other movie-goers get frustrated when someone is saving several seats and they have no where else to sit. Some people accept that saving seats is an official practice while others disregard the idea.
Equal to having a culture, there is a social structure throughout Jersey Mike’s. Each person has a status, I am an hourly employee, my bosses are the managers and the owners, and the people I serve are the customers. All of these are achieved statuses rather than ascribed ones. Each status comes with a role. The customer comes in and the employee greets them and takes their order, the manager watches over this and sometimes partakes in the process. The customer completes the transaction with the cashier giving them money for their goods and services. We all learn our roles overtime, the regular customers come in and order their meals quickly and efficiently and the employees get things done faster than before. There is also an organizational structure, the rules and routines within the job. I have discussed many of these before but some of the routines would be opening and closing. I have only closed once but there is an entire long checklist to complete. It may seem simple to make a sandwich and one might think that that is something everyone knows how but there are specific ways to do it that the job has. When “sprinkling” or placing toppings on the subs, you place three tomatoes on the regular size subs and five on the giant, two layers of lettuce, two lines of vinegar, and three lines of oil. There is even a certain way to grab the bottles and switch hands as you do it. In order to survive a day in the job you must know their way of doing things.
The statuses and structure also brings about the idea of power in Jersey Mike’s. The relationship of boss to employee is the most obvious example. Power is defined as the ability to bring about an intended outcome, even when opposed by others (Croteau 111). The managers have power over their employees, they must listen to them even if they don’t like it, because it would cost them their job if they didn’t. This is a more official example of domination as the consequences are greater than just a parent grounding a child for disobeying. Employees do not have power over their co-workers and must use persuasion to get them to do something they desire. If one worker wants to have another cover their shift for them they must offer something in exchange, such as guaranteeing that they will cover them in the future. The bosses also use rewards to encourage compliance. If you do your job well and correctly then you get to keep it and you get payed well. It is as simple as that and doesn’t take much to keep the structure in working order. This would be referred to as “legitimate power” because the role of boss to employee is voluntarily accepted and not forced. Additionally, they have coercive power, the power to punish. Employees then use referent power, or a respect for once another. All of these are power tactics that people use to influence others. As much as I may be annoyed by the bosses and managers, if I want to keep my job I must listen to what they say.
That is how culture, structure, and power specifically influence my life. These ideas can be applied anywhere if you begin to analyze deeply enough. A part time summer job that is run mostly by students is a place that many people know about and how to be successful. You do not realize that every time you go into work and you interact with the customers and other workers you are participating in a these sociological concepts. The culture at a job leads to other relationships with coworkers and friendships that grow in that environment. You bond over the hatred of the management or the stupidity of the simple tasks. You gain a certain status and the roles that come with it when you are hired, vowing to complete those roles accordingly in exchange for pay and employment. Without these statuses and roles the structure of the workplace would fall apart. And the power that these statuses come with depends on which one you have obtained, the owner has power over everyone and the managers have power over hourly the employees. The hourly employees obey their authority figures and conform to the status quo.
My last three weeks at Jersey Mike’s lie ahead and I will view my shifts differently, observing the sociological aspects of each day. I know what to say and when and who is available during my shifts. Slowly but surely I am learning how to work without constant guidance. Of course there is always something new to learn, even the managers know this. They must see how the locals react and what makes their store successful. They may follow a recipe sent down from corporate but each store is different, every town has their ways of doing things so they must figure out what culture, social structure, and power works for them.
Logo of Jersey Mike’s. Digital image. Jersey Mike’s. N.p., 11 Apr. 2014. Web. 15 July 2014.
Sandwich with meats. Digital image. Jersey Mike’s. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 July 2014.
Croteau, David, and William Hoynes. Experience Sociology. New York: McGraw-Hill Higher Education, 2013. Print.