When was the last time you went to a restaurant and were happy enough about the experience to leave the obligatory 15% tip? What percentage of the blame for anything that went wrong could be placed on your server’s shoulders? Probably, not much. And if you really think about it, how much of it belonged to you? Did you come into the restaurant in a bad mood, then blame the server for everything? Was it the food that was bad? Did you only consider the performance of the server when determining the tip?
Pretend you’re a food server. Let’s go through a typical day:
Your shift starts at 4:00pm. You are required to be there at 3:45pm, but are not paid until your scheduled time. During that pre-shift 15 minutes, you are required to bus your tables since the bussers don’t start until 5pm. The lunch servers didn’t bus the tables before they went home, leaving that job to you. Once your shift begins, you clock in to get a colossal $2.13 per hour. Your employer assumes that you will get tips and makes certain that you will not make more than minimum wage by paying you what amounts to slave wages.
The manager seats a table in your section and doesn’t notify you. You are in the walk-in getting lemons to cut for drink garnishes. So you don’t realize they’re there. By the time you see them, they’ve been there 5 minutes. You rush to the table. They’re already angry, because five minutes is too long to wait for a someone to take yuor drink order. You take drink orders, which include special requests for lime instead of lemon in the water, and no ice in the iced tea. You work in a Mexican restaurant, so the customers get chips and salsa but they haven’t been given any. You run to get everything, knowing already that there is very little hope of getting a tip, but since you live on them, you do your best to make the customers happy.
You place the orders for the four dinners and corresponding drinks. One of the other servers thinks you are their personal servant because they have seniority and wants you to deliver their drinks for them even though you don’t have the time. In addition, the restaurant has implemented a new computer program and the abbreviations don’t make any sense. You get three of the orders right and one wrong.
You deliver the drinks, chips and salsa, only to be told that the water tastes like fish. This is odd since there is no fish on the menu. You take it away to get more while the hostess seats two more tables in your section. They are supposed to rotate so that no one gets overwhelmed and so that the customers aren’t neglected but the hostess is too busy flirting with the bartender to remember who was next. One of the new tables is a group of four very beautiful young women. You are yelled at in the kitchen because one of the male servers has a standing order with the hostess that ALL beautiful single women are to be seated in HIS section. You deliver the new glass of water.
You get the food and drink orders from the new tables. One wants a special version of one of the dishes, which means that you have to type in the instructions to the kitchen. After you place the orders, you check on the first table’s entrees. One of them is wrong. Two of the three cooks are talking on their wireless headsets. The other is listening to very loud music on headphones. None of them hear you when you tell them you need a rush on the replacement meal. You have to bang on the stainless steel counter to get their attention. They are pissed that they have to re-do it. You take the other three plates out, explain that the other dish will be right out and go to the bar for your drink orders. They have seated a fourth table for you.
The drinks are served and the replacement meal is ready, which you serve immediately. The customer asks for ranch dressing, honey mustard and ketchup, plus a dish of tomatoes. You go back to the kitchen. Your other orders are not only not ready but the expediter keeps moving your ticket back on the table three because the cooks have no idea how to make what you ordered even though you wrote out detailed instructions. You take out the orders for the second table plus the extra condiments for table one and tell table three you’ll be right back with their order. You take orders from table 4. They are friends of the manager. They want to see her.
You go to the kitchen, tell the manager she has visitors at your table. Table three’s orders are still not ready. You ask the cook what the deal is, they get pissed and move your order back. You deliver the drinks for table 4. Table one wants to order dessert. But they want to talk to a manager about the fact that they had to wait so long. You stop at table 4 where your manager is flirting with her friends and tell her table one would like to see her. She comes to the kitchen a few minutes later to say we are comping the desserts for table one. You ask her to find out about table three’s order. She really doesn’t care because her friends are waiting. It takes another 15 minutes before the order is ready, but they’ve burned it. It has to be re-made. You get the manager to talk to the customers, she comps their meals. Table one gets their check and leaves a 3% tip. Table two leaves a 10% tip, table three leaves no tip and a note that blames you for the bad food.
Table four gets their meal for free, because your manager never charges her friends to eat there, but leaves you ten dollars.
This repeats itself 3-4 times per night. You are ‘cut’ at 8:15pm. You are forced to do ‘side-work’ at the same rate of pay after your serving shift. For an hour, you roll silverware into napkins, refill salt and pepper and clean trays. You’ve just made $10.84 in salary for the shift. You made a total of $38 in tips. Since you sold $53 in alcoholic drinks, you owe the bartender $5.30 in tips. But everyone knows you have to round up. You are told every day that if you don’t tip the bartender, your drinks will be made last or not at all. So you tip $6. There were 5 bussers on during the shift. You are required to tip at least $1 for each busser. Since there were 16 servers on the floor tonight, the bussers are making $16 in tips each plus they are being paid minimum wage. You are leaving with $27 in tips. You are then required to claim your tips when you clock out. You MUST claim 10% of your total sales for the night. You sold $280.97. You have to claim with the IRS that you made $28, but you’re going home with $27.
Overall, for a 5 hour and fifteen minute shift you made $37.84 in salary and tips. This works out to $7.20an hour. You get yelled at daily, you are blamed for bad food that you didn’t cook and you are exhausted and stinky by the end of the night. If you’re lucky, one table each night will leave you a 15% tip. $38 a shift, 5 shifts a week, means that you are supporting yourself on a job that makes $760 per month. Before taxes. Not to mention that you don’t get insurance or paid vacation. You aren’t even given a shift meal.
Not all restaurants are like the one described above, some pay minimum wage plus tips. Some give you a shift meal and even a shift drink. But, sadly, there are more of the bad than the good. Once you’ve been a food server, you never again consider NOT leaving a tip. That is tantamount to cruelty. Plus it is very bad manners. Hopefully, now that you’ve read this, you won’t leave a restaurant after stiffing your server, even if you haven’t ever served food yourself.