Most everyone I know has been to a restaurant to eat a meal. I have been to so many restaurants in so many cities that I can’t begin to count them all, and in all of those restaurants in all of those towns, some person has served me.
I like servers because I used to be one. In fact, before I returned to university, I waitressed for…decades. I can tell you right now that it’s good honest work. For those of you who have never been in the service industry, I can tell you from personal experience that serving is the first and central aspect of the job description, but there is much more to it. In every restaurant I worked in, the wait staff was responsible for cleaning the restaurant—this included the bathrooms—and the service areas of the kitchen. This is called “side work” and it is often a dreaded list of tasks done either at the beginning or toward the end of shift. And no one goes home until it’s done! Them’s the rules.
Needless to say, servers work hard for their money, often working weird hours, like 9:00 pm until 5:00 am…and they said there was no 9 to 5 in serving. It is to laugh…
Notably, serving is usually a minimum wage job. Always has been, and probably always will be. Wait staff rarely get raises unless they are unionized—which is rare—or have a generous boss—which, unfortunately, is also rare. Once, I asked the owner of one restaurant I worked in, why the cooks got a raise but the servers did not. His response was that the wait staff make tips. When I mentioned that each of the wait staff was required to pay the cooks 20% of their tips after every shift, he said it was not the same thing. This seems to be the attitude of many owners. In one restaurant I worked in, the two cooks made more in tips than the individual waitresses. And had a higher wage. Not the same? You’re right. Not the same at all.
So, hard work, weird hours, no raises, no benefits. No pension. I began working at one place because the lady who had my shift was retiring after 30 years of service. No parting gift, no pay out, no going away party, no pension, no nothing. There was a “thank you and goodbye” and that was when I realized I had to get out of the restaurant business. To be fair, not all restaurants are as horrendously unkind as this one was. Some are extremely good to their people. Yet serving, for the most part, is one of the most thankless jobs out there, even though servers are some of the workers in society upon whom so many depend and without whom restaurants cannot survive. Strange, isn’t? To me, they are unsung heroes…
How many times have you seen a waitress bring a pack of crackers to a fussy toddler, or mop up a customer’s spill, or listen patiently and apologetically as someone loudly criticizes food which the server had no part in cooking, or respond politely when a customer snaps their fingers at them, whistles, or shouts “hey you?”
However, the two things about serving that seems to make the job worthwhile, are the great customers and the gratuities. Wonderful customers are the backbone of any restaurant. They treat the wait staff like human beings and in return, wait staff are eager to serve them. You know what? It isn’t hard to be a wonderful customer! One simply must treat the wait staff with a modicum of respect and civility, smile if possible, say please and thank you, and if there are any complaints about the food, direct them to either the manager or the maitre d’ because your server has no control over how well your food has been prepared. Finally, and most of all, leave a tip. Yes, a tip that is 20% of the bill.
Let me explain about tipping. Now, most people I know will tip even if the service is mediocre. Let me say also, if service is well and truly bad, by all means, do not tip. That said, I know a few out there who won’t tip even if the server backflips around the restaurant at their customer’s request. A waitress friend of mine, back in the early 90s, served a birthday party for a lady’s 80th. It was a group of 25 people who arrived an hour after my friend’s shift began, and left four hours later, two hours before her shift ended. They ordered cocktails and appetizers, followed by surf and turf, with many bottles of wine. Then after, stayed for drinks and desserts. The server was run off her feet, but the people who attended the party spoke her praises to the manager. The bill came to hundreds of dollars and was being picked up by the son of the birthday girl. He left my friend a two dollar tip. Later, she was in the break room crying because, after she gave the cook his percentage, she’d made approximately a buck fifty on top of her lousy $35.00 wage. Worst of all, she kept going over and over the evening in her mind, wondering where she failed at her job, or if she forgot something, or if she got an order wrong. The truth is, she did nothing wrong. Some people just don’t tip, as bizarre as that might seem to some of us.
Here’s another thing you might not know about your gratuities. The federal government taxes servers on an additional 10% on top of their gross income, as a gratuity tax. Whether wait staff get tips or not, are forced to give a percentage of their tips away, or are forced to pool their tips with other servers, they get taxed an extra 10% on top of their taxable income. True story. Therefore, if you see a service charge on your bill, don’t complain. The fact is, lots of people don’t tip. Ever. However, servers nevertheless are taxed for the tip they did not get. That’s just the reality of serving.
Now I’ve heard the argument that servers get a wage, or could get better paying jobs, and all the other arguments given by people who are plain and simply too miserly to tip. They don’t have to, so they refuse to. And they are right—they don’t have to tip if they don’t want to. But you know what? To them, I say, if a server gives you good service, then get a crow bar and pry open your wallet, you cheapskate, and give the server a damn tip; he/she did, after all, help make your day a little nicer. So, you can be a little nicer in return.
And some people truly are nicer:
Three weeks ago in Napavine, Washington, a waitress was doing her job—the job she’d been doing at that restaurant for 20 years. She was so busy that day, she didn’t have a lot of extra time to spend chatting with customers, and when a certain couple left, it wasn’t until a few minutes later that she noticed. Their bill was $44.00. They thanked her for her service and noticed how hard she worked. They left her a $3,000.00 tip!! On the back of the cheque, they acknowledged that times were tough, and asked only that she take a bit of the tip and pay it forward somehow. Well, after she’d picked herself up off the ground from the shock, she did just that: she shared some of it with her fellow wait staff, used some of it to spoil her grandkids a bit, and then used the rest to fill up the holes in her finances. She said that the money changed her life, and she will never be able to thank the people who tipped her so extravagantly for their incredible generosity.
These days, I am a patron, not a server, in restaurants, and I would like to give a shout out and many kudos to the hard-working servers in the restaurant industry. Thank you for the refills of coffee and tea. Thank you for bringing extra water. Thank you for cleaning up all the “goo” after I leave. I appreciate you. You will always get a minimum 20% tip from me…in cash…because cash is invisible…wink, wink, nudge, nudge.
Note: Thank you to my friend, Carol M, for her assistance with my terribly inadequate French.