The Waitressing Chronicles: Wherein Dani does not refill your soda 20 times just because she thinks it’s SO MUCH FUN.
Tonight was one of the worst kinds of nights you can have in the restaurant industry. It was a pretty busy Saturday night, the kitchen was running smoothly, my coworkers and I were coexisting peacefully, and 99% of my tables were awesome, and I really had fun serving them. (Yes, I did say ‘worst’. I’m getting to that part, hold on….).
Some of them were a little needy, but after you’ve served for a few years, you start developing a sort of spidy-sense about which guests are going to require 30 diet coke refills, 5 servings of chips and salsa and roughly 2 gallons of ranch before they even crack there menus open (seriously…I think some people have such an addiction to ranch, that if it isn’t constantly on their table, regardless of the presence of any other actual food, they start to develop anxiety. Some people need to carry around EPI pens in case of emergency….I carry around ranch dressing. You’re welcome), so I was prepared. Even my needy tables didn’t rattle me too much this evening.
Generally speaking, all of the components necessary for a pretty kick-ass shift were present and accounted for.
And then my tables started cashing out. 10%tip, 5% tip, no tip, no tip, 10%….20%, FINALLY! Oh…wait…they didn’t do their math correctly, that’s actually only a $2 tip. Wonderful.
My enthusiasm for my job and my shift plummeted rapidly and I was ready to stuff my hot towel in my apron and go home faster than the cheapskate at table 7 could say “Keep the Change” as he handed me $40 for his $38.64 tab.
Some people just genuinely don’t know any better, and I recognize that. Sometimes I’m a little off my game, and I fully own up to that as well. But tonight was not one of those nights. I was on point…and I’m good at what I do.
So let me deviate a little bit from my normal Chronicling to give something of a PSA on behalf of waitstaff everywhere.
80% of servers make under minimum wage. This is a fact. A miserable, lamentable fact. The hourly wages that our employers provide are essentially just so that the government has something to take as far as immediate taxes on our tip money, and we don’t get slammed with having to pay it all back at once in April. Our “paychecks”, therefore, are usually somewhere in the neighborhood of $30. If that. It’s a pretty crummy system, and believe me when I say that we’d probably rather be making a steady and reliable hourly wage instead of depending on tips, but unfortunately that’s not the society we live in.
So. Your tip. How much do you tip, and who gets it?
A lot of that depends on the restaurant you’re in. Look around you. Do you see hosts and hostesses? Is there a bartender? A busser? If any/all of these people are present, rest assured that your server does not get to keep all of their tips.
We “tip out” to all of the other support staff (busser, host, QA expo, bartender, etc.) at the end of every shift. The amount of money we tip out to these staff is determined, not by how much money we make, but by how much we’ve sold. For example, at Chilis, I tip out 3% of my total sales at the end of the night. (So if I sold $100 worth of food and drinks, my tip out would be $3. Last night, I had $1100 in sales, and had to leave behind $33).
What does this mean? This means, that if you don’t leave a tip, or only leave $1 or $2 (assuming your total tab wasn’t $10.) your server actually loses money on your table. We still have to pay taxes and tip out based on the amount of food YOU ordered, not to mention that you sat there, and took up one of my tables for 2 hours, which I could easily have flipped twice in that time had you not felt the need to camp out and then leave me $2 (I’M TALKING TO YOU, TABLE 36.)
It pretty much boils down to this: a 10% tip is the bare minimum. It means mediocre service, and relates a relatively neutral - bordering on negative message to your server about how they did their job. 15% indicates that you’re content and happy, and your server was proficient at taking care of you. 20% is excellent. Excellent food, excellent service, excellent everything. That’s how we read your tips.
Also, you can basically write whatever you want in the tip line. If your total bill was $45.67, and you write in a $5,000 tip, and then write “$45.67” on the total line, and sign it…..guess how much I’m authorized to charge your card for? That’s right. $45.67. So please (PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE) double check your math when you’re totaling out your bill. I lost no less than $27 in tips last night simply because people couldn’t Math correctly. Perhaps ranch dressing in excess has an adverse affect on people’s ability to do basic arithmetic. Or perhaps it’s a complication of margarita-induced brain freezes. Either way. It sucks. Please don’t suck.
Tipping is not optional, and it is not a privilege for the server. Back in the day, it probably was, but unfortunately, that’s no longer the case. When you sit down at a restaurant there is an unspoken understanding between you and your server. It’s their responsibility to make sure you have a stellar, enjoyable and relaxing meal, and it’s your responsibility to make sure they can afford to pay their rent. And before you start in on me (because I can hear the rumbling of offended restaurant goers from here, like distant thunder…calm yourselves, beasts!) about how entitled you are to not-tip, let me tell you now, honey child, I’ve heard every retort in the book.
"Your restaurant should pay you better, that’s not my fault" - Well. Yes. I agree. But they don’t. So it sucks for both of us. But until it’s announced that tipping is no longer needed in the service industry, the burden of determining my “paycheck”falls on you Trust me, I’m not happy about it either.
"You should just be happy that I left anything at all." - If your tip was in addition to the $10/hr my restaurant was paying me, you bet your left shoe I’d be happy for any little bit you wanted to throw my way. But they don’t. And I know you know that, faithful restaurant eater. So when you walk out, leaving me $3 after having waited on your family of 6’s $130 meal, I’m going to interpret that as a direct and intentional personal insult. You may have thought you were coming out on top by not leaving the appropriate $13-$26 that your bill merited, but really now you’re just a dick. And I can promise you that every server who was working that night will know about it. Good luck getting chipper service next time you try to come to our restaurant. We remember.
"Tips are dependent upon how well you do. That’s what TIPS means. ‘To Insure Proper Service." - I almost don’t even want to respond to this one, but unfortunately it’s a very popular notion. First off, lemme just lay it out there that if you believe this, you’re a dumbass. For multiple reasons. If that acronym was in fact true, they would be called “teps” (to…ENSURE….proper service. English, for the win!) and you would give them to be at the beginning on the meal. Because that’s what “to ensure proper service” implies. How comfortable would you be if you had to tip your server at the beginning of the meal, knowing full well that you had to sit there for the next 45 - 60 minutes facing the person you just handed $2 as you ask for 3 more sides of Barbeque sauce, a 5th coke and some ranch.(Just because of reasons. Everyone needs ranch. ) You’d probably be a little uncomfortable, wouldn’t you? You’d probably shell out a lot more were that the case, wouldn’t you? How great is it for you that you get to demand special ordered food and request exactly 45 napkins one at a time from your server and then immediately slip away into the night after leaving your server $1.63. You’re such a champ, a real stand-up type of person. I hope your kids leave legos in the hallway tonight, and you step on three of them as you stumble to the bathroom at 3am.
"Why don’t you just get a real job. You’re choosing this lifestyle" - Whoa buddy, whoa. Did you really just say that to me? Let’s rewind this a little bit. I’m on my feet, running, squatting, lifting trays, clearing dishes, entertaining table after table, pretending to love being regaled by the intricacies of your oh-so-fascinating life and reassuring you that your baby IS the most adorable baby I’ve ever seen for 6-10 hours a day. Usually, unless I have time to take a bathroom break (please note that I didn’t say “need” to take a bathroom break. If. I. Have. Time.) , the first time I get to sit down after walking through those doors and clocking in is when I get back in my car to go home at the end of the night. Someone please tell me how that’s not a “real” job? Or how it’s any less “real” than your 9-5 office job? I bet that desk chair does a real number on your lower back. Your office manager should really look into providing you with the lumbar support you deserve. Please, tell me more about it as I stand at your table side balancing 30lbs of dishes on one hand that you seem to be oblivious to, as you continue to complain about your cushy job.
You have a valid point though, in that I did choose this job. For me, personally, I know that waiting tables is only temporary. The tips I earn go towards food, gas, insurance, cell phone, car payments, my gym membership, student loans, text books and other basic life-needs (shampoo is expensive ommgggg). I’m also trying to save up so I can afford to move to New York after I finish my Master’s Degree. I’ve got a lot on my plate, but not nearly as much as some of the other wonderful people I work with. Take, for example, the 20 year old single mother of 2 who was in the section next to mine last night. I’m not sure if she finished high school or not, but her kids are her life now. She started waiting tables at 16 so that she could afford to buy diapers and formula every night before she went home. Waiting tables isn’t just her “get me through school” job. It’s her career. It’s how she feeds her kids. So go ahead, leave her no tip on your $120 check, table 23. I hope that pasta you inhaled gives you heartburn. And she’s not the only one. Every single server in any restaurant you eat in is at your mercy to provide for themselves and their family. That is the responsibility you sign up for when you walk into a dine-in restaurant. It is an unfortunate part of American culture.
Don’t like it? Go to a drive-through. That’s what they’re there for. Better yet….stay home. Cook for yourself.
If you can’t afford to tip, you can’t afford to eat out. I know that sounds harsh, but it’s completely true.
Thank you to those of you who are awesome. Awesome people and fun tables actually make this a pretty kickass job a lot of the time. Keep up the awesome. If you doubt your level of restaurant awesome, never fear! It’s totally something you can build up over time, kind of like distance running or heavy lifting. Baby steps. You’ll get there.