Be nice to your waitress (or waiter)

“We were blessed this year, the church came by and gave us a full Christmas dinner,” she told me as I paid for our traditional Saturday morning breakfast.

She works full time at a local restaurant. That conversation and my own experience are what’s behind this post. Waitresses/waiters deserve more credit.

The restaurant business helped me get through college. The money is decent (if you make good tips) for a part-time gig, and there is real satisfaction at the end of the night. You served people food, you’ve done your last rollup, and if you are lucky, the crew you work with are like family. It’s nice to sit down at the end of the night together and hang out.

But the work is very physical, and people are not always nice. I get a little frustrated when I hear people say stuff like “I tip for service, not just because people are doing a job they are paid to do.”

When I waited tables, I made $2.13 cents an hour. On a slow lunch shift, I’d work 6 hours and walk out with $20. That’s about $6/hour salary and tips combined.

Not a lot of cash. And, yes you have to declare your tips to the IRS. I wrote them down at the end of every shift on the back of my timecard.

From the little bit of research I’ve done, many folks are still paid at the $2.13/hour rate. Some pay more, but that hourly rate is never the prevailing minimum wage. Tips are supposed to make up the difference.

Another trick I’ve heard about is the required host/hostess shift at some local places. Say you wait tables for 4 6-hour shifts, and make decent money – say $12/hour on average. I’ve been told that folks will then come back in for a hostess shift with no pay. Because the restaurant can then say you worked 7 shifts and earned at least the minimum wage.

So, even if you are really good, you’re still taking a hit.

A bit of honesty here. I did o.k. in the restaurant business, because I worked hard to be good at what I did. The restaurant business suits my high-energy, attention-challenged personality. I loved suggesting food and wine pairings and describing the specials. I learned how to balance big oval trays with 50 pounds of food on them over my head. I loved learning about food and flavors. I was fast and efficient at the business and it paid off.

But, I made decent money because I got good enough to not have to work at a pancake place. I had a car, so I could choose where to work. And, I was in college, which meant I was (hopefully) reasonably articulate.

Sometimes, I miss the business. I’ve enjoyed all my professional positions for different reasons. But the camaraderie and satisfaction I got from slogging with my mates to serve people food are unlike anything I’ve experienced since.

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