Recently, I’ve taken a part time job in the Food Service Industry. That’s the politically correct way to announce that I’m a servant…er…I mean…server….at a restaurant. Food service has always fascinated me. There are many dynamics to it that appeal to me – being on my feet and working hard (once I clock in I literally do not sit down – I can work a 14 hour shift and not even take a potty break! Seriously!) Also, talking with my tables and having fun entertaining them with silliness; I find it very rewarding to make people laugh – both on a personal and financial level!

I also love the hustle bustle of a busy kitchen. Everything at work has a place and everyone works hard to keep everything in it’s place. And I’ve always wondered…how DO servers manage those large trays!? When I was a waitress back in the day – you know … literally 13 yrs ago – I waited tables at Pizza Hut. We didn’t have large trays! We just had lots of pizza pans. But, after getting over my initial fear of dropping the tray (of which I have yet to do!) and learning how to balance everything – I’m getting pretty good at hauling $150 worth of food out to a table on one shoulder!

But there are cons to this “career move.” (Ha! I joke! This is NOT a career move!) Namely – it’s all in the numbers. There seems to be a general lack of understanding on the part of the patron in relation to properly tipping. Did you know that over 75% of a server’s income is based on tips? We are literally at the mercy of the general public to have some common sense and basic math skills. Poor us! It’s kind of a scary place to put ones financial stability! 🙂 Under-tipping really is a big problem. I don’t think people really MEAN to under-tip – I just don’t think people really understand the reality of food service.

Servers are not just “waiters and waitresses.” They are sales people! They are there to suggestively sell you as much food as possible. I try very hard not to use the words “drink, appetizer, entree or dessert” but instead say, “Which margarita will you be having tonight? Are you going to want me to bring out the queso or guacamole with the chips? Have you tried the steak fajitas? What about the salmon platter – it’s my favorite! Save room for the pecan pie!” If I can get a 2 seater table to order a drink, appetizer, entree and dessert – my tip should be pretty good because it SHOULD be at least 15% of the ticket price. Servers are commissioned sales people. And their commission is paid by the customer – directly to the server. It doesn’t go to the restaurant and then the restaurant pays the server 15% of the sales for the day…the tip goes straight to the server.

The base pay for servers is $2.13/hr. That’s all the restaurant has to pay their service staff. Restaurants are allowed to consider tips received as income. Some restaurants also underpay their hostesses, bus boys, bartenders and expediters – and then force the wait staff to tip out everyone who “helps” them with their tables. At my job I tip out 4% of my sales to the other members of the service staff. Not 4% of my tips….but 4% of my sales. This isn’t too bad if my tables tipped at least 15% – but on average people tip between 7 and 10%. Elderly people are the worst it seems. I don’t think they mean to be, but they think $3.00 is sufficient no matter what the bill total is!

I also have to claim 100% of my tips for income tax purposes. So, basically, the $2.13/hr base pay is eaten up in taxes. My last check, for 2 weeks worth of work, was only $35.00. After my employer deducted withholdings for paying taxes on all the tips I had already taken home and spent on bills. It is better than having to keep up with it myself though – if that were the case I’d end up with a really bad IRS auditing experience FOR SURE. 🙂

So it’s a good idea to always tip at least 15% of the bill if the service was adequate. An easy way to figure 15% is to just double the sales tax. You have absolutely no idea how much work goes into just keeping your glasses full of soda, tea, coffee and water…not to mention bar drinks. If you are ordering from the bar, you should bump your tip up to 18%. If the service was fantastic – 20 – 25% of the bill is a wonderful pat on the back for the server.

Now, onto restaurant etiquette. Avoid lingering at your table. Once you are done with your meal, please leave! Servers are given sections of the restaurant and each server has 3-5 tables they are responsible for. If they can “turn a table” every 30 minutes, they stand to make some pretty good money. But if the patron doesn’t leave after they are finished eating…and they just sit…and talk…and sit…and talk….they are costing the server money. If they are occupying a table that could be used for a new set of customers, then they are prohibiting the server from being able to earn anymore tips off that table. And it’s not easy to pick up tables in other server’s sections. If you do linger, you should double your tip!

Also a lot of times the servers are simply waiting on you to leave so they can shut down their section and go home. So if it’s slow and you think, “No big deal, my server is just standing around anyway…” it’s probably because they are waiting for you to leave!! If a server has to stand around waiting an extra hour for you to stop talking and get out of the restaurant – you are causing their hourly pay rate to drop by the minute!

Fourth: large parties! Don’t complain about the forced gratuity unless the service was just really really bad. When I work a large party, it is usually my only table. And that is the same for most servers. So if you are in a group of 8 or more – know you are probably taking up all of the servers tables/time and you need to make it worth their time. That sounds a little rude – but it’s the truth! There’s nothing more discouraging to a server than to give their 110% to a large party and end up with a measly 10% tip.

And don’t linger for hours on end when you are in a large party. Eat, enjoy your meal, enjoy some fellowship time – but don’t spend 2 hours gabbing about this and that or whatever. I used to attend some “Ladies Fellowship Night Out” dinners and we would sit for 2-3 hours visiting at a restaurant. I’m sure we were all completely unaware that the server had given up her entire section to wait on us for the whole evening and completely unaware that she was probably getting under-tipped b/c we are all just cheap like that…and completely unaware that she was waiting for us to leave so SHE could go home….it is just rude behaviour all the way around – even if we didn’t know we were breaking the unknown dining code of ethics. 🙂

Sadly all these “Ladies Nights” were church events. LOL. What bad witnesses we were being!! Oh well. Now I know better. And so I will do better! Frankly, I don’t attend such events anymore – I prefer to have my own “Girls Night Out” with my own little circle of close friends (3-4 of us is enough!). And if we linger – it’s usually at a restaurant where we don’t have a waitress and it’s open 24/7. They really don’t care if you sit on the patio for 2 hours visiting!

Lastly: cleanliness. You can always tell where a family has sat vs. where a couple has sat. It’s pathetic the mess people allow their children to make at restaurants. And I work at more of an upscale restaurant. But the children are as messy there as they were when I worked at Pizza Hut back in high school. I sure am glad we don’t serve crackers at our restaurant or we’d have to sweep after every single meal. But in general, don’t leave a huge mess behind. Or…if you do…just leave a big tip to cover the time it’s going to take the poor server to clean up your disaster. Remember – if the server has to spend 20 minutes cleaning your mess, you have just cost him or her another table and another tip.I wouldn’t have this perspective if I had never taken a job as a waitress in a busy restaurant. I always thought $5 was a “good tip”. It’s not. It’s nothing. Servers work hard. It is hard physical labor. I’ve lost 10 lbs since I started waiting tables! I’m happy about that – but it’s physically exhausting work. The trays are heavy, the dishes are heavy, it’s hot, it’s messy. But it is fun. I have always loved waiting tables. It’s not a career move, mind you, but the pay is pretty good when people tip well. I am averaging between $17 and $25/hour which really is wonderful because it allows me to only work 3-4 shifts/week.

Just remember – if you got great service, leave a great tip! If you linger, leave a really great tip! If you make a huge mess – leave a wonderful tip! And if you hit all 3 points then….triple that tip, baby!