10 Reasons Why Serving Is Not Like Your Job

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Let's hope he isn't working while sick.

After 15 years in the restaurant industry, I can still be surprised at how little some people know about how the industry works.  Restaurants operate in a manner far different than most businesses in the United States.  While most Americans are familiar with restaurants from dining out, very few are aware of the working conditions endured by the average restaurant server.  This lack of knowledge is made worse by the fact that the customer who is unaware of this information determines the wage of servers.  This is why a brief refresher on life as server is worth reviewing for those who dine out.

Here are ten ways serving differs from most occupations:

Minimum Wage: In most states restaurant companies are not required to pay servers the minimum wage.  The federal minimum wage for servers is set at $2.13 an hour.  Only four states require the employer pay at least the federal minimum wage of $7.25. In the other states, restaurant companies are allowed to apply the tips received by servers to count towards their minimum wage obligation.

Sick Days: Most companies provide their employees with a limited amount paid time off for illness.  A recent survey showed that 87.7% of restaurant employees received no paid time off for sick days.  As a result 63% reported cooking or serving food while ill.  This not only jeopardizes the health of their co-workers, but also their guests.

Health Insurance: The low of wages on paychecks combined with the lack of availability leads to many restaurant employees remaining uninsured.  Nearly 90% of all hourly restaurant employees lack health insurance.

Breaks: In many states there are no laws requiring breaks for servers working longer shifts.  In states with these laws, they are nearly always ignored.  It is not uncommon for a server to work eight hours plus on their feet without a break to rest or eat.

Scheduling: Most server’s schedules change from week to week with only a few days advance notice.  Weekends in restaurant require more staff than weekdays to match the dining habits of the general public.  This also tends to mean that servers miss a great number of their family celebrations in order to serve your family’s celebrations.

Staffing Levels: On slower nights, servers that were scheduled to work are often told not to come to work with very little notice.  The level of business determines how long servers will work.  This means that a week with six shifts scheduled can easily turn into only two or three shifts.  Likewise a shift that is scheduled for four hours can become two hours or six hours with no notice.

Workplace Dangers: Restaurant employees routinely work with sharp knives, hot stoves, and wet floors.  A significant number of injuries occur.  When an injury results in loss of work, all income ceases.

Co-workers: As a server, you are responsible in part for several other employee’s income.  A portion of the tips servers receive from guests is paid to the person who makes your drinks, brings out your food, and clears your table after you leave.  Paying all of these people can often take 30% or more of a server’s tips.

Human Resources: In most corporations issues can be reported to human resources.  In restaurants you supervisor also serves as the human resources department.  This creates an inherent conflict of interest.  Some larger companies have human resources departments, but they are spread so thin that complaints generally are referred back to restaurant level management to address.

Customers Determine Income: Servers are placed in the often-unenviable position of having their wage determined by the customer.  This means that any displeasure, whether the server’s fault or not, can be most easily expressed by reducing the tip for the server.  Servers are often placed between the desires of the guest and the demands of their employer.  No other customer service position is compensated in this way.

There are over two million servers in the United States.  Over 1% of the total workforce in America is comprised of servers.  Servers are not provided with many of the benefits most workers take for granted.  When you dine at a restaurant you directly impact a server’s livelihood.  Please keep this in mind next time you choose to dine out.

Tips2: Tips For Improving Your Tips is the new book from the author of The Hospitality Formula Network.  It contains the 52 essential skills of the exceptional server.  This book teaches the philosophy to turn average service into an exceptional guest experience that will rapidly increase your tips.  This book shows how you can provide better customer service and dramatically improve your tips.  Enter the coupon code “squared” to receive 20% off your copy today.

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20 Responses to 10 Reasons Why Serving Is Not Like Your Job

  1. SKC Observer October 5, 2010 at 8:50 pm #

    I have tried to explain to people why I just about always tip at least 15%, even if the service was not great. I just refuse to be a part of people not making a living wage for their labors. It seems to me to be the right thing to do.

  2. SKC Observer October 5, 2010 at 8:50 pm #

    I have tried to explain to people why I just about always tip at least 15%, even if the service was not great. I just refuse to be a part of people not making a living wage for their labors. It seems to me to be the right thing to do.

  3. yellowcat October 6, 2010 at 1:08 am #

    Bravo!

    One of the things that irritates me the most about being a server is that my income is based on the customer’s perception. We have an open kitchen, but somehow they think I am responsible for the quality, quantity and speediness of their food. Every time I have to decline a customer’s wishes (sharing the salad bar, free upgrades, beer and (cheap) wine only) I watch them deducting dollars from my tip. Many of the things I have to deny are things my employeer either does not stock or does not give away, yet I’m the bad guy and I pay for it.

  4. yellowcat October 6, 2010 at 1:08 am #

    Bravo!

    One of the things that irritates me the most about being a server is that my income is based on the customer’s perception. We have an open kitchen, but somehow they think I am responsible for the quality, quantity and speediness of their food. Every time I have to decline a customer’s wishes (sharing the salad bar, free upgrades, beer and (cheap) wine only) I watch them deducting dollars from my tip. Many of the things I have to deny are things my employeer either does not stock or does not give away, yet I’m the bad guy and I pay for it.

  5. Hira Animfefte October 6, 2010 at 1:47 pm #

    I always tip at least 20%. More if I can. Because it’s the right thing to do. And at any rate, 20% is normative in the area where I live (Washington, DC area)–which stands to reason, we have a godawful cost of living here.

  6. Hira Animfefte October 6, 2010 at 1:47 pm #

    I always tip at least 20%. More if I can. Because it’s the right thing to do. And at any rate, 20% is normative in the area where I live (Washington, DC area)–which stands to reason, we have a godawful cost of living here.

  7. Emily October 6, 2010 at 2:06 pm #

    Unionize restaurants!

  8. Emily October 6, 2010 at 2:06 pm #

    Unionize restaurants!

  9. teleburst October 6, 2010 at 3:27 pm #

    Here was my typically over-verbose take on this subject back in April:

    http://teleburst.wordpress.com/2010/04/17/why-waiting-tables-isnt-like-your-job/

  10. teleburst October 6, 2010 at 3:27 pm #

    Here was my typically over-verbose take on this subject back in April:

    http://teleburst.wordpress.com/2010/04/17/why-waiting-tables-isnt-like-your-job/

  11. theinsidewaiter October 7, 2010 at 12:53 am #

    Front of House staff is expected work even if you are truly ill. When you call in “sick” it’s like you better be using your high-deductible insurance that day, or your not REALLY sick.

    I once called a manager from the ER and informed him that I wasn’t coming in that evening, that I had a serious condition, and that more labs had to be run. He asked when I expected to be coming back, or if I could make the brunch the following morning. I simply stated, “well, the doctor is coming now… let me ask him.”

    • tipsfortips October 7, 2010 at 3:32 pm #

      I once got bit on the knee by a brown recluse spider. Within hours it was swollen to the point I couldn’t bend it to drive and had to have a friend take me to work. When I got there I showed it to my boss. She said, “you should really go to the emergency room and have that checked out… After the shift.”

      It really is a different world in the restaurant business.

  12. theinsidewaiter October 7, 2010 at 12:53 am #

    Front of House staff is expected work even if you are truly ill. When you call in “sick” it’s like you better be using your high-deductible insurance that day, or your not REALLY sick.

    I once called a manager from the ER and informed him that I wasn’t coming in that evening, that I had a serious condition, and that more labs had to be run. He asked when I expected to be coming back, or if I could make the brunch the following morning. I simply stated, “well, the doctor is coming now… let me ask him.”

    • tipsfortips October 7, 2010 at 3:32 pm #

      I once got bit on the knee by a brown recluse spider. Within hours it was swollen to the point I couldn’t bend it to drive and had to have a friend take me to work. When I got there I showed it to my boss. She said, “you should really go to the emergency room and have that checked out… After the shift.”

      It really is a different world in the restaurant business.

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