Server vs. Servant

Hello world,
I have been a part time waitress/bartender/server/general servant for the general public at multiple restaurants throughout the last 12 years. I have kept this job, in addition to having a 9-5, for many reason including some of the following:

1. Fast (legal) CASH – nuf said

2. Great way to meet interesting people, especially if you’re new to a city. Some of my best friends are people I’ve met along this path.

3. Time passes quickly when you’re multitasking like crazy.

4. Student loans = Freddy Krueger of my financial reality – GO AWAY ALREADY! (Actually insert any one of these lovelies – if Freddy doesn’t float your boat)

5. I am a business woman who believes in great customer service, there are way too many lemons presenting themselves as servers out there.

In combination with my other jobs (which have included Teaching, PR, and Event Coordination), serving has always been there for me. After sitting and stewing on this topic for a while, my moral compass urged me to share some trade secrets that I’ve learned along my way. This is not to be a waiter rant, although I do love me some Steve Dublanica. Instead, my blogs’ intent is to be an education to non-food industry workers. More so, to bridge the uncomfortable conversation for many, “How much do I tip?” or “Why should I tip?”.

Here are some general rules of thumb and a breakdown of tipping 101 (my version):

HUMILITY –  Although I am your barkeep/server for the time being, I am a real person. Please refer to my golden rule: Treat others how you would like to be treated. I believe that Karma is a bitch that can rock your world. Michael J. Neff explains it very well here.

TIPS = COMMUNICATION– I rely on my tips as a  measure of how I perform at my job. It’s a way of communication for all of you who do not like to tell me to my face that a) You hated the American burger that you ordered at a Mexican specialty restaurant. b) You did not like that it took the 20- 30 mins to make your freshly prepared modified meal using real ingredients or c) Hey I was not as awesome as promised, too busy and I didn’t give you the attention you craved. I truly believe if you hated EVERYTHING about your particular restaurant experience, you should not have to tip. (<Period)

There are many reasons that you should tip appropriately at a restaurant (see next point), however I understand that there are some instances that do not deserve that thoughtful 15%. This being said, I know it’s hard to tell me to my face, but PLEASE let me know what you did not like, so I can change it for the next customer. I am not a mind reader.

– Tipping 101: For those of you who believe that waiters/waitresses walk out with mucho dollars, it’s sometimes true. My usual tally is about 10-13% of my net sales, which on some nights can be as low as $30 (Unless I order that amazing pasta that I need at 10 pm = total income $15 – whoa!). This means if something is promo’d, coupon-ed or discounted, I do not make as much money. Therefore, I want you to have the TIME of your life so that you come back (and tip me well!). I do not want you to walk out that door never to be seen or heard of again. You are the reason after all that I am finally getting “Freddy” out of my life. I thought it may be helpful to see the internal workings of a restaurant and to see what happens to the generous tips servers receive. Please note that not all restaurants perform this way, this is only a reference from my personal experience in 5 restaurants.

Here is a breakdown of tipouts that many servers usually have to contribute internally:

Bartender – 1 – 2% Net Sales

Kitchen – 1-2% Net Sales

Management  -1 – 2 % Net Sales

Walk out pool (For all of you dine & dasher’s – we do really hate you) – Set $$ amount, depends on restaurants. This fund usually assists with the customers who leave without paying their bills. This is so your server does NOT get saddled with YOUR tab. I usually refer to this fund as our collateral damage fund.

Busboy – Usually around $10/night. I usually like to tip this gem a little extra depending on sales/return from my customers. I find, if you scratch their back, they scratch yours. A great busboy or girl is worth his/her weight in gold.

This being said, you can see how my precious cashola slips away. If you tip under the above amount, I end up contributing some of my own hard earned cash to tip out others for your meal. 

A great restaurant is a wonderful team, in which everyone wants a piece of the pie (natch’). I’m only as good as the pasta the kitchen sends out, the mojito my barkeep slings and the cleanliness that my busboy assists with – in which everyone wants to get paid. Some people believe that tipping should not be mandatory, in a perfect world the food service industry workers would be paid enough that tipping wouldn’t be a necessity. It is not that way, however, and it’s not going to change. Just be happy you do NOT live in the US (unless you do), where service wage exists. See Dave Jamieson’s insight on the topic that Huffington Post recently published here .

So, my tip to customers is to get an education on tipping etiquette and make yo mamma proud by using those manners she taught you. I’ve done MANY jobs, and serving is probably one of the most physically and emotionally draining positions I’ve done. Many of you may disagree and say, “How difficult can it be to bring me my food and drink order”. I say to you – Step into my shoes and try it, before you slam it. In the smallest of chances you are Crushing it , I’ll buy you a drink 🙂

I’m not boasting that I happen to be the BEST server you will ever have for a million trillion bazillion years. I am a person who thinks the glass is half full, further, I think you should try to be the best in whatever you do. Entitled people are the bane of my existence. Just because you’re entitled to good service does not give you leave to be a douche. Everyone deserves (Yes, YOU who snapped their fingers at me and even YOU, pessimist who yelled at me because your water glass was half empty- real life examples) what Susan A. Friedmann coins the “Ten Commandments of Great Customer Service”. Should your server deliver all this, I believe you should deliver on your end as well.

A smile and friendly demeanor can change the night around for a server who has had a shitty night (see examples of above). This can be also be reversed, for a customer who’s had a shitty day at the office, a friendly smile and prompt service can spark the change in that person’s day.

Go get a yummy drink & tasty treats at your fave local joint and be nice to your server. Remember the bare basics, we ARE real people and we will kindly do the same while delivering you all of the above (If they’re a kick ass server). If you did get a lemon (apologies on behalf of good servers everywhere), let them know where they slipped up & tip what you think is fair.

Cheers friends!


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