Friday, March 22, 2013

Ten Things You Don't Know About Your Waiter

What’s your favorite place to eat?  Do you go there regularly?  Does the staff know you?  Do they know your name?  What do you know about them?

I have spent a cumulative 14 years in the food service.  From Six Flags Over Texas, to Steak & Ale, El Chico, O’Charley’s and a few independent restaurants, I’ve learned a few things I never wanted to know.  Here are 10 things you probably don’t know about your waiter (or waitress).
  1. He smokes (and not just marijuana):  Between 85 and 90% of all restaurant staff smoke cigarettes.  Consequently, anti-smoking lobbyers make him angry.  Even non-smoking waiters are upset by smoking bans because smoking guests drink more, eat more, party more, AND TIP MORE than non-smokers.  So, if you are an anti-smoking do-gooder, don’t tell your waiter.  And if you do tell him, leave a 35 to 50% tip so he doesn’t feel like you’ve cost him precious income.
  2. He has at least one tattoo.  And she does, also.  You don’t notice because most restaurants require Servers to hide their body art as well as remove any body piercings outside of the ears.
  3. Is it Flu Season?:  There’s a one in eight chance that he’s sick during the flu season.  Regardless of insurance, there are not sick days (and certainly not ‘paid’ sick days) in food service.  If he can’t get someone to cover his shift, he’ll be stuck at work unless a Manager can find some way to let him go for the night.  But, if your waiter needs the money (see #7 below), he won’t tell anyone about being sick at all.  At Steak & Ale, if you called in sick, the Manager would tell you to, “Find a replacement for your shift or suffer the possible consequences of not appearing for work.”  Yeah, morale was really low at Steak & Ale.
  4. He’s tired:  There are no breaks in restaurants.  Once the rush starts, you don’t stop moving.  That can be anywhere from three to six hours.
  5. He’s in pain.  Most servers have some chronic condition that slows them down.  I’ve seen waiters with cancer, swollen ankles/feet, tendonitis (that never heals), shoulder injuries, and other physical conditions that leave them limping home.
  6. He’s probably hungry.  The unusual nature of a server’s schedule (e.g. 10am to 2:30pm or 4:30pm to 9:30pm) disrupts his eating habits.  By the time a waiter clocks out, he probably hasn’t eaten for nine to twenty hours and has walked from three to five miles.
  7. He only makes $14k to $18k per year.  Now, I can hear you saying, “Russ, I have a relative who has a friend who makes over $100 a night at the bar & grill.”  There are indeed some waiters who make much more than you would expect.  But the silent majority of servers can’t clear $20k/year.
  8. He’s being screwed by the IRS:  The IRS automatically assumes that your waiter receives 8% of sales as gratuity.  If you don’t tip your waiter, he still pays taxes on the income you didn’t give him.  This goes for Income Taxes, FICA, Medicare, Medicaid, and now Healthcare.
  9. He’s being screwed by the IRS:  With a standard wage of $2.10/hr plus tips, it is highly unlikely that enough money can be withheld from his paycheck.  So he could owe a few thousand dollars cash on April 15th.  What’s that you say?  The Internal Revenue Code is only designed to punish the rich?  BWAH HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA.!!!
  10. He shares the same dream with all other waiters.  In this dream, a party is seated at one of his tables.  The waiter grabs a small tray in the kitchen and walks to the table.  As the waiter nears the table, he walks slower and slower until he can’t move at all.  The party will see the waiter and wave him over to them.  Then he wakes up in a cold sweat.
If you’ve waited tables, let me know what might be missing from this list.

And drive home safely.


  1. #6a -- Don't be surprised if your mostly-uneaten meal doesn't end up in the garbage. Which may contribute to #3.

    #7a -- Just because they wear a tuxedo shirt and bow tie to your table does not mean they're paid accordingly.

    #8a -- You want to "punish" your waiter for supposed bad service? The Server's life is punishment enough. Don't add to it by being a jerk with their tip. And talking with the manager might get them fired, which means that single mother of three ends up royally screwed. Instead, talk to them directly. Chances are, they had to deal with an unexpected 10-top, a screw-up in the kitchen, and that table in the corner with the two infants spilling food everywhere.

    Have you read "Kitchen Confidential"? If so, how much of the book have you dog-eared, highlighted and made comments in the margins? (And if not, get a copy NOWNOWNOW and read it!)

    1. Rob,

      You have proven yourself an experienced restauranteur.

      I'll read "Kitchen Confidential" within the next six months.


  2. Russell -- what part of NOWNOWNOW did you miss????? ;)