UnderCover Waitress: Serving in Florida

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Serving in Florida

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In "Nickel and Dimed," Ehrenreich's first job is waitress. She writes about her surprise that a co-worker will spend $60 a night to stay at a local motel instead of renting a cheap apartment. The woman's response is eye-opening for the author: the woman wonders how Ehrenreich thinks she can save up enough for first month's rent, last month's rent, and deposit. Sometimes, however, the waitress chooses to simply live in her car.

Ehrenreich writes that the combination of her base wage of a little over $2.00 per hour and the fact that she had to tip-out other employees often resulted in her making minimum wage. She also mentions that no manager ever breathed a word about tip credits to her. Legally, employers at a restaurant may not let waiters and waitresses make less than minimum wage. So, if minimum wage is $5.00, and the waitress is paid $3.00 per hour, she has to make at least $2.00 per hour in tips. If she does not, the employer is required to pay her extra to bring her up to minimum wage. That's the law, but nobody tells waitresses this.

Many of us are lucky enough to work in busy, more expensive restaurants and have the opportunity to work great shifts that bring in $150 - $200 or more per night, at least in the busy season. It is humbling to remember that not all waitress jobs are so lucrative.

In our restaurant, it is a massive feast in the summer and famine in the winter. Sometimes I feel like we waitresses are playing the grasshopper and the ant. Some employees save up during the good seasons so they are less hungry in the winter when the restaurant is slow. There are also the summer spendthrifts who will scratch your eyes out in the winter over a shift, a section, or a good table.

But in Ehrenreich's world, it is a moot point. There are no great shifts.


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