UnderCover Waitress: Competition on the Dining Room Floor

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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Competition on the Dining Room Floor

Ask the Waitress!

Competition between waitresses on the dining room floor is bad enough without complicating the issue.

I learned the hard way that safety goggles were necessary while keeping my back to the wall. I have seen competitive waitresses sabotage others, and the result sometimes is perfectly competent waitresses no longer have shifts. There are people who will scratch eyes out over the best shifts, the good section, and the big parties. It is sad and difficult, because the very people who are your co-workers and colleagues are also competing with you for resources.

There are two ways to keep these "Lord of the Flies" -esque shenanigans to a minimum. One is to have objective management set firm and consistent boundaries. The other, in keeping with this, is to have well-defined job descriptions. People at work need to know what behavior is expected of them, what behavior will be punished, and who is in charge.

Received a question from Florida about a husband and wife team who own a restaurant. He is the head chef, she is the front of house manager. This owner/manager chooses to take on an additional role: she is also a waitress.

It seems the situation is that the owner takes all the good tables and leaves her staff with the rest. I don't doubt the accuracy of the question-asker's observation that the owner is hogging all the good tables for herself, and therefore making more in tip money.

The staff at this restaurant perceive that the owner is taking advantage of her power and treating the staff in a less than equitable way. However, to the best of my knowledge, in Florida this owner/manager is not breaking the law by taking tables.

It is usually legal for a hostess or manager to make a judgement call that the restaurant is busy, the waitresses are in the weeds and she must take a table. The dynamics of this may be different from restaurant to restaurant. Most important, however, is that if it is a common occurrence the restaurant needs another waitress.

We had a new hire working as a hostess who, thankfully, didn't last long. She took my table without telling me. In other words, I fell behind and she got a table started for me. I said, "thanks," caught up and did my job. Funny, every time I approached that deuce they said the hostess had done x, y, or z already. If we weren't so busy I would have recognized the red flag, but it was still my table. After all was said and done, the hostess said she just kept the tip on that table because she did all the work.

Her legitimate choices were to either tell me she was keeping the table, or not. If not, I wait on the table. Instead, she decided to not communicate with me, do my job for me when not necessary (which is insulting) and, essentially, steal my tip. She should have been reprimanded and required to give it back, but that didn't happen.

When waitresses fight over who gets a table, the hostess or manager is in a position to decide. A good manager will make clear that you will abide by her decision if you wish to work in that restaurant. I don't mean that a good manager doesn't listen to employee concerns; just the opposite. A good manager is interested in what her employees think. But the buck has to stop with someone, and that person is the manager.

When that very person decides to work as a waitress while managing the restaurant, the manager gives herself a conflict of interest. She puts herself in the position of allowing her staff to perceive that she will take advantage of them. This destroys employee morale and causes employees to distrust management.

I am sorry to report to the question-asker that the situation you are in is unpleasant and must feel very unfair. The manager, however, is not breaking any laws that I know of. What she is doing may be "penny wise and pound foolish." She may be making tip money now, but by alienating her employees she may be hurting her business in the long run.

Best of luck to you.

My disclaimer: I am not a lawyer and I don't give legal advice! If any readers have a situation in which they need legal counsel, please do find a lawyer in your area to speak with. I'm just a stupid waitress. ;-D haha.


  1. I really hate to see young women resort to this type of thing, but it happens more often than not, especially in restaurants where there is no sectioned off territories. The waitress who spots the customer first, gets that table.

    I see it all the time, but then again, I eat out every day! My husband and I believe in tipping well, so the wait staff make a beeline when we show up. It must suck to be the new person, because you don't know yet who the crappy tippers are as opposed to the best tippers.

    1. I had a job at a diner in which there were always only one or two waitresses. When there were two of us, we took every other table. We didn't have sections. I hated it, because it was one more thing to keep track of. I prefer having sections and rotating who works which section.

  2. It definitely sounds like a conflict of interest to me.

    1. It is mind-blowing what is legal in the restaurant industry. Maybe that is true in other industries, as well, and I just don't know as much about it...?

  3. i work in a restaurant where there are 2 of us on weekdays, and 4 on weekends, on weekends we go in sections, during the week it is me and my partner, and we rotate tables, its a pain in the neck! we not only have to keep track of whos next, but we are also the cashier too! so if one of us is checking out tables, the other has free game to the floor, no matter what, 1 of us always gets the crap end of the stick, and its usually me!

    1. Do you check out the other waitress' tables? Meaning, if her table wants to pay, she should be one to take payment. Also, I think it is dishonest to just take the table when she knows you are next -- she could seat the table and say, "X will be with you in a minute." There are ways to make it work better; sorry for your troubles.

  4. Feel your pain. I work the same hours a week and we are suppose to be in rotation. There are 3 servers and a bartender. The bartender gets the bar and 4 tables. The bartender still gets in the server rotation. WTH? We were super busy today but I only got 5 tables and made $20!! The other servers and bartender split their tips so they are out for blood with tables and sometimes can't even deliver my food or fill a drink for me if I'm busy. Seems like I'm cleaning one of their tables or delivering their food then I miss out on getting tables. I want to help out but how can I still help out but get treated fair in the rotation? I don't want to seem like a complainer, but the others are laughing all the way to the bank at the end of the day.

    1. I'm confused; you said the others split their tips with each other, but you don't?

    2. I just started a couple months ago & I felt bad for not being as experienced so I opted out of being in the tip sharing. Maybe my fault, but they are def taking advantage. I've been miss nice woman, some of these girls depend on this job to pay rent & are single parents, where I am only here to get me out of the house & extra spending money. Nonetheless, I still want to be treated fairly. If they need more money maybe they should get a second job.

    3. Can you opt in to the tip sharing to even the playing field? Don't feel bad about lack of experience; everybody has to start. Also, no need to compare everybody's situations. Doesn't matter who has the best sob story, if you are all working together then you should all be treated fairly.


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