UnderCover Waitress: March 2013

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Oatmeal Tips and Toots

First, I love The Oatmeal. He draws comics that are honest, deceitfully simple and hilarious if you can laugh at life.

Am linking to him today because he wrote a little piece about waiting tables. I am simply suggesting you read and enjoy, then check out his other funny stuff. For the record, however, I do wish he weren't so fixated on flatulence.

No, not this kind of oatmeal...

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Pain of Tip Outs

In Shorting the Busser, I responded to a manager in distress about waitresses paying the bussers less than owed. The bottom line is that if the rule says 2 percent to the busser, and you pay the busser 1.5 percent, you have broken the rule. Worst-case scenario when an employee breaks the rules is employee gets fired. Not that I recommend starting with such drastic measures!

My post prompted this response in the comments:
What should be done in a situation where the bussers/hosts/bartenders aren't fulfilling the duties they are tipped out to do? A busser may clean a table, but wipes the mess to the floor, or takes 15-20 minutes to get there. A host seats a table that is clearly filthy underneath and includes sticky menus. Or a bartender that berates and screams at you for making a non-alcoholic drink after she took 10-15 minutes ignoring the ticket wheel in favor of flirting with her immediate guests for an extra dollar. Are there any options available besides opening oneself up to scrutiny from the higher ups outside of the immediate management staff?
All good points and an excellent question. Let's start with the last question asked: are there options other than approaching the manager?

What To Do

No; not that I can think of. Employees may approach government agencies when their rights are being violated or other laws are being broken. Working with slow colleagues in a fast-paced environment does not qualify. Neither does working with the immature or the entitled.

How To Do It

If you are waiting tables and you feel that a busser is not doing his job, you essentially have two choices:

* suck it up
* discuss your concerns with management.

I recommend against approaching management at the end of the shift when everybody is tired and you are understandably angry. Instead, try one of two things:

* request a convenient time to have a short, one-on-one meeting with a manager. Say you have a couple of concerns that you would appreciate help with. OR:

* put it in writing. Draft a polite letter detailing your concerns and requesting managerial help.

When you are calm and have the manager's attention, make sure you speak about efficiency in the restaurant, not "busser X is a bad person and I hate him." Most important: be specific. For example,

"I noticed Thursday night that the menus were sticky all through the shift. They were still sticky Friday morning. Could you please bring this up with staff?"

"I appreciate the bussers wiping my tables, but often there are crumbs and mess left on the floor. Could we please implement a policy of catching stuff in your hand and throwing it away? It would make the dining room more presentable. I wouldn't want to have other people's crumbs under my feet, would you?"

Prioritizing job duties may help with getting the important things done more quickly. For example, if a busser is told "you can't run coffee for waitresses if any tables need to be wiped and reset" then perhaps they won't take 20 minutes to wipe tables. If the bartender is trained to know that any drink order comes first, then perhaps she won't take so long. Perhaps -- I've worked with the entitled, and it sucks.

Best practices for management include putting policies in writing and posting them in an employee area so people can refer back to them.

He Said / She Said

For the record, I answer the questions asked. :-)

For example, a waitress may write in: "I hate that customer; he is cheap and never tips well." A customer may write in: "I just cannot justify tipping that waitress well. She never smiles, and she acts like she would rather be anywhere other than the restaurant. Why does she even work here?" I have no way of knowing that these two may be talking about each other! So, I answer the questions that are posed to me. Make sense?


I'm well aware that complaining may backfire, and in more ways than just management labeling you as a "complainer."

I went through a period in which I worked very hard to go from being a good waitress to an excellent waitress. I started getting better shifts and the good sections. I often worked with an assistant manager with whom I was also friends.

Well, other waitresses were jealous that I was getting better opportunities in our restaurant because they wanted it all for themselves, so they complained to the manager about favoritism. Unbeknownst to me at the time, the manager decided to hostess on a few of my shifts so she could keep an eye on me. She concluded that I was doing an excellent job and that it was perfectly fair that I was working good sections during busy shifts.

So you see, complaining backfired for those who would have stabbed me in the back. Their complaining ended up bringing my improved capabilities to the manager's attention. They only helped me. Heh.

The moral of this and many other stories is to try to be objective before your complain. If your tables are not getting wiped, maybe the busser is lazy. Maybe the busser is overworked, and another busser should share the shift. Maybe there is something else going on... busser is showing favoritism to another waitress? Busser worked three shifts back-to-back and is in serious pain? Different reasons call for different solutions.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Shorting the Busser

Ask the Waitress!

Received this heart-felt missive from a current manager:
I have worked at a the same restaurant for 5 years. I started as hostess and later became a server and a bartender. Currently, I am managing. 
 Sometimes servers short the busser's tip outs. The standard tip out is 2% of their total sales. I discovered recently that anytime servers bus one of their tables, they deduct those sales from the total. Bussers do more than reset a table. They are required to clean and reset tables, restock ice and glassware, take out the linens, refill soys and stay after close to reset the dining room. 
In addition, many bussers go above their job requirements. They run food and drinks, refill waters, pre-bus, help with guests and meet server's demands. I love that teamwork mentality and want it to continue. However, the servers have become so dependent on the help that the bussers often are slower to reset a table and that is when a server will deduct tips. Servers believe that when they reset their own tables, they should not have to tip out for those tables.
 It saddens me that people are doing this and I am afraid morale may start to fade. I know tip outs suck. If I could pay people more per hour I would, but I do not have that power at my restaurant. 
How can I approach this matter with my staff without offending anyone or invading anyone's privacy? I have discussed the importance of teamwork with my staff, and made the servers aware that bussers are doing more than required. I have asked the servers and also watched to see if the bussers are meeting expectations. I do not know what else to do. 
Thank you for writing. This is a difficult issue; let's break it down and examine elements separately.


The rule of the restaurant: servers owe bussers two percent of their total sales for each shift. This is clear. Therefore, any server who does not pay bussers two percent of their total sales is guilty of insubordination. Worst case scenario = you fire them.

You may not wish to be so Draconian. You may certainly have a staff meeting in which you point out to the group, without singling anybody out, that this is the rule. Tell them refusal to follow the rule will result in a warning and then termination.

Most employees in Arizona are at will employees; that means they can be fired anytime for any reason or no reason. They may not be fired for a protected reason, which is a fancy way of saying you may not fire somebody, for example, due to their religion or skin color.

You should have a way to check each server's sales. Require the wait staff to write down the amount they are tipping out each shift. I recommend against putting the bussers in the position of reporting to you if they get stiffed; deal directly with the wait staff.

Management and Morale

I hear your concern about employee morale. However, it may be misplaced. If you are afraid to upset your staff then you are likely a weak manager; please do not be offended. I've seen the dynamic too many times. Effective managers communicate the rules and enforce them. As long as you are being appropriate, it is not your concern whether a staff member is offended. If I get pulled over for speeding, I can be offended all I want, but the police officer shouldn't care. I broke the rules. I got pulled over. Period.

I worked as part of team in which the manager always gave a specific waitress her way so that the waitress would invite her golfing and be friends. So, the "friendship" was insincere, it was nothing more than a waitress' way of manipulating the manager. If your friends at work reject you because you do your job and enforce the rules, you need better friends.

Tip Outs

Ideally, a tip out is a thank you and an incentive for the busser to get tables turned. It is my opinion that it is egregious to underpay staff and require waitresses and waiters to pay other staff members. There are restaurants in which waitresses pay out a grand total of thirty percent or more of their tips to other staff members. I don't like it, but I don't make the rules. I do have to follow the rules.

Job Descriptions

It sounds to me like the waitresses are taking advantage of the bussers. Are running food and serving drinks included in the busser job descriptions? Perhaps you should discuss the hierarchy of busser duties with your staff. For example, bussers are to clean and reset tables as a first priority. If they have time, they may help the waitresses run drinks, etc. See how that works.

In the end, it is not the food server's right to decide whether the bussers are entitled to their tip outs. If they feel that the system is unfair, the appropriate thing to do is discuss the issue with management -- that would be you. I hope I have given you some food for thought, and good luck.

Thanks for asking the waitress! 

Friday, March 1, 2013

The Art and Etiquette of Tipping, Guest Post

Today's guest post is written by Trisha Jefford. Trisha Jefford is a self-proclaimed foodie, vegan and wine enthusiast who loves scouring the net for new ideas and trends in food creation and presentation. She currently writes and blogs for the website EZ Cater, a site that specializes in finding local catering or the perfect corporate caterer.

You’ve just finished an excellent meal as you take a sip of your always cold, always full glass of water, and reclining slightly in your chair you think to yourself, “this sure beats eating at home”! Just then your waitress comes by with the bill, thanks you for coming in, and says she’ll be ready to take the payment when you are. You look over the bill for accuracy and then pause at the line that says tip. For just a moment you realize, “I don’t know what to tip?”

If that sounds like you, don’t worry, you’re not alone. For many, this is probably a familiar experience, and if you’ve ever found yourself in this situation you’re more than likely well aware of the anxiety or discomfort associated with not knowing how much to tip. If that’s you, don’t worry. It’s okay to be unsure, but what isn’t okay is transferring, as a bad tip, your uncertainty about tipping to the waiter or waitress whose hard work has given you a flawless dining experience.

Tipping for many is a common experience, but strangely enough not one many of us take seriously enough to work at understanding. I am here to tell you that tipping doesn’t need to be a mystery. You don’t need to read a book, or hours of online opinions, to know the appropriate amount to tip. It’s actually quite simple. Here are a few things to keep in mind!

The Cheap, the Fair, and the Generous

There are three types of tippers in this world. The firs type is “the cheap”. They’re known to tip poorly (10% or less), or not at all, regardless of the service they receive. In fact, even when they receive excellent service they may not tip at all. These people start with the notion that the server has to earn their tip, and unless they go above and beyond the unreasonable expectation, they quickly snatch away any tip they would have left. These people are constantly looking for a reason to justify leaving no tip. To insure you’re not a member of “the cheap,” always leaves a tip!

The second type is “the fair”. They’re known to leave a decent tip (10%-20%) dependent on whether they receive good or excellent service. This type of person takes into consideration not only their waiter or waitress’s effort, but also their personal dignity. Nothing says “I don’t care about my reputation” better than leaving a poor tip and that’s something that sets “the fair” apart from “the cheap,” they actually care about their reputation. They pay attention to the server’s efforts and adjust their tip based on the quality of service they receive.

The third and final type of tipper is “the generous”. These tippers have fully adopted the mentality “go big or go home”. They tip well (20% +) all the time. Regardless of the service they receive they choose to be generous and consider tipping not only the right thing to do, but use it to maintain their reputation as an individual who holds generosity in high regard. These people care about their reputation, and the wellbeing of others. They can look past small mistakes or delays in service and realize that not everything is a server’s fault. These people do not punish a server for errors made in the kitchen.

Good Service Equals a Good Tip

This probably sounds like a no brainer but good service should always equate to a good tip. For some the expectation of good service is a little ridiculous. I’ve been out to eat with plenty of friends who thought the service was poor simply because their expectations were too high. Don’t get me wrong, I dislike poor service just like the next guy, but I see no reason to hold a server to a standard I myself wouldn’t be able to meet. In my mind when a waiter or waitress puts forth a reasonable effort to make sure my needs are met, there’s no reason I should leave a bad tip.
That being said, what defines a good or bad tip? For good service anything less than 15% is a bad tip. Generally speaking, when I receive good service, I leave 20%. If the service is poor I will leave 10%. This is reserved for instances where it is obvious to me that the restaurant staff do not care that I’ve chosen their establishment to eat at. They can do this in a number of ways but the most popular are taking unreasonably long periods of time to take my order, not checking to see if I need anything shortly after ordering, or throughout my meal. Having enough water to drink is a big part of my tip.

10% Makes a Big Difference

When visiting restaurants the tip you give has a larger impact on the server’s life, than your own. This is because there’s strength in numbers. To illustrate this fact let’s consider the following numbers. Assume each bill is $50 and the restaurant is located in a state that sets the minimum wage for servers at $3.15.

Server Income at 10%
·      $5 per table @ an average of eight tables = $40
·      Avg. hourly wage of $3.15 in a typical eight hour shift = $25.20
·      Total = $65.20
·      Per hour total = $8.15

Server Income at 15%
·      $7.5 per table @ an average of eight tables = $60
·      Avg. hourly wage of $3.15 in a typical eight hour shift = $25.20
·      Total = $85.20
·      Per hour total = $10.65

Server Income at 20%
·      $10 per table @ an average of eight tables = $80
·      Avg. hourly wage of $3.15 in a typical eight hour shift = $25.20
·      Total = $105.20
·      Per hour total = $13.15

Although the difference between a 10%, 15%, and a 20% tip may not seem that large, when collected from every table over the period of a typical eight hour shift, the difference can really add up. Imagine the impact earning a steady $10.65 per hour would have on a young server’s life compared to $8.15. After comparing the numbers it’s pretty easy to see how big of a deal leaving a good tip is. For a server your tip can literally mean the difference between scrapping by, and paying all of the bills.

Now that I’ve had my say, what are your thoughts? Do you agree or disagree? Why or why not?