UnderCover Waitress: The Pain of Tip Outs

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.


  1. Advice I've given to my daughter when she started working in a restaurant was to "observe" first. She's pretty intuitive, so this was good advice for her. She watched the relationships between kitchen staff, hostesses, servers, and bartenders. She watched communications between management and staff and who was getting what shifts and why.

    When she was made a server before other hostesses who'd been there longer, it was because she understood the relationships and how they worked and she played that game well.

    Now she closes and gets the best sections. To her, the best sections are the easiest to navigate and the most likely to tip big because they seat more people per table.

    1. Awesome! Good for your daughter. Everyone reading this should take your advice.

  2. Good advice on the bussing issue. It's easy to get frustrated and pissy with the buss staff, but I've found I get way better results if I communicate what I need with them, in a respectful way. If they didn't respond well to my requests I would bring it up with management.
    And to Diane, that is the perfect way for a new person to approach a restaurant job. So many new staff remembers seem to fight the system rather then learning how to get along with it.

    1. "Please" and "Thank you" go a looooooooong way! :-)

  3. Letting all my friends and followers know about my luau! Good luck with everything!

  4. I do like what Diane has to say here... keeping an eye on the dynamics in a place is key to knowing how to proceed.

    And definitely talk to management... when one is calm.


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