UnderCover Waitress: July 2013

Monday, July 29, 2013

My Kingdom for a Waitress Job Description

People take their job descriptions for granted. A math teacher is unlikely to be required to shine the floors in her classroom. The pizza delivery guy does not have to bake the pies. A financial analyst will not be expected to design the company's website.

According the Bureau of Labor Statistics, over 70 percent of waitstaff in the fifty states are women. The industry is considered "pink collar," which means that it is blue collar labor dominated by women.

 It is also highly unregulated. It was a rude shock to discover that waiting tables comes with no expectation of a job description in most states. A few states have put in place that waitstaff job duties must relate to the dining room, but most states leave this up to the employer.

This means that waitresses reasonably do more than just walk your food. We clean the dining room, polish silverware and glassware, fold napkins... nothing in the dining room should be dirty or out of place. In most states, we earn less than minimum wage, but rely on the tips that diners leave us for our service.

Other jobs that I have performed while working as a "waitress" for tipped minimum wage include, but are not limited to:


 I have cleaned bathrooms as part of my job description, including scrubbing toilets. No restaurant owner I have worked for supplied gloves or other safety supplies for the waitstaff/janitors. I have brought in my own disposable gloves, at my own expense. I have also worked in places where I was allowed to use food-handling gloves from the kitchen. However, I am the only waitress I know of who ever bothered to cover her hands as an extra precaution while cleaning public toilets.

Window Washer

It makes sense that a waitress would use some Windex on windows in her section of the restaurant. Especially after a brunch shift, children may have left greasy handprints on the inside of the windows.

It is another thing, however, to give a food server a large bucket of sudsy water and a sponge, ask her to stand on a ladder and clean the restaurant's outdoor windows. Some of those ladders felt old and rickety.

Shoveling the Walk

This is something that I got away with not doing. A passive-aggressive manager yelled at me in front of my tables "Somebody has to step up around here!" When no waitress on our staff:

  • Bundled up in hat, coat, gloves, and boots; 
  • performed hard labor; 
  • came back in not sweaty or smelly from shoveling the walk; 
  • did it fast enough so as to not fall behind in table service; 

that manager went out and did it herself in her work clothes. After that, the restaurant scheduled the dishwasher to come in a little early and paid him a full wage to shovel the walk in the winter. If any waitress had caved in, we'd be doing it to this day.


Another fun trick some restaurant owners like to do is send the dishwasher, who is making at least full minimum wage, home or simply not schedule him at all. It then becomes part of the waitstaff's job description to wash the dishes at less than minimum wage.


Lots of restaurants require that waitstaff also prepare food. This would be legal if we were paid at least full minimum wage for doing so. Instead, we are often paid our usual tipped minimum wage for preparing salads and desserts.

One restaurant required us to make salads for the next shift. Part of closing the lunch shift was preparing salads for the dinner shift. And yes, the dinner shift made salads at the end of the evening for the lunch shift the next day. If you think your salad is not fresh, it is because your salad is not fresh.

Another restaurant owner I worked for liked fancy-looking desserts, and required servers to make them so. Canned whipped cream was not good enough, so he insisted that we make whipped cream in the back. During a busy brunch shift I panicked because the whipped cream was loose. I had no time to go back in the kitchen and beg the cooks to let me use the beater in the middle of the shift. I ended up serving a dessert with imperfect-looking whipped cream, a sin in my boss' mind. I had a full section and couldn't spend a large amount of time working as a cook in the kitchen trying to perfect whipped cream. For this, I was threatened with job loss.

The list goes on. I remember one slow shift during which the manager on duty decided it was a great time to strip and wax the bathroom floors. The idea that the restaurant owner might pay a professional to do this when the restaurant was closed was unthinkable.

None of this extra work stops diners from complaining if we are not at their table the minute they want us. I have come out of the dish room and had customers gripe, "We thought you must have been texting your friends in the back. We want..." Sometimes I tell them what I have been doing, but if the job was too gross, I refrain.

When service suffers because waitresses like me are "Janes of all trades," our tip averages go down. Therefore, requiring us to perform various and sundry job duties that have nothing to do with serving food does affect our ability to earn an income.

Right now, at-will employment laws and right-to-work states are fighting back against any progress laborers have made in protecting themselves from grotesque exploitation. What we need are rules and regulations that protect laborers in all trades, including "pink collar," so we can earn a living, enjoy basic safety at work and have jobs with reasonable expectations and a reasonable degree of job security.

This post is part of BlogHer's Women@Work editorial series, made possible by AFL-CIO.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Mommy, What is Hooters?

I just found an awesome website, Girls Can't What?  with a highly relevant post that may have been written in 2007, but sadly is still newsworthy.

"Mommy, What is Hooters?" is a short anecdote about (obviously) trying to explain to a young girl about soft porn masquerading as the restaurant industry.

I keep track as best I can of how and why people find Under Cover Waitress on a place as large and easy to get lost in as the internet. I have to admit that it pains me to see that my biggest draws are articles about Hooters, such as Hooters Girl Requirements. Usually it seems that people are trying to get hired, and some of the comments are as sexist and ridiculous as the worst Hooters patron.

When I discuss things such as the requirement to entertain while dressed in little more than a bikini, it is with sadness, derision, and anger. Sure, I've been called uptight, b*tch, even frigid because of my political and feminist viewpoints. I find it amusing, really, because those who know me in person must get accustomed to my loud and frequent laugh, well-developed sense of humor and love for good fun, good company, and good food.

May we empower our daughters to rise above and be better than many factions of society would approve. Society has extremely poor judgement.  

Friday, July 19, 2013

My First Writer's Weekend: Jailhouse Interview

I recently joined Writer's Weekend. Every weekend, a selection of prompts is sent out and writers craft a 1,000 - 2,000 word short story based upon the prompts. It may be off-topic for the restaurant industry, but it is a lot of fun and I do love to write.

This weekend, I was supposed to maintain the theme "sexy" in addition to responding to my chosen prompt. Oops. I was already about 700 words into my story when I remembered that, and was truly on a roll. Instead of changing where I was going with the story, I simply hope my fellow Writer's Weekend participants will forgive me.

I responded to this prompt: "A woman who cannot die grabs the wrong briefcase in San Francisco."
Please enjoy my short story.

The Plight of the Immortal: Jailhouse Interview

Sometimes, I wish I could die.

I've known I was immortal since I was very young. I was born in 1945 in a concentration camp in Austria. While liberation was not far off, the conditions I survived as a newborn, including lack of food, water, and the presence of typhus and lice seemed to be a modern-day miracle. Modern-day miracles such as this earn the attention of an international organization, the Society of Immortals.

The Society has been around since the dawn of time. Nobody knows why a handful of creatures periodically come into this world unable to perish, but we do keep watch for each other. When people survive the impossible, the Society contacts them. When children survive the impossible, such as in my case, the Society watches until we attain 16 years of age, then they make contact.

There are famous immortals, but the Society does not approve of their fame. Harry Houdini is immortal. Not to detract from his cleverness at hiding keys and untangling himself from chains, he was never at risk for drowning. The Society encouraged him to end his career and simulate his death in 1926, which was supposedly from a ruptured appendix.

The Society does not approve of immortals calling attention to themselves because in so many cases it causes trouble.

Mortals can subconsciously sense immortality, and you mortals usually respond like wild animals with hackles raised. The Salem Witch trials began as a response to immortality. One of the tests was submerging a supposed witch in water. If she sank and died, she was considered mortal. If she floated up and breathed, she was a witch. No matter how long we remained submerged in water, we would eventually rise to the top alive. Many, many mortals died as a result of this confusion and panic during the Salem Witch Trials.

You have heard about immortals and the mortal response to us all over history. Gladiators were often immortal, and those attempting to find ways to kill those who could not be killed devised the cruelest weapons for battle.

Many medieval torture techniques came out of desperate attempts to kill immortals. Can you imagine surviving the Iron Maiden? We did.

As a young man, Torquemada discovered an immortal who had been born into a Jewish family. His eventual response was disastrous.

When mortals act on their fear of immortality, countless innocent mortals suffer and die.

Jesus of Nazareth may be the most famous immortal. He earned the wrath of the Society when he refused to wait to come out of his tomb; protocol back then required he wait 70 years, not three days.

Jesus still can't resist getting involved and calling attention to himself; he gains fame now and then under different names until the Society tells him to simulate his death and be quiet for awhile. Remember Ghandi? Same guy. He was never at risk for truly starving himself during the hunger strikes, but they were no less painful.

Immortals are taught to be careful not to call so much attention to ourselves, however. When we do, history changes, and usually for the worse. Wars get started. Civilizations self-destruct.

Catholic Queen Mary of England was aware of the existence of immortality, and it frightened her. Her burning people at the stake was never about Protestantism; it was about immortality. She incorrectly believed that if she burned us at the stake we would not survive. It takes over one hundred years for the ashes of a completely burnt immortal to heal, which is why Queen Mary could believe that immolation worked. Unlike other mortals who attempted to murder immortals, she never saw her victims appear again.

Which brings me to my dilemma.

A few years ago I was in a crowded BART station during the morning rush hour. I had a leather briefcase full of manuscripts and historical documents from World War I that I had been researching for the Society. I made the mistake of setting my heavy briefcase down to rest my arm. If I could take one moment from my eternal life back, it would be that one.

My train swept in and waves of people rushed in and out of the cars in a surprisingly orderly fashion. In order to get a seat, I jumped and grabbed my briefcase from the ground as I joined the wave. I noticed nothing different in its heavy weight.

Lucky enough to get a seat, I sat for a moment until the train was underway. People standing were packed in like sardines. I cracked open my briefcase and reached my hand in -- only then did it start to dawn on me this wasn't my briefcase. My hand touched stacks of bills. In my initial shock, I opened the briefcase wider and looked at what was in my hand. The bank had treated the money in an attempt to catch the robbers, and blue dye blew up all over me and the people around me. I froze. There was nothing I could do, nowhere I could go.

Of course, the people screamed and pandemonium ensued. Someone hit the security buzzer. The train stopped and the police escorted me off the train.

Being rather naive, I wasn't initially worried. Had I known I had a briefcase full of stolen money I never would have opened it on public transit, and certainly not on such crowded public transit, at that. Of course, if that argument had set me free then I would not be speaking with you now.

The money had been stolen just a few days prior by a sociopath who had lain low and was now attempting to flee the country. He had stolen the money after a series of murders. I was now connected to the serial killings of at least six people.

This criminal mastermind had gotten away, but the police had me. While they never believed that I was the killer, but they never ceased to believe that I was helping the killer escape and had deliberately traded briefcases. The prosecution argued that the money was meant to be payment for my helping the killer escape. According to the prosecution, my biggest mistake was being too greedy to wait to open the briefcase full of money. Had I opened it in private, the money would still be useless but I might have escaped detection.

The jury agreed with the prosecution. The judge gave me life in prison.

So you understand my dilemma.

Here I sit in my jail cell. How many years will it take before guards start getting nervous?
Will I become the subject of a modern-day folktale about the ghost of the women's jail, perhaps similar to the Legend of Sleepy Hollow which is based upon an unfortunate immortal's history.

Will the other inmates begin to think I am a witch, or possessed by the devil? Will humanity find new ways to beat and torture me because I cannot die? I am truly frightened, both for myself and for others. How many mortals will die arduous deaths because of the fear and panic my very existence will incite in the hearts of men and women as the years wear on and I never die?

It is only a matter of time.

My only hope is that you believe me. If you do, will you please help me? If you could please smuggle in a canister of gasoline and a lighter, the Society of Immortals and I would be truly obliged.


Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Wage Theft is Not How the Industry Works

Ask the Waitress!

I am brand new to this whole waitressing thing, and have a question. 
I "trained" for 4 days receiving no tips. I was paid 3.50 an hour to watch a waitress take 3 orders, and then I was in charge of seating people, taking their drink orders, clearing the tables, and doing dishes for the rest of the 4 days.  But my boss is saying that is the way it works, and that in the next couple weeks i'll make more than minimum in tips so it will all average out. I was paid in cash for "training." And I'm just double checking that this is the way the restaurant business really works, because it seems to me that you would have be paid minimum wage for the time you train, if they are giving you no tips. But as I said I know absolutly nothing about the restaurant business so I could just be over thinking it.    
You are not over thinking anything. Remember that old saying, "if it looks like garbage, smells like garbage, etc... then it probably is garbage." 

But let's get specific. 

I don't know what state you are working in. Some states allow a training wage for various industries that is lower than minimum wage. However, I have not heard of a training wage in any state that is less than $4 per hour; also, if that were the case your employer would have informed you of the training wage.

Your employer paid you in cash for training to keep it off of the books. If he gets audited, he won't get caught as easily. Legal training wages do not have to be kept off of the books. 

Let's assume you live in a state that allows a tip credit but does not have a training wage. Therefore, during training you must earn at least minimum wage. If you were receiving tips during training, and you did not make full minimum wage, your employer would have to make up the difference. If not, he is guilty of wage theft. 

Trainees do not customarily earn tips; therefore, you should have been paid full minimum wage for the four days you trained. 

I can see what your employer is doing, however. He is trying to say he does not owe you a tip credit for training because it will soon average out. Technically, however, he is wrong. 

If you have one waitress shift in which you don't make minimum wage, and another shift in the same week that makes up the difference, your employer may not owe you anything more. For example: 

Tuesday night slow shift: 6 hours, $3.50 per hour + $10 in tips = less than minimum wage. 
Wednesday night fast shift: 6 hours, $3.50 per hour + $200 in tips = more than minimum wage for both nights combined. 

You, however, were not a tipped employee during your training shifts. Therefore, your employer is guilty of wage theft. 

If you wish to act on this, I recommend you give the Department of Labor (DOL) in your state a call. You are protected from retaliation if you complain to the government agency that oversees the problem at work. Also, the DOL may correct the wrong for all employees, and stop the illegal practice from happening. 

For the record, if you complain directly to the employer he can fire you with impunity. You could, if you wanted to, sue him in small claims court for the wages and perhaps punitive damages, but not for wrongful termination. You are not protected from retaliation for complaining in-house. 

Good luck. 

Monday, July 15, 2013

Who Should Pay for the Uniform?

Ask the Waitress!
I've been a server for 20 years and have always been charged for my uniform. I make 2.13 an hour and have been told it is illegal to charge someone who does not make minimum wage. Please help me my restaurant has recently changed the uniform and now the shirts cost 20 bucks a pop and they fade super fast which requires us to buy them more frequently.
I remember working for a restaurant that kept changing our clothing requirements. I actually said to one of the owners, "If you keep changing the uniform, I can't afford to work here." Heh.

Personally, $20 a pop for something that is made poorly enough to need to be replaced often suggests to me that somebody is making money off of the "uniform business." Might make better sense for your employer to choose a better quality uniform.

Is it Illegal? 

There are no federal requirements that employers must pay for worker clothing, even if that clothing is required for work. It does not matter if you make $2.13 or $21.30 per hour; you can be required to fund your wardrobe.

It is, however, illegal for you to go home with less than full minimum wage per hours worked. In other words, if you work twenty hours one week, and your tips plus $2.13 per hour do not equal full minimum wage, your employer owes you money to make up the difference.

Your tips should bring you up to full minimum wage or higher. It is perfectly legal for your employer to require you to purchase your uniform, regardless of how much money you make.

State Laws

I don't know of any state that restricts employers from requiring workers pay for their uniforms. If you think your state may, feel free to write me which state you work in so I can look into it.


The cost of your uniform may or may not be tax-deductible. If you are required to purchase clothing for work that can not be worn outside of work hours, the cost is tax-deductible. Examples include funky, striped vests with the company name embroidered on them, or special work overalls.

The Dansko clogs that so many of us wear and love are not tax-deductible because they can be worn outside of work hours. The same is true of uniforms that simply consist of black pants and a white blouse.

Sorry I don't have better news for you. I don't want to get you into trouble at work; things that come to mind include wearing the faded uniform or washing it less often, but that could get you in trouble. If you are comfortable mentioning that the cost feels prohibitive to a manager, that may help.

While your employer is hurting morale and making it less lucrative to work there, they are doing nothing illegal.

Thanks for asking the waitress! 

Friday, July 12, 2013

Guest Post: Former Waitress Talks About Tipping

Chloe Trogden is a former server and a writer. Please enjoy her guest post categorizing the tippers that we have all come to know so well...

I worked as a server for a number of years in college. It was a great way to make extra money but also a stressful one. While you could get seated with a couple of parties or a couple of big spenders who all turned out to be generous tippers, you could also get seated with a couple who wanted to sit at their table for hours just chatting and then leave you $2 (true story) and a single man who ordered a cup of soup and felt it wasn’t his responsibility to pay your paycheck and left you nothing (another true story).
I learned quickly that there are certain types of tippers – categories into which most people fall. While you can’t always tell what type of tippers people will be when they sit down, you can usually sweep them into one of these categories after they have paid the bill and left their tip. Here are a few of the most common types of tippers that I encountered:

The “I Don’t Need to Pay Your Paycheck” Tippers

They feel that the restaurant should pay you, so they leave you nothing. I got into a heated debate with one of these types of tippers in one of my classes in college. He really felt that the $2.13 servers were paid was enough, and that if it wasn’t, then it was our job to protest to make it so.

The “Why Should I Have to Tip?” Tippers

These people feel that it’s “entitled” to expect customers to tip you. They feel that they are paying for their food, and that should be all that’s needed. These types of tippers often cross over into the “I Don’t Need to Pay Your Paycheck” category.

The One-Size-Fits-All Tipper

This tipper leaves the same amount each time they eat out – no matter how much the bill is. This is great if you get a $5 tip on a $5 bowl of soup, but it’s pretty sucky when you get that same $5 on an $80 steak dinner for two.

The Calculating Tipper

While 15 percent is a good rule of thumb for tipping, these tippers take it as more of a literal rule. They pull out their calculators or tip charts to leave a tip that is exactly 15 percent – down to the penny. Sometimes they tip 10 or 20 percent, but the same rule applies.

The “Jump Through Hoops” Tipper

Some people take the idea that you are their server a little too much to heart, and they try to milk the situation for all it’s worth. That includes sending you back for extra butter, another refill, a clean napkin, a spoon that doesn’t have this spot on it (when there’s actually no spot), and a reheat on their steamed veggies – all in separate trips. They usually send you back to the kitchen the moment you bring whatever it is they just requested, hoarding all of your time. Surprise, these guests also usually tip the worst – or not at all.

The Penny Pincher

Everyone wants to save a buck. However, there are some diners who put together discounts and coupons to pay as little as possible for their meal – and then forget that they’re supposed to tip based on the original bill. Instead, they tip based on the discounted price. That means your tip is half off, as well, even though you gave full service.

The “I Don’t Have Money” Tipper

This tipper usually has a sob story or an apology about why they are leaving you a bad tip or no tip at all. “We just bought a house.” “We just had a baby.” Unfortunately, this miserly mindset wasn’t there when they were ordering steak and shrimp, but when it comes time to your tip, they start thinking about all the other things in their budget.

The Judgmental Tipper

When you’re dealing with this tipper, every move you make it being ranked, tallied and scored like you’re performing in front of a panel of Olympic judges. Every time you take a little too long to bring a refill, it’s counted against you. Every time you fail to flash a full-watt smile, it’s counted against you. By the end of the meal, all your demerits are mentally assessed and your tip is deducted accordingly.

The Generous Tipper

By far the tipper you most want to get at your table, the generous tipper always leave above and beyond what’s expected – usually regardless of the service or any other circumstances. The generous tipper sometimes does this to feel philanthropic and sometimes does it in recognition of the nature of the job, which requires a lot of hard work without a lot of pay. Generous tippers are especially common at the holidays.
What are types of tippers have you encountered waiting tables? Tell us about them in the comments!

Chloe Trogden is a seasoned financial aid writer who covers specific opportunities such as beauty school scholarships. Her leisure activities include camping, swimming and playing her guitar.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Starbuck's Lawsuit Resolution

In keeping with the heartfelt comment left on Baristas Fighting to Keep Tip Jar Tips:
I am a shift at Starbucks. I, personally would not care if the tips were exclusively for baristas. That being said, I do ALL the work that a barista does every day (Trash runs, register, drive-thru, making drinks, sweeping and mopping, cleaning the bathrooms, etc.) PLUS, I have the added stress of the "shift" duties (cash-handling, food orders, maintenance calls, conflict resolution, customer complaints, covering shifts for ill partners, etc.) When I became a shift, I received a $1 an hour raise. Everyone gets periodic raises throughout the year, so there are a few baristas at my store that make more than I do simply because they've been there for so long. Truthfully, it's the guaranteed hours that are the real benefit of being a shift. Not the hourly pay. Our tip rate usually ends up being between $1.30 and $1.60 an hour at the end of the week. If we shifts did not receive the tips anymore, many of us would be making LESS than baristas for doing the same job, and then some. Like I said before, I choose to remain a shift because of the guaranteed 37-39 hours a week I get. If the baristas decided that they felt it was unfair for us to receive tips, I would stop accepting them. I would never want to make my valued coworkers feel cheated.
the New York Court of Appeals found that shift supervisors are entitled to participate in the tip pool. Lawyers and Settlements explains why. 

In short, the job title "supervisor" may be misleading in this situation. The court found that shift supervisors do all of the work that baristas do, with a rather small additional amount of responsibility. The court found that shift supervisors are not managers. 

Because of their job duties, not their job title, shift supervisors are entitled to share in the tip jar earnings because the bulk of their job is serving customers, no different from a barista. 

One more time: thanks to the anonymous comment leaver for explaining it so well. The New York Court of Appeals agreed with your description of your job. 

I like to think of Starbuck's as a good company, so I am glad this has been resolved. 

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

I'm Back!

It's good to go away, and it's good to be back home. 

I hate flying, but I love riding Amtrak. I have been on quite a few of their trains lately. Was inspired for my first post back by an experience in a dining car. My companions and I were having a good time at breakfast and were chatty, as always, with the working stiffs in the "restaurant." The manager of the dining car approached and asked us to please remind her of our room numbers and what we had ordered. We already had our food so were a little confused but, of course, we politely complied.

It turned out one of the meal tickets from the morning meal was missing. The missing ticket was not from our table. The manager explained that if she could not find the missing ticket, she would have to pay for the meal herself.

I was shocked. Lord knows I've seen enough shenanigans that exploit the working stiff in food service, but a fly could probably have flown in my mouth. 

I started to look into the finances of Amtrak, and was shocked by what I found. An article in the Washington Post from last March titled, "Amtrak loses a ton of money each year. It doesn't have to." explains the problem, at least in part. Even with government subsidies, my favorite (cross-country) routes are simply not profitable. 

I hope there is a way to salvage Amtrak without just cutting out the less profitable routes. I seem to recall that is what AC Transit did in the eighties, and a busy and useful bus service became skeletal. So, what are the options? Should we raise prices of tickets? Or would that just discourage riding the train even more? 

I still say digging into the wages of a lower-paid worker to save a few bucks on a meal ticket seems a bit draconian. I understand that it encourages efficiency, but an inefficient worker is unlikely to last in the job. 

What do you think? Have you ever ridden Amtrak? How did you like it? Leave your comment below; I look forward to reading your thoughts.