Leave a Tip for Your Waiter or Waitress
Waitressing is not easy work. Ask any server you know, and they’ll tell you that the job is under-appreciated. Oddly enough, the part that seems the simplest, taking a customer’s order and delivering his or her food when it’s ready, is the most difficult. Once the order is turned over to the kitchen, it leaves the waitress’s control. Even if she writes every detail to perfection – 16-ounce sirloin cooked medium-well, house salad with extra blue cheese crumbles, loaded baked potato with ranch and sour cream, and steamed cauliflower instead of green beans – she doesn’t know how the meal will be prepared until she sees it.
The waitress cannot quibble, because she acts as the liaison between customer and kitchen. If the food isn’t up to par, she must accept blame, apologize, and find a way to make it right. To make matters worse, the kitchen staff is often harassed and harried – in no mood to re-do plates of food they believe are wrong because of the waitress, not their own mistakes. At times, a waitress has to apologize to customers and co-workers in order to make amends and get the food cooked correctly. She must act politically in these moments, working to bridge the gap between customer expectations and kitchen deliveries.
Taking orders is only one aspect of the job. Most waitresses have to clean and re-set tables, roll silverware, fold napkins, prepare salads and other sides, stock supplies, and clean. It is an emotionally and physically demanding job that requires careful maneuvering around many different egos.
Waitresses joined the United States labor force at the end of the nineteenth century. Years earlier – on December 13, 1827 – the concept of eating a meal away from home was introduced by a New York restaurant. The earliest restaurants employed only male servers, as the idea of a female waitress was akin to prostitution. But Frank Harvey of Raton, New Mexico, changed the restaurant industry forever when he hired a staff of waitresses in the late 1800s. Those women dressed in conservative black dresses and worked 12-hour shifts to make less than $18 per month. Meanwhile, their male counterparts earned $48 per month.
Today, waitresses come from all walks of life. They are single mothers, teenagers in high school, and college-educated women who choose to wait tables. While the face of serving has evolved, the compensation has not. Since 1996, both male and female servers have made $2.13 per hour in addition to tips. But tips aren’t guaranteed, and the fluctuating pay many servers earn – one night might yield $30 while another can bring in $150 - is tough to live on. It’s also rarely commensurate to the amount of work performed.
The antiquated system of leaving voluntary tips needs to be revisited. It doesn’t make sense that a single group of workers never receives raises or cost of living allowances. Certainly some servers do very well in terms of money, but that isn’t the norm. Waitresses are no less important to the American economy than other laborers. The restaurant industry employs an estimated 13 million people and accounts for 4 percent of the United States gross domestic product. Yet they continue to pay their employees peanuts.
To ensure fair treatment of servers, some establishments now include a 15 or 18 percent gratuity on every bill. A handful of patrons grumble about this, but the reality is that waitresses need to be compensated just as any other worker does. They work just as hard as secretaries, customer service representatives, medical records technicians, insurance agents, and any other career. The dated process of leaving $1 or $2 on the table for a $40 bill is no longer sufficient.
Granted, most of the work a waitress performs is behind-the-scenes, but the work is done nonetheless. Customers should be aware of the considerable effort that goes into every dining experience. And if they want to thank their server, they should do so with a tip that is at least 15 percent of the bill’s total – 20 percent would be even better.