Waiting and Dining and Tipping, Oh My!!

The first job I ever had (where I had to pay taxes) was as an employee at the Bob’s Big Boy in Amherst. After I’d been there a while, the waitresses convinced me to ask for a server’s job, as they thought it would be great.

Want a job that will teach you humility? That’s it. You bite your tongue if you want to earn that tip and keep your job and you put up with a bunch of malarkey horse$hit crap. I went from working afternoon dinners to the late night bar crowd, workin’ 9-6am on the weekends while I was in school. Made lots o’ cash, and lots of friends, and put up with loads of drunk, silly and sometimes rude people. But with the right personality, you can charm the socks off of those people and make a buck.

Later, during college, I worked at Chi-Chi’s as a server and made money there, and because you have busboys and bartenders that help you with your job, they get a cut of the tips that you made. That’s fine, because if you want to make $$$, you need a busboy hitting your tables as soon as your guests get up so it can be cleared and cleaned for the next group of people. Bartenders are, of course, making your drinks and blending your margaritas. If you tip your bartender well, he/she’ll remember that when next you need drinks during a rush. There are more stories to tell but you have an idea where I’m coming from now.

In yesterday’s news, Darden Restaurants Inc., the folks that run Red Lobster, Olive Garden and recently Longhorn Steakhouse, rather than raise their prices, they’ve decided to pass the tab to their servers. In what they call ‘a more disciplined’ tip-sharing plan, servers must now give up a greater percentage of their total sales each shift to hosts and bartenders. They must now tip-out 2.25% of their total sales vs. the previous 1%. To put that into perspective, if a server sells $1000 worth of food and drinks, they must tip-out $22.50.

According to the AP news,

The tip-outs, which allow the company to pay bartenders and hosts a lower wage, were one factor helping Darden shave labor expenses as a percentage of sales by .6% in the fourth quarter. The policy helped ‘offset wage pressure inside the restaurant.’

The company’s focus on tip-sharing comes as restaurants scramble to trim expenses as customers eat out less and food prices climb. Adding to their costs is an increase in the federal minimum wage to $6.55 Thursday. Darden defends the practice, saying it hasn’t raised prices or shrunk portions like other restaurants have. Bob Evans Restaurants cut its workers’ hours by 2.6 million in fiscal year 2008.

This stinks because most folks haven’t the slightest clue how to tip a server, which should be 20% of the bill. (I can already hear the screaming, let me finish!!) If the service is inadequate, then you adjust it accordingly. But if you’re not happy with how your food turned out, unless you go to one of those Asian hibachi table-side restaurants, the server did not prepare your meal. So, while on $1000 sales, a server should make about $200, they may only receive about $150 to $165, but they’ll still have to tip out on the TOTAL sales.

The other rant a lot of folks let loose with is ‘well, restaurants should pay their staff a good wage!’ Servers, I believe, make $2.35? an hour, which is offset by the tips they earn. Back when I was serving, which was ’87-’89 at Chi-Chi’s, you could average $10 to $15 an hour easy on a good busy night. Now, if tipping was taken away, and the server paid a flat wage, you could expect to pay about $35 to $40 for ribeye steak dinner. Count on it. Pancakes and eggs would probably run you about $10 to $12, and that’s on the lowside. Still want them to get that higher wage?

I also recently read that some restaurants are passing the fee they pay credit card companies onto servers whose guests put tips on their charge. This, I think, is wrong, too. Servers have no control how guests are going to pay for their meals, and it’s not something they can suggest or influence. The suggestion was made recently to ask your server if they have to foot that fee and, if possible, tip them in cash.

Regardless, having been in their shoes, I ask you the next time you go out to eat, please tip your server accordingly. Tip them fair, and if they went out of their way for you, demonstrated what we used to call the “Wow Factor”, give them a little bit more. If it’s someplace you frequent, I guarantee you the server will remember you, and will treat you very well the next time they wait on you. And if you were VERY impressed, please feel free to ask if that person is working when you next dine out, and if you can be seated in their section. They will be delighted to serve you because of the tip you left previously, and you’ll get great service, and the circle will continue.

(As an afterthought, I’d like to add that restaurants that hit their employees up to adjust their bottom line should rethink their methods. Personally, I’d be a lot less loyal to an establishment that hit me up to fix their bottom line. Restaurant jobs are almost a dime a dozen these days, and any establishment that found an unemployed server with experience would snatch’em up quickly. Don’t piss off your staff, or you’ll find yourself working the floor with a crew of rookies. -hh) 

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4 thoughts on “Waiting and Dining and Tipping, Oh My!!

  1. Hi Henery , thanks for this …very interesting…. I have noticed that booking hotels in Europe etc if I use the credit card the hotels are adding the 3.5% fee for using the credit card back to me….. same with the rail tickets for London to Edinburgh .and the hidden charges OH my bottom line is it is usaly the little guy who suffers … Loraine

  2. I saw the story last night on Fox8 about the restaurants that pass on the credit card fees to their servers. I would never go back to a restaurant that treated their servers like you described above. Pass that credit card charge on to the people using the card. Shoot, even Mutt & Jeff’s adds 10% to your order if you get it to go.

    Ohio Minimum Wage Laws

    Looks like servers are getting just a little more than what was our minimum wage back in the day, according to that site.

  3. Thanks for that link, Momma. When I wrote this, it was LATE in the evening, and most restaurants were closed, so I couldn’t call. It never occurred to me to search for the MW law online. Bein’ up late fried my brain, I guess. Duh.

    When I waited, a server’s wage was $ 2.01 an hour. We were required to report all of our tips, so when we got a paycheck, there wasn’t much to it.

  4. Learn, Learn, Learn I have always assumed (yah I know) that the 3.5% of everything I bought was already in the price even if I didn’t use a credit card. Maybe if I got a 3.5% discount for cash I would be tempted to shop there! On the way to Findlay there are two gas stations opposite corners, one is cash only and the 3.5% is reflected in the pump price and easily compared to the station across the street that takes credit cards. But then again now that gas is a major purchase I don’t like to carry that much money for a spot purchase. But restaurants, they are just screwing the help, plain and simple …and the result is certainly damaging to the already bordering businesses.

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