Indigestion: The Secret Life of Servers

The restaurant industry is a very profitable industry, with what seems like a different dining establishment on every street corner. In every one of these full-service restaurants, of which there are thousands, there is a staff composed of misplaced persons of all ages serving food. Waiters are those who are waiting, waiting for something better to come along. Some forget they were ever waiting to begin with, while others seem to think waiting is an occupation unto itself. I want you to understand the people who serve your meals.
First, they are serving meals that are prepared by people you probably do not speak to under normal circumstances. A large percentage of them are immigrants from Latin American countries, though I think it might surprise you what portion of them are not Mexicans, Chicanos. These are the people who you want to “learn the language or get out of our country.” Remember, every dollar is a vote and every bite, a warm invitation.

The people serving this food are largely regular drinkers, drug users and connoisseurs of casual sex. Half of the wait staff at the restaurants you frequent have slept with at least one of their co-workers. Perhaps they’re working the same shift, perhaps the same section. Perhaps they did it right before they started serving your food. Just know that the lifestyle of a waiter is one of preoccupation, like those magazines you read in the doctor’s office.
Still, the things that discourage extravagant lapses in morality are all monetary. The life of a waiter is a life of poverty in most instances. In lower-income suburban restaurants, waiters are often below, at, or barely over the poverty line. They rely almost solely on their tips, because in the state of Tennessee, they only earn an hourly rate of $2.13, comparable to that of sweatshop laborers overseas. This means that if a server has a three table section and is tipped two dollars by one, stiffed by one, and two by another, that server makes $6.13/hr. These tables may stay longer than an hour, and for every minute a table stays past the time it takes to eat a meal, the server loses potential income. Some days, the waiter will not have a full section of 3,4,5 tables. The store may not be very busy. Without the tips, that waiter only makes that hourly rate during opening or closing times when store maintenance and preparation takes place. Such days are a fact of life for servers. Basically, all of this comes out to an hourly rate of pay that doesn’t match the service performed.
Only half of the waiter’s job is done on the floor, in front of a customer. When they are not waiting their own tables, they are running food, restocking things, cleaning, or fixing mess-ups. Perhaps they’re picking up the slack for a co-worker who is too hung over to do a good job. It’s a consideration that should be weighed more often. Know that the work behind the scenes is not usually subject to compensation.
In case you didn’t know, gratuity ranges from 15 percent to 20 percent. Ten is traditional, but the price of food in restaurants has not increased proportionately to the price of living in America. The majority of servers in nicer restaurants can not even afford to live in the areas they work in. Rather, they commute to higher income areas. Even above the poverty line in many areas is below the average standard of living.
When you treat a waiter poorly, you are attacking one of the most vulnerable portions of our population. They are bound by poverty. To assert themselves would be professional suicide, so their hands are tied. If a customer is abusive and impossible to deal with, the waiter has to wait it out as long as the person feels like staying. Beating up on a punching bag does not prove a thing.
Finally, know that your waiter is not stupid, just stuck for a little while. When you eat out, you are lucky enough to enjoy the company of a person on his or her way up or an experienced liver of life on the rebound. Still, know that waiting tables is a transitionary period that Americans go through. It’s a temporary psychosis. It’s hard business, so be sure to tip your waiter.
? Nate Cougill


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