Relying on tips as a primary source of income is reality for a lot of people. I have waited tables for nine years. While proving to be somewhat lucrative, it also comes with disadvantages: namely, an inconsistent schedule and chip on the shoulder. As a server, I am often regarded as a robot. I do not always wear a black tie, and I am not always perky and full of energy. But when a guest sits at my table, I am onstage. After all, it is my job.
Waiting tables is a choice, and if I don’t like it, I can change it. But not a lot of jobs offer a full-time, school-friendly schedule. Of course, this means operating on the dreaded “clopen” (close-open) shifts. There’s nothing quite like leaving at midnight, attempting to finish homework and being dressed and ready again by 10 a.m. There are naturally some mornings I may forget that extra side of ranch dressing.
Living alone, the struggle of going to school, working, paying rent and buying expensive cat food is real. I survive on the hope that the majority of the population understands how tipping works. When one’s job is to provide hospitality and service, a 20 percent tip is the ideal way to show respect and appreciation. Yet this still seems to confuse some.
Aside from relying on social norms to pay the bills, there are the pains of dealing with co-workers. It is a Friday night and I have just taken an order for a fancy mojito, strawberry milkshake, gluten-free appetizer and a super-modified, off-the-menu entrée order. As I make my way past the crowd to the bar to pick up the drinks, I receive a look from my bartender that I never knew existed.
The hatred in his eyes forces me to apologize for my guests’ order (which is obviously not my fault). I then head to the kitchen to explain to the chef the dish my guest just made up and ask how to ring it into the computer. That is when I immediately regret ever taking this job. After arriving at my table with all of my necessary items, the adorable baby in the high chair decides to throw his milk across the floor, and my busser lets out a tragic sigh.
Tips go farther than just the server. An entire crew takes part in creating the ambience and experience of dining out. That 20 percent is often split between at least three people. After the tip sharing, what is left in our pockets at the end of the shift must then be declared. This means if servers declare “too much,” the restaurant gets out of owing us the $2.13 per hour we are legally allowed to earn. Essentially, we do not see a paycheck. As a vegetarian, I am also expected to lie about how good the steak is. It is hard to answer honestly when a guest asks if something specific is tasty or not.
First off, a lot of servers will recommend the most expensive items to increase tip percentage; it is just that simple. Not having tasted most of the items on the menu has posed awkward moments, to say the least. I am not entirely certain that my acting has proved credible in these situations. So it is best to just make up your own mind when choosing what’s for dinner.
At the end of the day, though, I am satisfied with my stressful and crazy job (at least until I graduate). Because although sometimes I want to walk out, slap someone or give up altogether for a normal 9-to- 5, there is something important about what I do. Hospitality is a real job, and without those of us who dish it out, what fun would Friday nights be?