So You Want To Be A Waiter

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Hey Waiter, How Much Extra Do You Really Expect?

The great waiter’s site “Waiter Rant” alerted me to this rather snide article in The New york Times. It’s called, “Hey Waiter, How Much Extra Do You Really Expect”. Steve, the author of Waiter Rant, disposed of this article point by point, so I won’t repeat a lot of what he said, but I do have a couple of comments.

The first is a counter question – “Hey Customer, how much are you willing to pay for my service”? If it’s 2.13 an hour, then you shouldn’t tip anything. Yes, I work in a state that allows us to be paid $2.13 an hour. But it’s not that bad, since, because most people tip appropriately, I make a good living. Most people are willing to pay lower menu prices in order to determine for themselves how much their service is worth.

“Yes, I know you’re all underpaid. But guess what? So am I. When I get $500 for an article that I think is worth $1,000, you won’t see me e-mail the editor, saying, “Just so you know, service isn’t included.” Do I ask you to come into my workplace and supplement my meager income? No, I don’t”.

Well, my writer friend, you don’t supply a “service”, you supply a “product”, so this is a strawman.  But for just about every other “service position”, the price of service is already bundled in the cost of the product through the payment of a market-calibrated salary or wage. That’s not the case with full service waiters.

“Oh, sure, I’m cheap. But not as cheap as your boss, apparently, who figures he can pay you the minimum wage of $4.65 for servers, and the customer will just pick up the rest of your living expenses”.

Well, dear friend,  the alternative is that you pay a fixed increase in the price of your food that covers what the market has determined I’m worth (yes, this is your fellow diners). Since I make about $25 an hour in tips on average (yes, I work in a high-end place, but even the average server at Chili’s makes around $15 an hour), can you imagine what it’s going to do to your menu prices to tack on another 25 – 35% on top of what you’re paying now? Why 25% – 35%? Because you’re getting a break right now. If you fold the increased payroll costs into the cash flow of the restaurant, a strange thing happens – it now becomes subservient to the costs of running a restaurant and there’s a marginally higher unemployment tax burden that can arise as well. If you do the math, you’ll see that the effect of paying a floor staff of anywhere between 6 and 20 servers/bartenders/server assistants/food runners the difference between $2.13- $8/hr and $10 (in the case of a server assistant/food runner) – $25 /hr is an even higher than 20% increase in the cost of menu items. It’s just economics at work. and the other downside is that you won’t get the width and breath of restaurants that you have now if a brand new restaurant has to provide a full payroll. You’re giving new restaurants some breathing room for the first couple of critical years.

Oh, it turns out that David Sax is a Canadian. Why am I not surprised that he has an axe to grind when it comes to tipping? I am grateful for the fact that Mr. Sax claims to tip 15%, which seems higher than the normal Canadian. I’m grateful as a proxy for my Canadian waiter friends. Now if you could only convince your fellow Canadians that they should also tip 15% when they come to the States instead of the typical 8 – 10% that they leave US waiters, most of which don’t make anywhere near the $8/hr that most Canadian waiters make.

Anyway, here’s the link to the original article and the Waiter Rant rebuttal:

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