From pizza parlors to upscale restaurants, servers are relied upon to provide customers with a pleasant dining experience.
While most restaurants require servers to be at least 18 years old in order to serve alcohol, there are a select few restaurants that do not serve alcohol and hire servers as young as 16. For the past year I have learned a few tricks of the trade serving at one of these restaurants.
You hear about it all the time — the No. 1 complaint about serving is the small pay. Minimum wage for servers is $2.13 an hour and it has been this way for the past 20 years. However that $2.13 an hour is taxed based upon tips received, so that $2.13 actually ends up being closer to $1 an hour.
But there’s more to serving and the restaurant industry than just the small pay. Before I started working in a restaurant there were a lot of things I didn’t know that have changed the way I perceive servers.
Serving is said to be one of the most challenging jobs due to the fact that you truly have to earn every penny you receive. When you’re working a typical minimum wage job, you get paid regardless of customer satisfaction. When serving, if the customer isn’t satisfied you’re not paid.
In fact, when a server isn’t tipped it actually costs them money. This is because at the end of the night a server must “tip out” to the host and bussers, so servers must either pay 10 percent of their sales for the night or 10 percent of the tips that they have earned.
Also, serving isn’t a typical 9-to-5 job because you have to work the times that people often visit restaurants. Usually this means serving during many weekends, late nights and holidays.
Servers aren’t scheduled a regular shift where you can just leave when the clock strikes whatever time you are supposed to be off. Servers come in when they are scheduled and when it’s slow they are “cut.” The first person to come in for the day is the first person who is “cut,” and the last person to come in for the day is the last person who is “cut.”
After a server is “cut” they stop taking tables and start doing “side work.” These are duties a server is to perform before ending a shift. This may include folding napkins, cutting fresh lemons and limes, or other things. After all the side work is completed and all of their tables have left, a server may go home. This is typically an hour after a server is “cut.” So on slow nights, a server may work a short shift and be “cut” early, but on a busy night servers may stay hours later than anticipated.
There is more unpredictability to a server’s job than just the schedule. It’s pretty certain that weekends will be busier than weeknights, but it still varies. There are times you are slammed with tables all at once and then don’t have a table for the rest of the night. And you never know what type of customers you’ll have; some nights you walk away with hundreds in tips and other nights you feel as if you have completely wasted your time.
Servers’ pay is a popular topic. Some nights work out in your favor and others do not. Technically you are supposed to be compensated if your wages and tips do not work out to minimum wage. This is based off of an entire week’s wages though, so even though you may have only came out at $3 an hour on a weeknight, when you work the weekends and make $15 an hour it evens out.
After having served for a year, I couldn’t work a minimum wage job. Serving is quick money that you get to take home with you and although it isn’t always the best money, in the end it evens out.
While every job requires customer service to some degree, servers are responsible for their tables and so if something goes wrong — even if it’s not their fault — they face the consequences. One night I had a table with two girls and I was busy so another server brought their food to their table. The server made a mistake and grabbed an incorrect pasta. I quickly noticed and brought the correct pasta out to the table. But they didn’t tip and left a note saying, “You were nice but you got my food wrong — sorry!”
Yet for all of the tables with customers you cannot please there are five tables that are satisfied and make your job easier. Every table is different and that’s part of the fun of working in a restaurant.
Serving requires being able to brush things off and always put a smile on your face for the next table. There are some people that you’ll never be able to make happy, just like there are other things that are out of your control such as a rush of customers that makes you feel as if you’re a chicken running around with your head cut off. Serving is a job that requires multi-tasking, patience and a supportive pair of non-slip shoes, but leaving a customer satisfied makes it one of the most rewarding jobs.
Caitlynn Kindall will be a senior at Ogden High School. Email her at email@example.com.