After dedicating nearly a decade of my life to the foodservice industry,
I think it’s safe to say, it fucking blows. The restaurant food chain of
labor is brutal, and is mentally, emotionally, and physically taxing. I
have successfully wasted my youth running around trying to make
unappreciative customers and bosses happy. I have thrown out
my back carrying trays that no one less than 6 ft and 200 lbs of pure
muscle should be carrying. I have missed countless important holidays,
parties, even my own birthdays, because I had to just to keep my job. To
this day, I have reoccurring nightmares in which I forget I have a table
or a screw up an order and customers leave mad. I wake up drenched in
sweat and stressed out.
If I look back at all of the jobs I’ve had, I can honestly say that I
was most appreciated at the very bottom of the foodservice chain, at
Baskin Robbins 31 Flavors (in reality it’s more like 52 flavors). My
boss was cool. I was allowed to do homework in the back if it was slow.
I could request days off, and actually get them. I was paid minimum
wage, but I was allowed to accept tips. The most physically demanding
task was scooping the ice cream in the rightmost cooler because it was
somewhat more frozen than the rest. I got all of my closest friend’s
jobs, I didn’t have to wear a uniform and I got free ice cream.
Things deteriorate quickly from here. My next job was a step up the
ladder: hostessing at a full service restaurant. It was stressful. I was
sexually harassed on a daily basis. Customers were in a hurry and rude.
My coworkers were greedy and my bosses barked orders right and left . I
had to buy expensive clothes to meet the dress code. I had a set
schedule and was unable to request days off. I bounced around as a
hostess for about two years. The only perk to working in a restaurant
was the free food.
Then I became a busser. The money was great! The waiters were instantly
nicer (they were bussers once too ya know). The customers were eating
and generally not SO unhappy. But then I realized, I’m basically waiting
tables and only making a small percentage of the tips that the waiters
were getting. So, given the opportunity I moved up.
Waitress. “Hello, my name is \*\*\*\* and I’ll be your waitress this
evening”. It felt great to do the same work as before and instantly be
making WAY more money. I might add at this time that I grew up in
Washington State. The minimum wage has been the highest in the country
for a LONG time and it applies to tipped employees. I was making
$8.50/hr plus tips. Employers treat you with respect because they
respect your time. They have to, they’re paying for it. I soon realized
however, that “kids eat free” promotions and teenagers on their first
date, are not lucrative. I wanted a more sophisticated crowd. I wanted
people that appreciated hard work and were willing to pay for it. I
quickly realized the place for me was in the bar.
I got my liquor license (strictly necessary in the state of WA) on my
21st birthday. I started cocktail waitressing about a week later. All of
a sudden a “good” tip went from 20% of the entire check to a dollar a
drink. I can honestly say I’ve never worked harder or made more money.
Cocktail waitressing at a dingy Mexican restaurant-bar in a crappy small
town, I was making my wage ($8.50/hr) and averaging about $35-50/hr in
tips. I was working three days a week, three hour shifts and I was a
filthy rich kid.
Once I learned the ropes a bit I was promoted to bartender. This is the
top of the foodservice chain. This is the only person in the restaurant
who gets tipped out and tips out no one. This is the person who has
regular customers that adore her and drunkenly leave a $10 tip on a $5
tab. This person is suddenly not a servant, but an equal. You are a
psychologist and a friend. You mix drinks and pour beer. In my opinion,
much easier than bringing them their chips and salsa or filling their
water glasses every ten minutes for an hour. You open a bottle and
suddenly you earned $1 (at least). This is the job that every
foodservice employee is striving for, or should be.
So, here I am at 22 years old with a meager 5 years of full service
restaurant experience, and I’ve got it made. I rarely work, I actually
have a savings account, and if I have to work on my birthday, it sucks,
but I go home with $200. I can always celebrate tomorrow. I thought my
hard work had finally paid off I had the skills to get part time work
that can be found nationwide, that pays the bills and isn’t too dull. A
“cool” job to boot.
When the Washington rain really started to get to me, I decided to move.
Financially this has been the worst decision of my life. Of all the
states in America, 5 have a minimum wage for tipped employees, that is
the same as the state minimum wage. I was living it up in one of them.
When I arrived in Texas, I couldn’t believe that tipped employees only
make $2.13/hr. I thought, wow, people here must tip REALLY well and
surely most establishments pay more.... Who would do restaurant work for
less than $20/hr (tips included)? Turns out, a lot of people do. Not
just in Texas, but all over the country. In the year or so that I
bartended and waitressed at various Austin locations, I didn’t once
average more than $12/hr. Being a bartender here isn’t “cool”, it’s hard
work. Being a waitress isn’t fun, it’s exhausting and the money just
isn’t what it should be.
Why is it that tipped employees make close to nothing in hourly wages?
It has been said that this lower minimum wage for tipped employees was
first put in place to protect small businesses that couldn’t afford to
keep servers who were already making decent wages from their clientele.
Small mom n’ pop businesses were dropping like flies while their
waitstaff was making a killing. So a bill was passed that dictated as
long as a server was making an average of at $7.25/hr, tips included,
then the employer was only required to pay the two dollar minimum wage.
Somehow, this loophole to protect small businesses has become the
standard of the restaurant industry, not only in Texas but in a lot of
states. You would think that Applebee’s, with the same prices at all of
their restaurants nationwide, would be able to afford to pay all of
their servers nationwide, the same wage. Apparently not, and they don’t
When I was making $8.50/hr, I never cleaned a single bathroom. I didn’t
mop any floors. I was a valued and skilled employee and the more tips I
made, the more money the restaurant made. We had a very healthy
I have worked for six restaurants and bars in Texas and they are all the
same. You are free labor, your time isn’t important. Employers think
that they are doing you the greatest service in the world, letting you
wait their tables and clean their bathrooms. You stay around when there
are no customers “just in case.”
I always say: the hardest job in the world is finding a job, because
until you’re hired, you aren’t getting paid. In Texas, waitressing just
might be a little harder.