Tips From a Former Server

Updated on January 9, 2017

When sitting down in a restaurant everyone involved is putting a lot of faith in one another right away. The customer is assuming they will receive great service and food. The server is assuming the customer will also be patient and courteous with them as well. Sometimes all these signals get crossed, servers get busy, people become impatient, mistakes are made and ultimately everyone involved is left wondering, "Where did we go wrong?"

How It Works

During my 20 years in the service industry I've heard and lived a variety of misconceptions on a regular basis.

Let's start with how servers get paid.This also includes a host, bartender, and busser a lot of the time. So the tips that end up being left by the customer goes to pay all these people. Usually there is some sort of 'tip-out' policy. Each restaurant has their own way of doing this. Be assured though, that money you've left does not go directly into that server's pocket by any means.

A twenty percent tip is considered the standard these days, but the majority of the time you might be surprised to find that most people barely even reach the 10% mark. A lot of customers I've dealt with have a $5.00 maximum. They live and breathe by this amount. Five bucks, no more no less. If their receipt comes to $15.00 that's a good day for the server, but if their check is $75.00 that hurts. Contrary to popular belief, this does not get matched.

Servers make $2.13 per hour. Now, let me add the restaurant is legally bound to pay every employee at least minimum wage. In my state minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. So, if for whatever reason I didn't meet the requirement on my own, my restaurant will match my wages to bring me up to the minimum wage.

Putting that in perspective however, minimum wage is what a 16 year old working the line at McDonald's gets paid. I assure you no server at any sit down restaurant I have ever been at is there to only make that kind of pay. On average I would say most servers end up making around 10-12 dollars per hour depending on the time of year. If everyone tipped appropriately it would definitely bring that up to at least 14 dollars per hour. For a lot of people this makes a huge difference.

As far as an actual paycheck goes......servers don't get one. Ninety-five percent of all servers do not make an actual paycheck. The tips cancel out anything they would have originally made when it verses the taxes. The offset creates a zero balance. So, outside of the cash each day and night there is no more money that comes every two week period. It is literally that cash that is made day to day. Several people have been under the misconception for so long that servers still receive a paycheck on top of their tips and that simply is not the case.

If the service you receive does not warrant tipping appropriately, or tipping whatsoever, that's a completely different story. Especially having been a server for so long myself, I'm not going to go out of my way for someone who has been rude to me or not provided me decent service. That is a personal judgement call every person has to make for themselves.

Where Do They Go?

The next thing I would like to address is where the servers go when they are not at your beck and call. I've gotten the impression more than once that our customers truly believe we are just standing around in the kitchen somewhere talking to each other. I can assure you, this is not the case.

Pay attention to your server the next time you are out at a restaurant. Generally, that server will have a 'section' and it will be situated somewhere around where your table is located. On a normal shift where there is plenty of help and no call-ins a server will still have between 4 and 6 tables all together. If you're looking around on a Friday night and there are people all around you in every direction it is a safe bet that several of those tables also belong to your server. That means that everything they've done for you, drinks, food, condiments, anything at all, they've also been doing all of that for all the surrounding tables.

There's always going to be a few bad servers. There's always going to be a few bad people in every profession. For most of us though, we've been hustling all night long just trying to keep up and keep our people happy. I literally walked 12-17 miles on any given night when I was serving. There are no real 'breaks' or stopping points, it's hours of just continuously serving and providing every need for the customer.

If you haven't seen your server for a few minutes, just try and be patient for a time without getting upset; chances are they haven't forgotten you. Most likely, they have just gotten tied up with something and will return as quickly as possible.

Kiss My Boots?

Many times over the years people have sat in my section and behaved much like a master/servant situation. Yes, we are servers. We are here to literally serve your drinks and your food and make sure everything is going alright. We are not however servants. We are not here to be degraded to or spoken condescendingly to by people who have picked up a God complex by simply stepping foot into the restaurant. This happens so much more often than I think people even realize. Heaven forbid the server forgets something that's been asked for or something is ever wrong. These particular people act like we should kiss their boots and beg for forgiveness because we, a human, dared to make such a huge mistake.

I might just ask that everyone who visits any eating establishment try to remember that we are all human. None of us are without fault, and mistakes do get made. We really do try to make sure that you get ranch instead of honey mustard because that's what you asked for, but sometimes things happen. Sometimes the kitchen also makes mistakes and sometimes we simply put the wrong thing into the system and disaster ensues. Trust me when I tell you that our job and more importantly the money we take home that day depends completely on you and we desperately want to make you happy.

In a Perfect World

At the end of the day I am of the firm belief that if you cannot afford to tip appropriately you shouldn't be eating out. That is because I have lived it. For years and years my paycheck and ability to provide for my family relied on the kindness of strangers. If your server has served you well, please let them know that and tip accordingly. On the other end of that if they haven't served you well, that IS their job. Mistakes happen but I also believe there is no reason for bad service or rudeness on a servers end of things. Mutual respect is what it comes down to at the end of the day. Everybody in this world wants to be respected regardless of their stature or position in life.

In a perfect world, all servers would be perfect at their jobs and all customers would tip 20% or more, but we don't live in a perfect world. If we could all just provide a little patience, perspective, and understanding of where the other is coming from before blowing our gaskets I think not only restaurants but most likely all places of business would function just a bit smoother.


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