I just read this article: Confessions of a Bartender: 10 Things Every Bartender Hates About You.
I expected to enjoy this article, and the snarky nostalgia of a bartender in NYC, bidding a not-so-fond farewell to her days in a job she’s outgrown. Instead, I was pretty annoyed at her entitled ranting at the general public, both blaming them for not participating in the unfair payment system of service employees, and alleviating herself of any responsibility she might have for not earning a full 20% tip. So, I decided to write her, and all service industry employees a little (read: super effing long) note (read: novel).
Dear Service Industry Employees:
When I was younger I spent several years as a waitress in a wide variety of restaurants from an IHOP, to one of the swankiest, most expensive spots in my area, and everything in between. While I do have a chain or two under my belt, I preferred to work in smaller Mom & Pop restaurants (mostly because I got to eat off the menu without having to spend any money of my own). I’ve done my sidework; filled hundreds of syrups, ketchups, and hot sauces bottles. I’ve cut thousands of lemons, made zillions of desserts, cappucinos, esspressos, and lattes. At one job I was even tasked with doing the dishes at the end of the night, because my bosses were too cheap to keep the dishwasher kid on until close. So, not only do I know what it’s like to support myself on 15-20% of diners’ checks, but I also know what it’s like to make $2.13/hour for washing an entire night’s worth of dishes, pots, pans, glasses, and silverware.
I’ve dealt with every kind of a-hole. The kind that thinks he’s the only customer in the room, running your legs off a napkin at a time, and leaves you four dollars on a two hundred dollar check. The kind who ignores your warning that steak au poivre is really peppery, eats most of it, then insists it was too peppery, and demands it be removed from the bill. The lingerers who occupy your largest table for seventeen hours while there’s an hour wait behind them. The teenagers who make lots of noise, huge messes, lame jokes, and don’t tip at all. The parents whose kids will only eat something that’s not on the menu, and end up dropping all of that specially requested food all over and under the table, and between the seats. I’ve been dine and ditched on, bitched at, and have had so many parts of my body groped I could almost call it a massage.
So I get it. The service industry sucks.
For the most part, people don’t go into this industry thinking they’ll make a career out of it. Sure there are certainly professional waiters, and bartenders. I’m not saying it isn’t a valid career path. It’s just not something most of us entered into thinking, “This is the job I will retire from at 55″. In fact, for the most part, these are usually jobs we enter into in the prime of our youths, or during especially broke periods of our lives because it’s the fastest, easiest way we can think of to earn money. These are jobs that are flexible enough to fit into a young person’s schedule. They are jobs that we can get so we can save our days for auditions, classes, and studying. They are jobs that allow a person to be social, make a group of friends with interesting backgrounds, and similar schedules, maybe eat some interesting and awesome foods, and make wads of cash every night. This is not a glamorous job. Neither is being a bartender, no matter what Tom Cruise tried to show us. Any job where you have to deal with people, and consumables, sucks. In fact, any job where you have to deal with people, pretty much sucks, and it almost never pays enough to counterbalance the suckage.
What sucks even more is the way our country has decided to pay for service industry employees. They pay (at least where I live) $2.13/hour, and you get whatever tips you get. What’s worse is that from your tips you’re expected to give a percentage to bussers, hostesses, and whatever other employee that restaurant/bar has decided to hire on tips. When I worked at IHOP tipping out ground my gears like you couldn’t imagine. Why? Because I did all my own bussing. I set all my own tables, and most of the time I cleaned them too. On a few occasions I could be known to go into the back, where the bussers were sitting smoking cigarettes, wave my wad of ones at them, and tell them (in Spanish…cause none of them spoke English) that they weren’t getting a dime of it if they didn’t go clean my tables. I meant it too. I didn’t always tip out when they didn’t do their jobs.
However, as a service industry employee whose pay is based primarily on tips, there are some things that you need to understand.
- You chose to work in this industry. Every single industry has it’s pros and cons. Supermarket cashiers stand for 8 hours a day, swiping barcodes, bagging groceries, and arguing about coupons, for $5.15 an hour. Phone based customer service reps get to sit down, but they spend their shifts getting yelled at for things that are beyond their control. Landscapers work in triple digit heat. Janitors have to clean up bodily fluids. Shoot…doctors spend close to a decade of their lives sleep deprived, and steadily burying themselves further into debt before they can even start earning anything close to a wage that befits their education. Yes, we’re in a recession, and jobs are short, so maybe this was the only job you could get, BUT a) you should be happy you even have a job at all, and b) you have to stop blaming your customers for the shitty aspect of having it. There are alternatives. Being unemployed is only one that comes to mind.
- Don’t want to smile? Don’t bitch about your tip. Your job is based on performance. The author of the article (read: rant) that was the catalyst for this letter (read: rant) says that her customers should stop asking her to smile, because she has her own problems. Truth is–no one cares. We all have problems. We all have bills. We all have crappy days, and crappy nights, but no one cares. The customer didn’t just pay the equivalent of a six pack for one drink to give a shit about your problems. When all you have to do is pop the top off of a bottle, and you want a tip for it, you’d better do something awesome to earn it. All most people expect is a friendly face, and an “enjoy”. If you’re doing your job with a sour puss on your face, and your customer asks you to smile, they are doing you a favor. They are letting you know that you’re skating on thin ice, and might not get at tip at all. Thank them for snapping you out of your funk, and joke about being lost in thought about the starving children in our country.
- Tipping is not mandatory. I know this comes as a shock to anyone working in a service industry, but tipping is a societally imposed courtesy which business owners manipulate to their benefit. There are only a few jobs where I think tipping should be mandatory. Anyone who makes your hair look amazing, deserves a tip. Anyone who has cleaned up any bodily fluid, deserves extra for that. Bartenders and waitresses do not fall into this category. “Tip” is a slang term for “gratuity”. Gratuity is something given in gratitude for a provided service. Think about how this may have gotten started. Are you going to give better service to a person who has slipped you a $20? Sure you are. You’ll be more attentive, and friendly too. The problem is that social customs in this country have allowed this to become an obligation, as opposed to a bonus. As a result, service industry employees feel entitled to this bonus, and only get excited by a bonus that is above the suggestion. To use the author’s own example, do you go to CVS, and tip the cashier for swiping the barcodes? No. Why? Because that’s their job. Sure, service industry employees aren’t paid as high of a base wage, but that’s not the customer’s problem, is it? If you want a bonus, you have to do something to earn it. I can’t tell you how much it pisses me off to go into a “nice” restaurant, pay $15 for a plate of pasta with cream sauce, and have the waitress try and auction my food to the highest bidder, “Hey who got the penne?” Isn’t that your job? If I have to tell you who is supposed to get which entree, then I shouldn’t have to pay for your service.
- Stop blaming the customer. It’s so easy to get pissed at the customer who stiffs you on a tip, especially if you did provide awesome service. That stings like lemon juice on a cut. It’s easy to say, “If you can’t afford the tip, stay home.” BUT, the truth is that it’s not the customer that is to blame. It’s whoever owns that restaurant. See, they don’t have to pay you only $2.13 an hour. They can pay you whatever they want. One of my friends worked at IHOP for years because she was lucky enough to land a gig in a privately owned restaurant. She got paid over regular minimum wage an hour (I think she got something like $6.50), plus her tips. That little hourly wage can go a long way to making you feel better about that one table of jerks. It’s not the customer’s fault that business owners are sleazy, underpaying asshats.
- You are entitled to not be assaulted. One night I was closing by myself, at one particular restaurant. A guy at one of my tables reached his hand up my skirt (I had plans that night, and wasn’t going to have time to completely change my clothes, and that was, in fact the only time I EVER wore a skirt to waitress). Now, I’ve always been a particular type of woman who would never tolerate that kind of nonsense, and for the most part my demeanor was enough to deter any would-be gropers, but there have been quite a few who have crossed that line. This guy, however, had just finished his second bottle of red, and was a little over the top to begin with. Maybe I would have reacted differently if he didn’t try to slide a finger under my panties. I grabbed his pinky, and pulled it back until he couldn’t move. He was howling in pain, and anger. I turned around, brought my face close to his and calmly said, “If you ever put your fucking hands on me again I will break your fucking finger. I am your waitress, not your wife.” His wife, who was, in fact, sitting next to him, and the rest of his table, looked on in a mixture of horror, and amusement. When I released him, I stood up straight, smoothed my skirt, smiled, and told the table that if they didn’t pay their bill, and at offer at least 20% gratuity I would call the cops and press assault charges. I tell this anecdote to illustrate how strongly I believe that being a bartender, or a waitress is not synonymous with hooker. I don’t care what establishment you’re in, be it Hooters, or Fridays, you don’t put your hands on ANYONE without being invited to do so. Nor should you, as a waitress or a bartender, allow anyone to cross the line with you.
- Between you, and the customer, you are the expert. Unless you’re serving a chef, you are the expert in regards to what is available at the establishment you’re working for. For a waiter this means being able to recommend your favorite dishes. Tip: Recommending a more expensive dish means the check will be higher, and your tip will be too. If you haven’t tried the food, a) make it a point to do so, b) let them know what the most ordered/enjoyed dishes are, and c) If all else fails–lie. Remember that if you lie, and the diner hates the dish, you’re responsible, and your tip could reflect this. It also means warning diners of dishes that are extreme in any way. Not everyone knows that a dish served Fra Diavlo is going to be spicy, or that a steak au poivre might be very peppery, despite the menu descriptions, or cute little symbols denoting that it is so. Yes, they should read the menu, but part of your job is to make sure your customers enjoy their experience, and it’s easy enough to say, “Do you like spicy foods? That dish is pretty spicy.” For bartenders this means having an arsenal of drinks in your memory banks. Don’t assume that everyone is familiar with the jargon of your trade. If they ask you for something “fun”, you should be ready with some questions like, “do you like fruity drinks? Creamy drinks? Strong alcohol flavors?”, and be prepared to offer up a recommendation. If they like the drink, you’ll get tipped more for the suggestion. Being able to accommodate your customer’s cravings is exactly what you’re there for. It shows them that you care about their enjoyment, and it can create repeat customers. Think of every interaction as an opportunity to get a higher tip.
- Know when to call it quits. Like I said earlier, very few people go into these jobs thinking they’ll become careers. For most people, these are temporary jobs that are necessary for a certain period of their lives. Eventually, however, that stops being true. For me that happened when I started going to college after I received my associates degree. I’d always had more than one job, and had been smart enough to build up a skill set that could earn me a higher wage without having to be exposed to the public. I’d decided that when school started, I’d stop waitressing…forever. On my last day I was scheduled for a double, which meant that I worked the lunch shift, and would be first cut, around 8. Unfortunately, the other waitress that I was supposed to work with had some emergency, and, as Thursday nights had been pretty dead the last few weeks, my boss didn’t call anyone in. She promised we’d close at 9. Instead, we got slammed. There were 15 tables inside, and four outside–all full, and an hour wait. It was me, and one newbie busgirl. I was too busy to be anything less than gracious, and even so, one table walked out. It was every waitresses’ nightmare. I was in the weeds the entire night, and people didn’t stop walking in until 10:30, and I didn’t get out until well after midnight. This wasn’t one of those open ’til two kind of places. We were almost always done by 11 during the week. I didn’t even do my sidework. I told my boss that she could call the girl in who was supposed to be there that night, and get her to finish my sidework. She didn’t even argue. A few years earlier that would’ve been exciting. I would have been thrilled to earn as much money as I did, but at that point I was burnt out. It wasn’t fun anymore. It was horrible, stressful, and I vowed that I would never return to waitressing ever again. And I haven’t. ::knock on wood:: What might be a great job for you at 19, might not be good for you at 29. While you’re waitressing, or bartending, don’t stop building your skill set outside the restaurant/bar industry. One day you might find that your schedule can no longer accommodate the hours you have to work, or you may suffer from some serious burnout. Remember that this job wasn’t intended to be permanent, and make sure your develop yourself so that when that time comes, you have somewhere to go.
I have a lot of trouble with entitlement, in general, so the attitude of the author of the catalytic article really pisses me off. In a world where people with college educations are hard pressed to eat any more than ramen, that a person would be willing to stand on a virtual soapbox, and be anything less than grateful for the opportunity to have a fun job where they can earn cash on the spot, would even complain about customers who ::gasp:: make her DO HER JOB, is disgusting to me. There’s venting, and then there is being an entitled brat. Unfortunately the author falls into the latter category.
So, my dear service industry employees, I applaud your opportunity, your integrity, and the grace with which you do a very difficult job. Even if you don’t deserve it, I will always tip you 20%, because I’ve been there, and because I can, but please, for the love of America, don’t think you’re entitled to it. I worked hard for my money, and will distribute it as I see fit, not as you think I should.
P.S. To the rest of you, please do tip appropriately. If your server has: done a good job, brought you your food with a smile, delivered your mustard, refill, and extra napkins in succession because you didn’t remember to ask for it all it once, recommended dishes, snuck you an extra piece of whatever, comped your dessert for your anniversary, or has done anything at all extra, and especially if you have kids who have dropped, smeared, and scattered more food than they’ve eaten…If your bartender has been attentive, cordial, recommended a drink, used the blender for you, or has done anything at all extra…please tip them accordingly. As much as it isn’t your fault that the industry is the way it is, or that the business owner is slimy, and underpaying, it isn’t theirs either. The ones going the extra mile deserve the extra dollar. Remember, one day that could be you, or your teenager.