I know that my friends Michael and Tarryn - as well as any other full-time servers who are regular readers of my blog - already know the answer to this one.
IMAGE : Busboy Productions
For the rest of you, the answer is, in a word, "Tip-out" - a four-letter word at times, if ever there was one.
Putting things succinctly, whatever dollar (Euro, Yen, Chickens, First-Born, whatever...) amount you tip an American server is not entirely ours to keep, but has to be shared with others whom we work with. We have to tip out our "support staff" - such as table bussers, bartenders, food-runners and hostesses - a portion of what our guests leave "us" as their tip.
Support staff (ideally) helps us servers serve you better. We frequently ask them for help when we find ourselves overwhelmed.
IMAGE : Responsibilities of Busboys
Additionally, they are staff members whom you (the patron) semi-regularly come into contact with, and whom you may ask to get or to do something for you. Obviously, these staff members contribute to the overall experience you have at our restaurant, and therefore our earned tips as well. Therefore, each shift, a portion of our income is shared with them.
Well.. it used to be like that anyways - that it was a portion of our INCOME that we shared. Today however, it's more clinical than that.
Today, it's a portion of our TOTAL SALES - regardless of tips earned on those sales.
(I need to digress for a minute to explain why this distinction is significant - hang with me, or skip ahead to the all caps "SO ANYWAYS" below...)
"Old-school style" (I started bussing tables in the 1980s) exactly how much was tipped out to me as a busboy (and what the bartenders were tipped out) was up to each individual server. There were a few guidelines and norms of course - and the amount or percentage waiters gave their support staff could be "pro-rated" accordingly - meaning that those who worked hard, served the guests' needs, and that those who really, really helped the servers might earn a good chunk more of the total pie from their wait-staff.
The lazy bussers, who really didn't do much of anything above and beyond, might of course get tipped out a lot less.
Plus back then, almost everybody paid their bills with cash, so it was pretty hard to track a server's income exactly, or track how much money would be appropriate to tip out. WHO got tipped out HOW MUCH was entirely up to the server. Those who just coasted by, doing the minimum required to not get yelled at by the manager, typically were not tipped near as well. In short, good work-ethic was rewarded, and bad was not. If there was any norm or guidelines in place however, the expected amount to be tipped out was based largely on the server's TOTAL INCOME for that shift.
I'm betting that you can probably see the failings of human nature creeping into this system tho, can't you? A server could "screw over" even their hard-working teammates by simply claiming to have had a bad night, claiming to have gotten stiffed, or just being greedy and not really tipping appropriately, ever.
Today however, the pendulum has truly swung, in the other direction. Everything's automated, regulated, highly document-ated, and today the tip-out is highly REGULATED. The rewards of a genuine work-ethic come into the picture less and less anymore.
Let's say you come in, I wait on you, and you have a burger, fries, coke and a desert
and your tab comes to... say $25. Let's say I wait on nineteen other people just like you this same day. $25 sales x 20 ppl = $500 in total sales for my day today.
Here's how tip-out works: whether you tipped me fantastically, so-so, or not at all, at the end of the day I HAVE TO turn in a set percentage of my total sales to management, who distributes pre-set portions of that tip-out to all of that shift's support staff.
Where I used to work in New Mexico (shout out to CB-3!!) the "tip-out" was 2% of total sales. So if I averaged a crappy 15% tips all day, $500 in sales would give me $75 in tips - minus a required $10 tip out, so I'd "walk with" (as we say) $65.
If I averaged 20% tips all day, I'd earn $100 in tips, but would walk with $90 "after tip-out."
The percentage remains fixed and generally non-negotiable, and is not subject to how much I actually make. So if I averaged only 10% tips all day, I'd walk with only $40 - get it?
Now... being totally unrealistic let's say I got stiffed all day long (time to get a new job!). Guess what I'd leave with? Yuppers - I'd leave with $10 less than I came in with. For the most part, servers tipping out their support staff is mandatory, even though customers/guests tipping servers is not (don't worry, I'll of course be covering the "auto-grat" topic debate here in time - fairly, from both perspectives - trust the Guyster ;)
But YES you read that right - if you don’t leave a tip, we servers literally pay money out of our own pockets for "the pleasure" of serving you.
It doesn't sound fair perhaps, but life isn't fair, and THIS IS the system that is in place in America. Not agreeing with it doesn't change it any more for me as a server, than it does for you (or me!) as someone dining out.
While I remember a lot of complaining where I used to work about that 2% tip-out at times, turns out that figure may be behind the times. I did a brief stint (at a place it turned out I really didn't like when I first arrived here in Florida) and was shocked to have to tip out 3%. And tip out was 4% on weekends, when we had extra support staff.
So can you imagine working hard and totaling $1000 in sales (a pretty good shift) only to give away $40 of it at the end of the night?
Worse, what if you had to do a lot of what you were tipping out for yourself - like bus your own tables so that they would “turn faster”? You have to tip out anyways, even if your busser is standing around talking somewhere while you're doing their job. (Probably the same way you feel when your tea is empty or you want to pay, but your waiter is over in a corner somewhere talking - or out back smoking - I get it, really I do!)
Well, kind of getting back to the recent "Europeans" story, turns out where I work now, the tip-out is the absolute highest I've EVER encountered in my life. No matter how much we earn in tips, we tip out 4% of our food sales to the busser/food-runners and hostesses, and (gulp!) 7% of our liquor, beer and wine sales to the bartenders.
Like I said earlier, this is a world-class city and expectations are high. Most of the people gainfully employed here are worth getting paid well. But just think about the fact that I might occasionally sell someone a $10 drink, and if they tip me a dollar - 70 cents of it goes to the bartender, and I get 30 cents. Which I then am required to pay taxes on…
Compared to most restaurants - as Prince might say - the tip out here "is on the verrrrge of being obscene."
IMAGE : Chevy Honors Prince
So putting "The Europeans story" into this perspective finally, their tab was roughly $100 in food (which I tipped out $4 on) and roughly $100 in liquor (which I tipped out $7 on)...
IF they'd tipped a crappy 15% for instance ($30) and they were my only table that night I'd've “walked with” $19. IF they'd tipped the 21st Century U.S. Industry Standard 20%, I'd've kept $29 of their $40. But as you recall, they stiffed me!
So that's how up against whatever else I actually did earn that night, it literally cost me $11 to wait on them.
IF they'd been my only table, I'd've YES - likely had to pay the restaurant $11 before being allowed to clock out. Harsh, huh? Such an instance would be up to management to make a call on, but depending upon where you work, it might "take an act of congress" (paperwork, calling corporate for approval to adjust the bookwork, etc) to NOT have to tip out. Nonetheless, in context of a normal night where they weren't my only table, such circumstances are not even "a blip on the radar" - we pay the money and we move on with our lives.
Now I really don't mean to sound like I'm complaining. It happens, and in this business you have to learn take the good with the bad, if you’re going to make it long at all. There's plenty of times people have tipped me 30% or more, when I didn't even feel like I deserved half of that. That happens too, just not every day either.
Often, I can just let these things roll off of me like water off of a duck's back. These days that is, because I’m old and jaded. I might have entirely forgotten about it by the time I made it to the parking lot - except for thinking that a tidbit like this might be interesting for you, as a reader of a restaurant worker's blog. Just one of those behind-the-scenes things you might not otherwise ever know about.
This obviously doesn't mean that you have to tip excessively in the future to help us poor, pitiful waiters (Hey, we've chosen our lifestyles - we’ll all grow up and “get real jobs” one day - right???).
But my friends, it would be nice knowing that no matter what, you won't ever stiff a server in the future, knowing now that it costs them money out-of-pocket if you do.
I've been in this business long enough to not mind (much) if I don't get tipped well (sometimes) .. but I probably won't be your server next time you go out to eat, either.
There's a better than average chance in fact that the next time you do go out to eat, you'll be waited on by a single mom who's trying to make ends meet. So, even if she totally sucks as a waitress, I'd be happy knowing that as a result of reading my words today, that no matter what, you don't make her have to pay to wait on you, by stiffing her. I honestly don't have many heroes in life.. but if I stop to think about it, single moms are definitely near the top of the list.
It is for "her" - and all of the other "hers" out there - that I write this.
"She" is whom I wish to "bring awareness" to today - I'll be fine.
IMAGE : all-free-download.com
PS - Honestly, this has been my hardest blog entry to write, to-date. Partly because it sounds whiny, but partly because I started off by giving you much more context about the history of tipping out since I've been a busser/server, and I realize that it took me awhile to get to the point. If these are too long, tell me. If you don't mind because you feel my content seems worthy of longer entries (and your time!), then I want to know this also.
But otherwise, I've got more fun stuff planned ahead in the future for ya! In my next blog entry, I think I'll be answering a reader's question about how - as a regular customer - should he deal with repeatedly bad service at a place he really likes to eat at? And btw, my last three paychecks have all been goose-eggs also. But that's a good thing! I'll explain how that works some other time.
(Hey my fellow restaurant peeps - there's are legal services available for those who feel their employer is unfairly charging them for tip-outs, breaking dishes, or walked tabs (See http://877tippool.com if this is you.)
Thanks for reading Guy's Waiter Blog : Chapter 6 "How Getting Stiffed Literally Costs Servers Money - Out of Their Own Pockets!"
Read other chapters starting at TheWorkingGuy.com's Table of Contents page