Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Tipping Karma

Yesterday Anthony left a comment as to how much dough he'd raked in on Valentine's Day, and it reminded me of one time recently when I was talking about a good night I'd had in the restaurant to a waiter that I didn't work with. I dropped "the number" (of dollars I'd earned the night before), and he cut me off with... "Don't tell me! Don't tell me! You'll curse your tip karma!"

Sure enough, after I'd dropped that number, I made the least I'd ever walked with the next time I worked ($80 on a Saturday night; unheard of!). Now I don't talk about how much I earn anymore, unless following a specific set of guidelines.

1) only talk about the tips you earn with other waiters at your restaurant who have worked the same shift, and then only in vague terms, ie, "Did you have a good night?" or, "How was your night?"

2) if the other waiter says, "Pretty good, how was yours?" then you can gently segue into talking about specifics, like "Well, it would have been crap but I had a 4-top who ordered a bunch of wine and tipped 25%" or, "The big party saved my night; they tipped on top of the auto-gratuity."

3) some waiters never talk about what they earn, which is good. Usually the waiters who don't talk about what they earn are the ones who earn the most, and they've learned that it makes their co-workers resentful when they talk about how much they earn.
I think these guidelines are something you kind of pick up through osmosis after working as a server for a while. Where I work, you give a copy of your evening check-out to the person you're tipping out: "tip pool" (the host, the kitchen, and the foodrunners) , the bar, and the bussers all get a copy. This checkout lists the tips you've earned before you tip out everyone you need to, which can be anywhere from 30-40% of what you make in a night.
I don't necessarily approve of giving the bussers a copy of the check-out because they tend not to understand this and then start bitching about how they aren't getting tipped out enough for the amount of work they do (and they do work hard, and sometimes waiters under-tip). Then they start scowling and slacking off (as is happening with 2 out of the 3 bussers I work with now), hiding from the waiters, then they quit or get fired.
This is the restaurant heirarchy, and you have to do it if you want to be a good server. I worked as a busser for years, then as a caterer, which is an entry-level service job: everyone does everything (setup, serve, bus, wash dishes, break-down. Catering is the best and most brainless way to make a quick buck I know of and I miss it sometimes. Being a good waiter requires heavy use of your brain!). After working as a caterer, then a catering captain, I finally got a job serving lunch at a not-great place and didn't get my first really good serving job until I'd been in the restaurant industry for 5 or 6 years.

1 comment:

Auntie Em said...

Why does it work this way, do you think? It sounds all superstitious, which it IS, but then again, talking about not making very much is whiny, and talking about making more than your fellows is braggy, neither of which makes one feel really stellar about oneself and one's work, eh? We feel such a need to compete with others, even when it's counterproductive ...

As far as the bussers go, it never ceases to amaze me how people think they will start really working after they get paid enough. They seem to think they'll magically develop a great work ethic and amazing skills when they get big money, when they haven't trained themselves with those skills in the lowly jobs. I mean, if someone's work is crap as a busser, what kind of amazing server do they really expect to be??