I've spent the last decade of my life, more or less, waiting tables. Feeding people shitty food, corporate slogans and fake smiles for ten fuging years. What the fug am I doing?
Do I love what I do? Absolutely not. I feel dishonest, I feel guilty, I feel jaded. I feel disconnected from the very public that I serve. On the outside looking in. It is an alienating world where you are encouraged to have “personality,” but not to let it show too much; to “interact” and be “friendly,” but never to impose or make someone uncomfortable in anyway. Some weird cross between ***** and butler where my job is to be who you want, when you want, give you what you want, but to never be in the way. A life of putting on masks and fitting who you are into these soundbites that are suitable for public consumption. All for the expected earning potential of upper poverty.
It has its perks, I see my friends who work retail or fast-food working twice as long to make less money than I do. There can be some very great camaraderie among the employees themselves, but even that is often corrupted by the corporate will. Fighting for shifts, fighting for sections, fighting for tables and even fighting over the tips that we are given by our own guests. Server's have to give a percentage of their sales to their bartenders, hosts and hostesses, bussers, silverware rollers. Sometimes, even the kitchen and management staff get tipped out. It is a gross form of wealth redistribution where huge, multinational corporations take money out of the pockets of some of its most destitute employees and give it, mostly, to non-tipped employees so that they can pay those people 29% of the federal minimum wage.
The amounts that are taken from servers everyday vary by restaurant, and even by shift worked. At my restaurant, we have to give anywhere from 12-17% of our tips (2.5% of our sales) to the hosts, bussers and bartenders every single shift. On busy shifts, when we have extra bussers, a silverware roller and a food runner, that tip share goes up to 20-25%. A business that has $70,000+ in sales per week takes money from it's employees (who earn less than ¼ of that number in a year) so that it can pay other employees less than the law allows. Most people who have never worked in a restaurant do not understand this. Can you imagine working an office job, and every day before you punch out to leave for the day, your boss tells you to give him 15% of the money you earned that day so that the company will only have to pay the janitor $2.13 an hour. It is disgusting and it is shameful.
These companies espouse this practice as altruistic and decry that sharing earnings will create an atmosphere of teamwork that will make everyone happier and more money. If this were true, then why not have the assistant managers give 15% of their paychecks, why not the KM's, the GM's, the regional managers, area directors, all the way up to the CEO give 15% of their earnings to help out their lowest paid employees and create a more happy, profitable environment? Because that's not what this is about. This about huge companies, with restaurants on every corner finding a tax loophole that allows them pay employees less than they otherwise would be allowed.
These are the same companies that spend millions of dollars every year lobbying congress to keep the minimum wage artificially low. The ones who openly shower politicians with all the cash and gifts allowed by law to strip workers of their bargaining rights. The exact same corporations who, less than a decade ago, successfully lobbied congress to lower the federal minimum wage for their tipped (both directly and indirectly) employees by 32%. And they are passing down the cost of paying their employees to the dining public. Not directly, in the form of higher menu prices, but indirectly, almost beggingly. With messages at the bottom of your bill reminding you what percentage of the cost of their product that you should give to pay their employees.
There is a reason those percentages keep going up. This practice is becoming more widespread. It started informally, as a way to help out people that worked harder, and, usually, made less money. As a way to tell the guy who cleaned your tables all night, “Thanks, you did a great job!” or thank a bartender for getting your drinks out extra quick. It has been turned into a tool to keep labor costs artificially low. The number keeps rising for gratuity because the numbers keep rising for tip outs. And if you have a bad night, you get stiffed by a big party, or just a bunch of people who don't know that gratuity has risen once again? Oh well. You still gotta pay up, son.
Once chains saw the opportunity presented by this tactic, they seized on it. What used to be 5-10% of a servers' tips going to 1 or 2 bussers has ballooned to 20-25% of their tips going to the pay the wages of as many as 10 employees in a single shift. I am only speaking from experience, but I have enough friends and family in the restaurant industry to know that this is not uncommon. The positions of host and busser have been virtually eliminated in the restaurant industry, replaced with the utility title of SA or server's assistant. A cop-out title change that only serves to circumvent existing wage laws. At some full service chain restaurants over 2/3's of the staff gets paid $2.13 per hour.
This is not some Robin Hood wealth redistribution. It is not localized welfare aimed at promoting teamwork. It is taking from the employees who they already pay less than allowable in almost any other profession, and using it to pad the profit margins without raising prices.