The Other Side of the Table

By Beacon Staff

I’ve been giving wait staff a pretty hard time in this column, but isn’t it usually the case that a few miscreants give a whole group a bad rap?

There is another side to the story and, having been a waiter at more than one time in my younger days, I know from whence they speak.

Diners can be a pretty ugly lot, too. There are now a number of blogs written by waiters and waitresses, and a couple of books have just come out, written by waiters baring their souls about their travails in restaurant dining rooms. Some of you diners are doing some pretty weird and, from what I’ve read, some pretty rotten things.

Have you eaten half or more of your meal and then told your waiter it wasn’t prepared to your liking? Have you ordered something and then feigned an allergy?

Have you overstayed your welcome, thereby preventing the restaurant from turning the table in a reasonable amount of time, so that the restaurant and the waiter could make more money? Have you stayed to the point where the busboys are putting the chairs up on all of the vacant tables and you’re still lounging and chatting with an unpaid check? Did you know that the wait staff has more to do after the restaurant closes, so you’re keeping them way beyond regular hours.

Did you remember that most state laws exempt restaurants from paying their wait staff minimum wage, with the expectation that tips will make up the difference? Did you run a $90 bill and give the waiter $100 and tell him or her to “keep the change?” And did you do the math and figure out that you left an 11 percent tip?

Did you show up at the restaurant on a busy night without a reservation and insist that you should get not just any table, but one of the better tables in the place because you “know the owner?”

And on those busy nights, do you make special requests, expecting the chef to cater to your every whim? And did you know the chef does not cook every dish, so Joe or Manny or one of the other line cooks, more than likely only know the original recipe and aren’t really qualified to make the adjustments you asked for?

In some of our country’s larger cities waiting tables in high-end restaurants is regarded as a profession. And in some cases, the position can be so lucrative that it is handed down from father to son. There are waiters in New York City that make in excess of $100,000.

But waiters and waitresses also get an unfair rap for waiting on tables because many people think they’re biding their time waiting for a big break on the stage or screen or some other “better” job.

And in that same vein, have you asked your waiter or waitress what they really do for a living? Did you know that in most cases that’s an insulting question?

There are more people in a restaurant that make things happen that you never get to see. In many cases, the wait staff is obliged by restaurant management to give a percentage of their tips to the busboys, line cooks and, if there’s a maitre d’ or host/hostess, to him or her, too. Other restaurants pool tips so all waiters and waitresses make about the same amount each night they work – without regard to quality of service or check sizes.

Have you wondered why most restaurant menus now declare that parties of six or more will have an automatic gratuity added to the check? There’s a reason, but based on all of the foregoing, I’ll let you figure it out.

The long and short of it is that a large plurality of waiters and waitresses are doing a great job and they deserve to be tipped. In most European countries, a gratuity is added in to the check – an automatic 15 percent no matter what.

I’m a 20-percenter. I’ve walked in those shoes. But unlike the European system, it’s not automatic nor do I think it should it be. Gratuities are an expression of satisfaction or dissatisfaction. In my book, it’s no different than sending back food to the kitchen when it’s cooked incorrectly – how will they know they’ve done something wrong unless you tell them?

I think it ought to be the same with wait staff. Learn to earn.

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