Is this even worth it?

As you all know, I recently went back to work as a server at Applebee’s to make some extra money. I chose this as a part-time job because:

a.) I’ve done it before, so there wasn’t a learning curve
b.) The hours I can work allow me to continue to stay home with Vaughan during the day
c.) In my experience, the money has always been pretty decent

While reasons A and B are both still valid and true, reason C has become a bit of a farce. The money is not pretty decent these days. Why? The economy is a wreck and hungry restaurant-goers are leaving smaller tips. Yes, they still come out to eat and they still order desserts or alcoholic drinks at $4-$6 a pop, but they have resorted to leaving only 10% (or less) tips. Let’s look at last night’s shift as an example. I had two different tables with check totals between $33 and $37 and each of those tables left me only $2 for a tip. TWO DOLLARS?!?!?! Seriously? I’ve been waiting tables for a total of about four and a half years now. This ain’t my first rodeo. I’m not a terrible server. I don’t get complaints…in fact I get many compliments. I gave those people good service, dammit.

Perhaps I should explain just exactly what a server makes these days to help out anyone who is unaware of the importance of tips to someone in this profession. On average, most servers make $2.13 an hour paid by the restaurant in the form of a paycheck. Of course, in some more populated areas, maybe the average is higher, but every place I’ve been a server, it’s $2.13. So, if a server works a six-hour shift (as I did last night), that’s a mere $12.78. How many of you could survive on that? This is why it is so important to really think about what you are leaving for a tip. That guy or gal who just spent the last 45 minutes serving you and your messy, screaming children an entire meal, keeping your drinks full, bringing you your check promptly and treating you with courtesy and respect (despite the fact that you probably did not offer either of those in return) will be going home only with the money that his or her customers left as a tip. (Yes, there is the $2.13 an hour, but most of that gets sucked up by taxes. Most servers scoff at the paychecks they get since they are usually quite small and barely even worth a trip to the bank.)

Oh, and let’s please not forget about those messy, screaming children. Yes, for $2.13 an hour (plus your itty bitty 8% tip), your server must also clean up that mess of macaroni and cheese, crackers, napkins, crayons, toothpicks, sugar packets and spilled salt that your children so kindly left behind. Multiply that by all the tables in your server’s section and the number of families that server must wait on in a single shift. I think unpaid stay-at-home moms make more just in dignity and respect alone.

Here’s a thought. If you don’t have enough money budgeted to leave at least a 15% tip for your server…DON’T ORDER AS MUCH FOOD! DON’T ORDER THAT DESSERT! DON’T ORDER A WHOLE SALAD FOR YOUR FOUR-YEAR-OLD WHO WANTS NOTHING TO DO WITH EATING A SALAD! Don’t take out your frustrations with the economy on your server.

And don’t think that being polite and leaving a nice note on your credit card slip about what great service you received will make up for the fact that you’re only tipping 8%.

I can’t pay my mortgage with a compliment.

And it’s not just my imagination either. Here’s a link to a recent article in the Los Angeles Times about this very issue.

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