Daylight Robberies: Nights in the Not Much Longer Life of Working in a Restaurant (Part 1)

Overheard two servers while cleaning the other night share how much they had made over Mother’s Day – one of the busiest restaurant days of the year.  One made about $175 in tips, and the other, over $300.  Their whole conversation began, incidentally, with the latter’s surprised delight having made about $300 on this very non-descript, Wednesday night.

I later asked that server just much he happens to make over a typical week.  He replied about a thousand dollars.

I looked back at him…  And his stone-serious, eventual verbal reply indicated he was not joking.

Recognizing of course he is one of the good servers, I asked if this was typical among more average, full-timers (‘average’ presumed here as around what the aforementioned other here had taken home on Mother’s Day).  “O-ohhhh, no,” he confirmed, somewhat to my relief.  He added that a more average server probably brings in about $700/week.  …Ok, about three or four hundred dollars more than I expected.  And finally, over the restaurant’s busiest promotion which ran from mid-January to mid-April of this year, he said he made about $11,000.

Needless to say I found this news a touch depressing.  I have always been aware that, financially speaking, I am on the wrong side of the kitchen.  But up until now, I just wanted to share here for the sake of posterity that I never knew the numbers!  As I overheard some 19 year-old newbie say he made about $150 on a Saturday night, slightly more than what I would make over an eight-hour shift, as a cook, I could not help but feel a bit robbed!

I know there are ideas out there, like the back of the house being given a share of the wait-staff’s tips.  Not necessarily arguing for this here, but something like it would feel accommodating having to work in such a herd-‘em-in/herd-‘em-out, corporate-kitchen (a term I’ve always upheld as contradictory given the impersonalized nature of how they’re run, in stark contrast to one that is independently owned).

For instance, we have servers – plural, and oftentimes the same below-average ones, every week – who tend to forget to put a table’s order in.  The cooks are then asked to rush the table’s order through, on top of keeping all regular hell from breaking loose, so that the server and restaurant as a whole can save face (because having to explain to a table you forgot they exist would just be in every way bad).  I will never understand how a restaurant can be designed to be so busy that a server can forget to put a table’s order in.

I also can’t understand the chronic ignorance whenever a below-average server would re-enter the kitchen and yell – and keep yelling – in need of something random.  This only succeeds in slamming to a halt every cook’s train of thought in hopes one will respond.  We never respond.  The one designated cook to field such needs eventually responds, but there is something comical to how some servers insist on keep doing this, as if God would ever have the time to tend to such baffling ignorance.

A friend of mine once said that working in a restaurant is a lot like working in an e-r – except with absolutely nothing at stake.  Most of us take pride in our work, but as a matter of perspective, many jobs are simply not as vital or worthwhile as, say, restoring the peace in situations like in Ukraine or Syria, speaking up against the status-quo oligarchy, or anything of actual importance. 

And this lends to why I’m reluctant to readily jump from the back to the front of the house – at least in this establishment, and in this town: the sheer amount of ignorance one has to, well, ignore.  There are rampant examples of it, every night: racial ignorance, sexual ignorance, dietary ignorance, and maybe most profoundly social-economic ignorance.  All of these go ignored under the hyper-paced guise of profit.

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