I recently started waitressing at a neighborhood sports bar, where I quickly found that my idealistic image of leaving work at the end of a shift with hundreds of dollars in hand was far from the truth. A great night for me leads to about $100 in tips, an average night is much closer to the $40-60 range.
Relying on my paycheck isn’t much of an option either.
Upon getting this job, I learned that in Massachusetts, waiters and waitresses make less than three dollars an hour. For every shift I work, it is only about $20 on my paycheck. All told, leaving at the end of a shift with $50 in tips translates to about $8.00 an hour.
Each night when a rush comes in and I get overwhelmed, when I realize over and over again that being a server is hard work, and I don’t quite have the hang of it, my frustration rises infinitely when I remember that all this is only barely going to amount to enough money to buy a week’s worth of groceries.
Tips are supposed to be a bonus, a reward for good service. But now, restaurant owners rely on them to make up the wages of employees. They pass off one basic cost of running a business to the patrons, leaving the pay of the servers vulnerable to the mood of any particular person on any given night.
I hate the feeling of relying on tips. As each table sits down other waiters and I tend to take guesses at who will be good tippers and who will not. One bad tip can ruin a night: like the table of college aged guys who sat for hours eating and drinking, but only left a handful of change.
I just worked hard a couple of hours, only to earn a handful of change as my pay. It does sometimes goes the other way too, people who leave more than what is expected, which makes a night automatically easier to get through.
As a shift comes to a close, people ask around: “did you make any money tonight? Or “did you make good money tonight?” Those should not be questions employees need to ask one another.
Waiters and waitresses around this country are not just teenagers trying to save up, they are single moms too, and college graduates trying to settle down, and they (or anyone) shouldn’t have to rely on tips to pay the rent, or put food on the table, or support a family. We, like everyone else, deserve a fair and reliable wage.
Emma is a student at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, where she studies political science. She is currently working as the Book Tour intern for Class Action’s new publication Missing Class: Strengthening Social Movement Groups by Seeing Class Cultures.