Wait staff woes

A couple of days ago, I was at Bennigans Restaurant placing a ‘to-go’ order. I got talking with the guy behind the bar counter (who was taking ‘to-go’ orders). And did he have horror stories or what!

From what he had to tell me, based what I heard from others, and my own research: it seems like wait staff are one of the most abused in the service industry, and in general. They are abused by customers and by the management. They considered completely expendable, and hence have no job security. Its the worst here in Texas.

Minimum Wage

In the state of Texas, by law, the wait-staff can be paid as low was $2.13 an hour (The minimum wage in Texas is $6-something an hour). The wait-staff are expected to make up to minimum wage through tips (which are at customer discretion). Now if the tips don’t meet the minimum wage, the restaurant is expected to make up for it through additional pay. But wait-staff seldom report lower tips because that gives the restaurant the message that the waiter/waitress is under-performing, and will find an excuse to fire them. To keep their jobs, the wait-staff resigns to live with sub-minimum wages.

In fact, Barbara Ehrenreich has written a book titled “Nickled and Dimed” which goes into the life and lifestyle of wait-staff in America. She worked as a waitress in New York just to see how it is like to be a waitress in America. She quickly found that she had to take another job just to make ends meet. In fact, majority of waiters and waitresses have two, and sometimes three, jobs to support themselves (and their family).

Non-paying Customers

If a customer leaves without paying, the guess who ends up paying for that meal? The waiter/waitress. That’s right! Its taken from their $2.13/hr wage! The restaurant pays only the first time. After that, all unpaid bills are taken out from the wait-staff’s pay. So next time you walk-out not paying you bill, you are not robbing the restaurant of anything, you are robbing the wait-staff off their hard earned money.

Customer and Management Abuse

Wait-staff are one of the most abused employees in all industry today. Not only are they severely underpaid, they are ones who bear the brunt of everyone’s mistakes. No matter who screws up int he restaurant, its is the wait-staff who are yelled at by the customer. As far as the customer is concern, they don’t see the cooks, the bar-backs, or the expos. They see the waiter/waitress, and they unleash all their displeasure over late seating, badly made drink, incorrect order, or anything that isn’t up to their expectation. This often translates to poor tips as well. So in the end, anyone screws up, it means that the wait-staff is going home with less money. No one else is ever affected. And the Management doesn’t care because wait-staff is expendable! They can always hire someone else.

For whatever reason, if the customer calls the manager to complain about anything, you can be assured that the wait-staff responsible for that table are going to be chewed up for having the customer call the manager. It doesn’t matter who is at fault. It is often an unreasonable customer who calls the manager, and is often the customer’s fault. But that doesn’t matter. The customer is always right, so the customer gets their food for free, and the wait-staff has to pay for it. Both, in terms of paying the tab, and in terms of being shouted at for bad service.

So at the end of the day, a waiter/waitress is often overworked, underpaid, abused, yelled at, stolen, physically and emotionally drained; and what they have to look forward to is their second job just to make ends meet.


Imagine a job, where at the end of the day, you are made to feel like you belong to the bottom of the power hierarchy, constantly abused, robbed of all self-respect, barely make enough pay the bills. Imagine the mental, physical, and psychological health of that person. What do such people often resort to, just to keep their sanity? Drugs.

That’s right, many wait-staff are heavy drug abusers, because that’s their only respite form the unending misery that goes on day-after-day-after-day. Often, wait-staff are uneducated, single parents, who are trying to raise a family while hold two or three jobs. What quality of life could they possibly expect?

Often they don’t make enough to pay their bills, so they have bill collectors knocking on their doors. They move from house to house because they are being evicted coz’ they can’t pay the rent on time.

Think of the children raised in such an environment. They cant afford a decent education, so what do they do? They end up having to quit school and take up a low paying job like their single-parent. This is a classic case of poverty breeding more poverty.

My friend often remarks: “Waitressing is the closest thing we have to slavery in America today.” And that statement is not far from the truth. So remember, the next time you don’t tip adequately (15% is considered polite), or walk out on a bill, or call the manager because you thought you order didn’t arrive in 10 min on a busy evening: You are robbing someone of their dignity, their means of livelihood, and worse, playing you part fostering the cycle of poverty.

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