5 Servers on What It’s Really Like to Wait Tables in New York

One thing’s for sure: a lot more is happening than guests realize

Diners eating in the Shoreham Hotel coffee shop in Hartford, Connecticut. (Photo by Eric Bard/Corbis via Getty Images)

After reading Sweetbitter over the holiday break, I became enamored with the unseen inner workings of the New York restaurant world. It’s a space I enter often, but suddenly it dawned on me that I’d never paid much attention to the emotional and practical mechanics that fueled it. You know, short of panicking that my server hated me for hating tomatoes. The food scene in New York has an especially compelling energy to it. I was curious to get the scoop; I had a sneaking suspicion my teenage years as a Chili’s host in the suburbs weren’t quite the same. (Insert ironic thinking emoji.)

So I talked to five women who currently serve in popular New York restaurants — one’s been doing it for 20 years! — to learn about the highs, lows and nitty-gritty between. I also asked them about celeb gossip and tip rules and what we’re all doing wrong, because I’m thirsty like that. They offered me a variety of perspectives, but threaded through was one consistent theme: this gig is not one bit boring. Scroll down to meet them and learn a thing or two about what it’s really like to serve in New York.

Cheryl Johnson
Cheryl has been serving for nine years and currently works at Cookshop in Chelsea. She’s originally from Avalon, CA.


How did you get into the industry?

I grew up in the hospitality industry. My grandfather is a chef, my dad manages country clubs and my mom used to be a karaoke hostess, among other gigs, so I’ve never really known life away from the restaurant world. I started working as a server in college in New Orleans, bartended while I lived in Germany and have worked a couple of restaurant jobs while living in New York. I love the industry, but serving is not what I intend to do for the rest of my life.

What do you love about it?

Restaurants, especially in New York, serve as community gathering places. It’s an incredible privilege to serve and foster relationships in my own neighborhood (Chelsea), which is chock-a-block with artists, gallery owners, fashion designers, media professionals and politicians who all make Cookshop their home away from home.

What’s something few people realize about what it’s like to serve here?

The thing that blew my mind was that a surprising number of people come to the same restaurant every single day. We have some guests that I can set my watch by, and it’s wonderful to have that sort of consistency in my life.

I’ve heard serving in New York referred to as “golden handcuffs” — because it’s hard to leave once you get in — does that feel true for you?

I’ve never heard that! I think, as with any industry, it can be hard to leave once you’re in because of how it shapes your resume and gobbles up your mental energy. That said, though, it also exposes you to a ton of different people and opportunities, and I’ve known a number of servers who have left the industry to work alongside people they served.

What’s an annoying habit of guests that makes you want to bang your head against a wall?

I’ll never understand the “you go first and then I’ll know what to order” thing. I think it comes from a desire to be polite, but it’s always so awkward. I generally wish that guests felt more empowered when making dining choices. Restaurants want to make your experience excellent, so don’t be afraid to ask for what you want!

Tip Q! Do you pay close attention to how much people tip? Is 15% considered low now?

Of course I pay attention! Tips are my livelihood. 20% is considered standard for good service in New York, and if I ever see something below 18% I wonder if something went wrong during the course of the meal. I take a lot of pride in my work and take a low tip very seriously.

I need to know once and for all: Do you eat food off people’s plates?!

Ha! I won’t say it’s never happened, but it’s been a long time. But rest assured: I’ve only seen food eaten off plates that were not touched by a guest’s hands or utensils.

Daryl Nuhn
Daryl has been serving for six years. She currently works at Mimi and Cafe Altro Paradiso. She’s originally from Los Angeles, CA.

How did you get into serving?

I was 23 and working a full-time job as the assistant to Cyndi Lauper’s manager. I thought that having a “big girl” job would give me a sense of purpose or direction, but I was miserable. I had a crush on a girl that worked at The Fat Radish and she asked if I’d be interested in serving there. The manager gave me a chance, overlooking my inexperience. I didn’t even know how to open a bottle of wine properly. I embarrassed myself constantly, but worked fucking hard and was really nice to customers (most of the time). I ended up working with them for five years.

What do you love about it?

Out of nowhere, you find yourself with this unique new family. So much of your time is spent with people that you might not have been friends with outside the constructs of the restaurant. I love hearing everyone’s “escape to New York” story and what their hopes are over family meal. New York would be lonelier without my restaurant family.

What’s something few people realize about what it’s like to serve here?

That it’s tough and requires you to keep your shit together when you’re responsible for 30 hungry strangers and when you’re screamed out of the kitchen by the kind of sexy, kind of crazy chef for asking if they can take the cheese off the salad (answer is no).

Something that few people realize about restaurants in general is the importance of the bussers, server assistants, back waiters, whatever you want to call them. They’re the badass, invisible facilitators that really run the restaurant and are essential to the flow of the night. They’re the hardest working people on the floor, working the longest hours, taking the latest trains home, and often going unacknowledged by customers. Say thank you next time one of them clears your plate.

I’ve heard serving in New York referred to as “golden handcuffs” — because it’s hard to leave once you get in — does that feel true for you?

It’s pretty spot on. If you’re lucky (as I have been), you work in a restaurant where you eat and drink for free (or very cheap), hang out with your best friends, make a shit ton of money and have a schedule that allows you to do as you please.

What’s the weirdest thing anyone’s ever said or done when you were serving?

Weird shit happens all the time, but once I had a guy who spent $500 dollars on dinner and then asked me what I thought he should tip me. I said $500, he snickered a bit, but sure enough filled in $500 dollars. He told me as he was walking out that he’d have given me $1,000.

What’s an annoying habit of guests that makes you want to bang your head against a wall?

Ripping up the receipt into hundreds of tiny pieces and leaving it on the table. WHY?

Putting the ripped pieces of the receipt into the candles. AGAIN, WHY?

When men ask if it’s a “girly” drink. My response is, “drinks here aren’t gender-specific.”

People who say they are ready to order but then take five minutes looking at the menu and just want you to stand by in case they have a question.

Men who think they can touch you because they spent over $100 on a bottle of wine.

What’s something you’re very aware of when you go to a restaurant as a guest that you might not have been prior to serving?

Sometimes it’s hard to go to a restaurant and just be a customer, because I’m always watching service. I try to be kind to new servers, am hyper aware of not lingering at tables well after my meal if the restaurant is busy.

Tip Q! Do you pay close attention to how much people tip? Is 15% considered low now?

15% does feel low. I was taught that 20% and over meant you were doing well, so I get down on myself if I am tipped less than that. Servers in New York make $5.75 an hour, so tips are our livelihood. I understand why people think tipping is ridiculous. Why should they have to supplement my paycheck instead of the company paying us a higher wage? It’s tricky.

Do you have a side-hustle or project you’re pursing on the side?

Working in restaurants has really piqued my interested in wine. I’m helping with the list here at Mimi and working with some friends/mentors who are teaching me how to create a rad wine list. I’m not sure if I’d want to have my own restaurant or bar, but maybe a cozy shop with a few stools where people can read and have a glass.

I need to know once and for all: Do you eat food off people’s plates?!

In a desperate moment, I have. A french fry. In the past. Not my finest moment.

Maria Azuela
Maria has been serving for a year and a half. She’s currently working at Rosie’s in the East Village. She’s originally from Guanajuato, Mexico.

How did you get into serving?

I started as a busser and it never really crossed my mind to become a server. Maybe because of the language barrier or because of my Latino accent, but one day I went to serve water to a table and a guy asked me what my favorite thing on the menu was. Rosie’s serves Mexican food and I am Mexican, born and raised, so I went on a 10-minute rant. By the time the waiter came, I’d already sold the guy half the menu. That’s when people asked me if I was interested in serving and, well, here I am. I don’t intend to stay all my life, but I do expect to be around at least a couple of years.

I’ve heard serving in New York referred to as “golden handcuffs” — because it’s hard to leave once you get in — does that feel true for you?

Oh my god, yes! The money is good, and sometimes it comes easy…and who doesn’t want that?

What’s the weirdest thing anyone’s ever said or done when you were serving?

This couple came in once and told me all about their cat Stella. We had such a good vibe that day that I ended up cat-sitting for them for two weeks while they went to Spain on holiday. They were so nice and the cat was adorable!

Any good celeb stories?!

Jonah Hill came to the restaurant once and I had a little meltdown ’cause I love him! My manager told me to not go to the table or go anywhere near him, so I didn’t, but I ended up bumping into him when he was coming out of the bathroom and verbal vomited that he’s made me laugh to tears during really bad moments. He hugged me. I cried after he left.

What’s something you’re very aware of when you go to a restaurant as a guest that you might not have been prior to serving?

If the server knows about the food. I actually appreciate it more if they tell me they don’t know the answer to my question than if they fake their way through it. I’m also really aware of table maintenance. I hate seeing dirty tables! And even more if it’s mine.

Tip Q! Do you pay close attention to how much people tip? Is 15% considered low now?

Yes and yes. People tip you according to the service they get so you cannot expect a 20% tip if you completely ignored the table. 15% nowadays is kind of low for a good service. It’s not a rule, but New Yorkers know that 18% is the standard.

Do you have a side-hustle or project you’re pursing on the side?

I’m in my final year of school studying criminal justice and after this I’m planning to go to law school. Let’s hope I can make things happen!

I need to know once and for all: Do you eat food off people’s plates?!

Fight club, babe. You never talk about fight club.

Abbie Zuidema
Abbie has been serving for 20 years. She’s currently working at Cherry Point, has previously worked at Aquagrill, DINER, Il Buco and Vinegar Hill House.

How did you get into serving?

The 20-year benchmark snuck up on me. I did not plan to stay this long in service, it’s just evolved. I don’t regret it, not for a minute. I have always loved food (I made a croquembouche when I was 17 and that was a disaster.). When I graduated from high school, I asked for a KitchenAid. Food is transformative. Giving someone delicious things to eat is the best job. It made sense to be in a restaurant — I’m constantly learning, surrounded by smells and tastes. I was also completely terrified of waiting tables before I started. I thought I could never do it. Funny how things turn out.

What do you love about it?

Diner, my first job, was terrifying. I hated it. HATED. I was so nervous when I started that I kept breaking things, the manager kept a list on the wall to keep me accountable. Ha. It took me years to love it. Waiting tables is one of the hardest things to do, your ego is constantly being thrown in your face. I’ve waited on everyone in my life: ex-loves, new loves, parents, friends, people that drive me insane. I’ve also been fortunate enough to be privy to important moments of friends’ lives. Dinner after a marriage proposal, the eve of a baby’s birth, a drink after a breakup. I love feeding people. It has given me so much more than a paycheck.

Diner is my foundation. They call me an OG because I started there in 2001. The people I met there are still in my life, many the most dear, most trusted. The thing about restaurants is that you are privy to your coworkers in ALL their moods. You learn each other’s body language, know each other’s states of mind just by how they walk into a room. Real intimacy. Everyone bands together to make it through brunch with crippling hangovers from the night before (usually spent with each other). You comfort one another when the kitchen yells or a customer makes you cry.

We’ve witnessed each other’s authentic selves. It’s been an incredible life lesson about friendship and letting go of perfectionism. We get through times of chaos on the dining room floor and also in real life. Together. As a team. My restaurant families are what keep me in Brooklyn. This community, this village, it’s priceless.

I’ve heard serving in New York referred to as “golden handcuffs” — because it’s hard to leave once you get in — does that feel true for you?

True. You make money and you can take vacations when you want. Part of why I couldn’t commit to a 9-5 was the limited vacation. Two weeks for the year does not feel reasonable. It’s also great as an artist because you have your days to make work and then wait at night.

What’s the weirdest thing anyone’s ever said or done when you were serving?

Couples having sex in the bathroom, their shadows dancing on the frosted glass and then trying to act casual with their mussed hair and flushed cheeks.

Any good celeb stories?!

I waited on Steve Martin. He was having dinner with a party of eight and I was trying to play it cool. As food started to drop on the table though, something seemed amiss. My stomach dropped when I realized I had forgotten to order Steve Martin’s food!!! He was very gracious as I explained my blunder and promised to make good. The kitchen didn’t fail me (or kill me) and they magically produced the missing dish in record time, saving the day.

The cast from Bored to Death was in the private dining room at Vinegar Hill House. It’s a lovely space, a roaring fire, super cozy, very intimate. Ted Danson popped up from the party, shock of white hair, tall, glasses and had an unusual request. Did we have any scissors? Of course, we hustled to get a pair. He also wanted to know if we had any old credit cards. At the end of dinner, Ted made a big show of cutting up Zach Galifianakis’ credit card. Zach had no idea what was happening — that it wasn’t actually his card. It was hilarious.

What’s something you’re very aware of when you go to a restaurant as a guest that you might not have been prior to serving?

That the staff is probably drinking already.

Tip Q! Do you pay close attention to how much people tip? Is 15% considered low now?

Yes, I pay attention. 20% people, it’s how we make our living. But I don’t let it ruin my night. Some folks just don’t know how to tip. I’d rather my time at work be about connecting with people. It usually evens out, someone under tips and someone over tips. And when I go out, I usually add a little extra, cause it does make a difference.

Do you have a side-hustle or project you’re pursing on the side? What are your sites set on, if so?

I make art. I’m a painter. Food, maps, recipes, my focus is what brings us together. Much of my work is about tapping into the nostalgia of childhood that we can’t describe with language. What we desire, history and experiences. I want to paint watercolor recipes and illustrate for cookbooks, magazines and work with chefs. I love learning and thinking about food. My dream would be to live part-time in NYC and part-time in London (my godson lives there) collaborating on both sides of the pond.

I need to know once and for all: Do you eat food off people’s plates?!

No no no no no. Cooties! I did however sneak risotto at Il Buco. The kitchen would make an order and I would magically make the leftovers disappear right out of the pan by the dishwasher. I couldn’t resist. A couple spoonfuls and it was gone.

Tiffany Soto
Tiffany has been serving for seven years. She’s currently at Coffee Shop in Union Square. She grew up in the Bronx.

How did you get into serving?

When I was 15, my sister’s boyfriend at the time worked at Coffee Shop and told me to apply whenever I needed a job. When I turned 18 and needed money to send myself to school, I walked in and applied. I had an interview with the owner on the spot and she told me to come back to start the next day. That was seven years ago and I’m still there.

What do you love about it?

We’re like a family at Coffee Shop. And the restaurant network around Union Square in particular is super connected. So I know people at all the bars and restaurants around. After so many years, it’s become a source of comfort to have this massive extended New York family.

What’s something few people realize about what it’s like to serve here?

Back in the day, people used to come into restaurants, sit down, order, eat, pay, leave. Now they come in and look at their phones before, between and after all of those steps! It slows down the process so much. Just two or three years ago I could have an order in and food out in 20 minutes. I’ve been so surprised to see how technology has changed the pace of eating. And not for the better, in my experience. People often aren’t even looking at each other and speaking.

I’ve heard serving in New York referred to as “golden handcuffs” — because it’s hard to leave once you get in — does that feel true for you?

It’s definitely true. All of us have gotten so used to the immediacy of the money – you’re just constantly getting cash in hand. It’s so different from waiting two weeks for a paycheck. And I also have control over how much I’m making. I can work doubles when I need to or taper my hours when I want to work less. There is so much control over the cash flow that you can’t get elsewhere. And as a senior server, I make my own schedule.

I work as a part-time designer on the side and I could pursue it full-time, but it’s hard to leave the flexibility of serving.

Any good celeb stories?!

We get a lot of big names at Coffee Shop, but some of my favorites are when Jessica Biel came in and, upon hearing a Justin Timberlake song, called him on speaker and sang along. I also served Lana del Rey when she was going through a breakup at the same time as I was going through a breakup and we bonded over it, which was really nice.

What’s something you’re very aware of when you go to a restaurant as a guest that you might not have been prior to serving?

Picking what I want quickly so they can get the order in ASAP. I’m also always counting how many tables my server has and empathizing accordingly. I’m really aware of how the server seems to be feeling — like if I think they might be getting off soon and are tired, that kind of thing. As a server, 18% is the lowest tip I’d ever give, even to a shitty server.

Tip Q! Do you pay close attention to how much people tip? Is 15% considered low now?

I average around 22% but 20% is considered a great tip. 15% is considered a shitty tip.

I need to know once and for all: Do you eat food off people’s plates?!

In our restaurant I only take your order and drop your drinks, I never touch the food. Ever! That’s a movie myth.

Photos by Patrice Aphrodite Helmar. Follow her on Instagram @patricehelmar.

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  • Amelia Diamond

    I could have read 100 more!

  • Great stories, great people! 🙂

  • Harling Ross


  • I love this! and the photos are beautiful

  • Aydan

    Ladies and others in the industry–you all are amazing and though not having any experience myself, I always am compassionate to all servers (and those clearing the tables) and I’m glad that compassion goes a long way!! Def writing down these places to check out soon!!

  • Yvonne Dunlevie

    I had never heard of the “golden handcuffs” thing. Considering a career change. (But probably not because I have the opposite of thick skin.) Bye team MR. (Just kidding.)

  • tmm16

    “Something that few people realize about restaurants in general is the importance of the bussers, server assistants, back waiters, whatever you want to call them.” Don’t forget hosts/hostesses too!

    I served for 3 years in college and then 3 months after college until finding a job. There’s many people, hands, and hard work bringing everything together to give guests the best service and experience. Loved their stories. Also, always tip 20%!

  • Mari

    As a tourist, I find tipping so unfair! I value the work of servers very much and understand that a lot of them count on good tips to make a living, but I really believe that this system only benefits the employer, who can continue to pay his employees poorly while making the customers responsible.

    I’m from Brazil and here we have a 10% service charge that comes with the bill. You can dispute this if you had really bad service, but it rarely happens unless you are an asshole. You can also leave more money if you’d like, but it is also not very common. I’ve been to a few cities in Europe and noticed the 10% in the bill. In other places, there is no tipping at all.

    I doubt that waiters in Europe are all making a great living and I know that most in Brazil aren’t, but I can’t shrug off the feeling that it is not solely because of bad tipping. They should be earning more, apart from tipping! I mean, bottom line, the employer should be the main responsible for paying their workers a decent wage!

    I went to the US once, NYC, and tipping was so expensive! Each dollar is like 3-4 of our money! I tried to tip around 20% because I didn’t want to harm or upset anyone and yes I’m George and I have to be liked, but it really made an impact in my third-world wallet.

    I know a city is not made for tourists and I don’t want to offend any servers. It is a important, fundamental job that deserves to be well paid. I just think it is hurtfull for the main people involved in it: servers and customers. Also, it’s hard to calculate.

    • Mariana

      “I mean, bottom line, the employer should be the main responsible for paying their workers a decent wage” I so agree with you, Mari! I am from Portugal (Olá! :)) and we don’t have a tipping system here, at all!! The only thing that we have (and that is very liberal, everyone gives when they want/can) is: if we think we were excepcionally well served, that the waiter was kind, we can leave some tipping in the end as a complement/gesture of gratitude, but that is variable, the waiter wage DOES NOT depend on the tipping system. I work as a financial auditor and the clients does not tip me, they pay the service that I provide to my employer. The bus driver does not get tips, we pay for the bus ticket directly to the company.

    • M Ann Brown

      NOT hard to calculate. 10% times 2. Too bad you cannot see past your personal logic to see tipping as a way to make living, along with minimum wage. If employers had to pay more, there would be lesser incentive for great service! Servers LIKE tips!!

      • ByeBeckz

        Another foreigner here- Just a note- tipping isn’t required nor expected in Europe- at coffee shops or michelin restaurants- and the service is just fine. Waiters don’t need to make light convo for tips and yet eating out is just as nice as eating out in the US. So not really our “personal logic” but instead common sense. Restaurants should pay people a proper wage and customers like you and I don’t need to subsidize their living for “great service”. The system is the problem- not people who don’t want to tip 18-20%.

  • Gilberta Grape

    First of all, this is great!!! Second of all… RE: Do the servers eat the food? I’d like to respectfully disagree that this is a “movie myth”. Working a 6-8 hour shift with no food unless the cook was in a good mood and fed us? I’ll just say that I wasn’t the only one who snuck a few french fries or untouched garlic biscuits in a desperate hour before I tossed plates in the dish pit.

    Third of all, never tip less than 20 percent. Just don’t! Even if your server isn’t on their A-game… They could be having a terrible day and all their tables were mean and their cat just had foot surgery so they’re sad or something. Or they’re just hangry, ya know?

  • Sarah Muncaster

    Love this! I served my way through university, and now have been serving in Toronto for almost three years. Golden handcuffs is absolutely a thing! 15% is standard here, 20% is good. Anything more then that is exceptional, but servers wage in Canada is better then in the US. It’s also so true that your coworkers become your family. I’ve made some of the greatest friends through the service industry! And finally, I steal fries off plates when I’m super hungry. Desperate times call for desperate measures!

  • Bailey King

    The serving wage in Philadelphia is $2.83, even for bartenders- making 20% tips crucial

    • M Ann Brown

      In Texas, the wage for servers is STILL $2.13!!! Couple that with most Texans being stingy Republicans….not a good job here like it can be elsewhere, where diners are more evolved. Exception is the big cities, like Dallas and Austin…they tip better there.

  • Clara

    20% before or after tax???

    • Allegra


  • Greer Clarke

    Omg I did not realise I have golden handcuffs on… fuck.

  • a

    I’m torn on the 20% tip thing because I feel like that should be for good service, not just “okay” or adequate service

    • b

      If you ever worked as a server you might feel differently!

      • a

        Fair, I’ve never worked as a server. But I’ve worked plenty of shitty retail jobs and it’s not like you get tipped there (and 99% of places don’t give commission) – I get that the base wage is higher but then why not just take a retail job?

        Again I’m not opposed to tipping 20%+. I just think that if all you’re doing is the very basics of your job, I don’t see how that warrants a good tip. If you’re friendly and attentive then sure, I definitely will.

        The fact that the min wage there is lower isn’t really my problem, as callous as that sounds – I don’t feel that tips are meant to be donations. My point is that ultimately you’re in a service industry, and aren’t tips meant to reward good service?

  • Margot

    someone should tell Cheryl Johnson that the “you go first then I’ll know” thing is not said out of politeness it’s just how extremely indecisive people respond to being forced to make a decision on the spot. Hearing someone else’s decision helps empower me to make one and also if I know I can try what the other person is getting then I can cross that one off

    • Áine Hegarty

      Hearing someone else’s order always helps me decide as an incredibly indecisive person. I feel like I have something to work off–some inspiration.

    • Basil

      For me it’s because there’s normally some kind of complex dish complimenting and sharing negotiation going on in my head. And I’m indecisive

    • ArtsDuMal

      I think her point is that’s a conversation that can be had before your server is at the table taking your order. If you don’t know what you want, ask for more time, cause ya probably won’t be ready when it’s your turn anyway.

      • Margot

        I feel that but when you’re in a larger group of people and everyone else is hungry and knows what they want, you don’t want to hold them up. You’d think the little bit of time wouldn’t make a difference but it does for some reason

  • Miss J

    I LOVED this piece as much as I love eating out. Or eating, for that matter.
    There’s just one thing that I don’t like about eating out in American restaurants- the fact that you are expected to order, eat, and get the F outta there. In Europe, Central and South America that’s unheard of- you go out to a restaurant to enjoy the evening, chat with your company, and ideally, have 20 minutes in between courses. If I have to eat and rush to get out of there, I can eat standing in my own kitchen. While in North America, my husband and I always dreaded the question: Can I get you anything else? Like, a “polite” way of telling the guests it’s time to leave. The only place where no one gave a sh. was in New Orleans.
    As for the tip, of course people have to make money off of tips, that’s just how the system works. However, I always thought that having these strictly defined rules of 15-20% are a bit much. For example, if I go to a restaurant with 3 or 4 people, and we have 3-5 courses, of course the tip should be 20-25%. However, if I’m alone or it’s a party of two, and we order an entree each and a glass of wine, I strongly believe that 15% is okay. (Sorry!)
    Finally, I’m so glad one of the girls pointed out that it’s a pleasure to come across a server that actually knows food. At the end of the day, and all my above “rules” aside, there is nothing worse than having a server that has to talk his way out of your menu questions. Having said all of the above, I do think that servers are way underestimated, and that they are equally important as the chefs; excellent service can sometimes even make up for the lack of je ne sais quoi in the kitchen.

    • 4 Years a Server

      Something a lot of people do not realize is that while you are just one or two people, often times the table you are sitting at could have accommodated more, or had someone who ate more and had a larger bill and therefore a larger tip. This is a real-estate concept many servers work by.

      For most servers the abysmal wages are eaten up by income tax on claimed tips (all credit card tips are claimed tips.) They have to manage their tables in a way which they can profit when working for tips. Which is also why a server may be trying to keep their tables active and/or flipping. It’s shrewd and know that most servers aren’t just trying to wring as much money as they can from their guests but this mentality is important if your income is never guaranteed.

  • Jennifer

    I worked as a server and cocktail waitress in Los Angeles throughout my college years and as Mr. Dickens would say “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” There really isn’t anything like working at a restaurant at some point in your 20’s. All the above stories are accurate, and for a second, I missed it while reading. The money is great, you meet fun, weird, quirky, loving people, your co-workers turn to friends that you party with, and it doesn’t hurt when you can have a drink or two while on the job. Not to mention, it’s not rare to have a co-worker romance and all the drama that comes with that short-lived affair. Ohh, to be young again! BUT I do have to say, when dining in an American city, I live by the rule: “If you can’t afford to tip for good service, keep your butt at home.” It’s harsh, but the tipping system is what it is in America, not saying its good, but American food service workers really do WORK FOR TIPS, so diners/customers should do their part for participating in the system.

    LASTLY!! Nothing is better than when a party you’re serving says “One check for the table is fine”!!! I mean, it’s like God opened the heavens and made life for a server so much easier, and quicker for the table as well. In this day and age with Venmo, PayPal, etc. etc., there are a number of ways to pay one another, instead of asking the server to split the check in obnoxious ways. So next time you’re out with some friends, I suggest paying the bill with one card, and then Venmo’ing (yes, I said it) your friend who picked up the bill. By the time you walk out the door, you paid your friend back. Easy, and you will be remember quite fondly by restaurant!

  • Sarah

    Such an interesting article!

  • Jolie

    Served my way through college in NYC, met a ton of insane and awesome people, and had the best/worst experiences doing it.

  • Anne

    I love this article. It was such a pleasure to read it and to imagine how each of them sound. I am a part-time waitress myself and it is always interesting to know how things go for servers around the world. I have always envied my anglo-saxon counterparts for the big tips they get, but I no longer do. When I first saw the hourly wage I thought it was a joke. Then I saw it again and I was shocked. I tried to imagine working for 5.-CHF and I just can’t. And I am writing these words I still haven’t come over my shock. I do admire these women and everyone working in catering in general. And again, it was a great piece

  • Kokonuts

    I will admit I don’t understand the tipping thing and I do agree it’s a way for the restaurants to get away with such horrible wages. No doubt waiters work super hard and I do tip and treat them kindly. But to be brutally honest, I get a bit tired of always tipping – my cab driver, my hairdresser, the person who shampoos my hair, the waiter/waitress and then to be told that 18-20% is standard? Really? So where does it stop – I think we are all in a form of service industry in one way or another, I certainly work long hours providing a service to people. I do get a bit cynical about this tipping system.

    • Well sure, we’re “all in a service industry” but my base, livable wages aren’t dependent on strangers paying me.

      I don’t tip people who are owners. My hairstylist owns the salon and has only one chair, so I don’t tip her (and she’s cool with it!). My old hairstylist rented a chair from a salon – it’s the common set-up – so I tipped her. The cabbies don’t own their cabs and have to pay fees to the union and company, so I tip them. Servers get taxed out of the wazoo even on their tiny paychecks, so tipping is their wage which is why it’s 20%.

      I’m “tired” of tipping as well, but this feeling is something that I don’t think should *ever* get taken out on the servers. Livable wages in the service industry is a broader issue and should probably start at professional associations or your legislative rep.

  • Nicole Cavallo

    more articles like thisssss!

  • ninjasrolled

    15% was acceptable, 20 years ago, in bumblefuck Iowa. If you’re in any kind of metropolitan area and you tip 15% you are sending the message that you are either a. upset about your service or b. a small-town rube.

    • chunny

      As a server in “bumblefuck, Iowa” I would disagree that 15% was ever acceptable there. 20% always.

      • ninjasrolled

        Hmmm…I wished I had that experience there in the 90s. At some points I lived out of my car because tips were so poor (in a large city with a very popular chain restaurant). Moved to Chicago within the same chain and I made twice as much immediately.

  • Rachael Kowald

    articles like these make me feel lucky that I have worked in two countries where my government actually cares about it’s citizens.
    In Australia I was making $27ph (US$20) as a food runner and in England as bar staff I get £9ph (US$11) and £18 (US$22) after midnight. Plus tips. Decent minimum wage is needed.