by Tyler Haas
It is four o’clock on a Friday. Time for work. I walk into the back of the restaurant where the kitchen is located and am greeted by smiling faces.
Smiling, but sweaty. I can see the tired looks on their faces but they do the best to mask it, knowing they have a long night of work ahead of them. I greet the dishwasher.
Not in my native English, but in my second language – Spanish. I know he appreciates me taking the time to say a quick, “Hola! Como estás?” Even if it is the most basic Spanish that the preschoolers watching “Dora” know, it means the world to him.
His dirty, food-splattered clothes are worn, along with weathered, aged skin. I look at him and wonder how old he is. He must be older than my father, who has a stable job as an engineer, working to support his four daughters and wife. I wonder if he has a family to support and take care of. I remind myself, no matter how long and tiring my day is, I will leave the restaurant well before this hardworking, kind man.
I walk through the kitchen towards the “line.” The line is where all the food is cooked. Because it is a Friday night, there are more cooks working than normal, around eight, who greet me with a smile or a joke. Jokes are common among the cooks, as it gets them through the night. Many of them have children, and one has twin babies due in September.
As for these men, I am certain of a few things: they are good at what they do, they are hardworking, and they do not have health insurance. If they are sick, they take an aspirin, wash their hands, and come to work. If they get burns on their arms and faces, they suck it up and keep working. These men are the hardest working people that I know with nothing to show for; every year, they barely make it by. I regularly ask them what it is like working a demanding job and earning little pay for their hard work. They do not complain. After greeting the cooks, I head into the restaurant and talk to my fellow servers. We make two dollars and thirteen cents an hour, and whatever we make in tips that night. However, three percent of our food sales are given to the hostesses, bartenders, and bussers who help us do our job. We do not complain because we need the help, but it is disheartening to lose the money that we worked so hard to earn.
Enter the rich, privileged guests, many who have never worked a “blue collar” job in their lives. Some are friendly, giving generous tips, asking about our personal lives, and offering a warm smile upon leaving. However, many look down on us as “servants” or the “lower class.” Sometimes I do not feel as if I am being talked to as a person. I feel like I am somebody’s object, something for him or her to order around until they are satisfied.
To fully satisfy this person, and to hopefully earn a fair tip, I run around the restaurant fulfilling their everneed. And when I say run, I mean run. Because sometimes when I am getting one person ketchup, honey mustard, or ranch dressing, another person is waiting to have their drink refilled. And another needs napkins because their child spilled their drink. Yet another wants their bill. And another does not like their food that they have eaten half -way already. I am exhausted, but I need to keep a smile on my face to please the customer. The customer who decides whether or not I go home with any money.
At the end of the customer’s dinner, I believe I have done everything in my power to satisfy them. I have given them refills, brought them their food, gave them boxes for their leftovers, offered advice on desserts, and even given them a free coupon for their next visit. Once the customers are gone, I check the tip amount – 15 percent. I give three percent away and am left with 12 percent. I feel defeated, but I have to keep on working.
By the end of the night I am tired, my feet hurt from standing up all night, and I have barely made any money. But it is time to clean up. This means sweeping, wiping down tables, and other tasks I must complete before I am allowed to clock out. My fellow servers are tired too.
Some have children to go home to who need food, medicine, clothes, and other provisions. Others are complaining of being sick and in need of medicine.
There’s just one problem: health insurance. Or lack thereof. My heart breaks for these people’s conditions, and I wish there was something I could do to help.
Every single one of these people I have mentioned struggle every single day to make it by. For them, every dollar counts. We often forget when we go out to eat that the person serving us not only brought us refills, customized our orders, brought us extra condiments, and basically ran around the restaurant to make sure we had an enjoyable meal.
What some people don’t realize is that servers generally “tip out” a percentage of their tips to bartenders, hostesses, and bussers. By serving you and you leaving a bad tip, they are actually losing money. A 10 percent tip doesn’t cut it, and neither does 15 percent. Next time you go out to eat, think about the person who served you. The person.
Not the servant. Think about the cook without health insurance who slaved over a hot grill to make your perfect steak. And especially think about the immigrant who stayed late hours to wash the plate that you are eating off. We are all human beings who deserve to be treated with respect and dignity.
Next time you go out to eat, think about the person who works hard long after you are gone to make a living and pay them the 20 percent or more that they deserve. There is a saying that goes, “Don’t cry over spilled milk.” In a restaurant, there is no need to because a server will be right there to wipe it up and earn less than their fair share of money for doing so.