Do Servers Even Want To Wait Tables Anymore?
Now more than ever, it’s not easy to make a living waiting tables. Covid restrictions have made sure that most restaurants aren’t even close to capacity and plenty of the customers who do go out to eat in restaurants are using the “times are hard” excuse to leave less than exemplary tips. These difficult times are making a lot of servers question whether or not to even stay in the industry. Pre-covid, getting a bad tip or having a difficult customer was part of the job, but now servers have to contend with those problems as well potentially contracting a deadly virus, all for the sake a serving chicken wings for a 15% tip. For a lot of servers, it’s too much and whether they chose to leave the industry or the industry left them, a lot of them will never go back.
Some servers used Covid as the push they needed to move them in a new direction. Kaylee, who had been serving for ten years, earned her real estate license during the shutdown and is working her way out of the restaurant industry entirely. “I would like to hope that it would have eventually happened without Covid, but the shut down made it possible for me to have the time to focus on just that completely,” she says.
Similarly, Kelsey who waited tables for just over a year is now a florist. It’s what she wanted to do for a living and when the restaurant industry became so insecure, she jumped into her real passion. Anna, a bartender, took advantage of the situation to use her degree to find a new job that allows her to work from home. Even though she made more money behind the bar, she feels more “solid” and still picks up part-time work slinging drinks to maintain her “fix.”
For Jessica, also a server, it was the health and safety of her family that came first. “I was 8 months pregnant and serving when the initial lock downs hit. I’ve been out of the industry almost a year now and don’t see myself returning. My son’s health is paramount.” For these four women, Covid directly influenced their decision to take a step away from the service industry.
The other issue looming large in the future of servers is the possibility of a $15 hourly minimum wage, which could eventually eliminate the vastly different minimum wage for servers around the country. Currently, the federal minimum wage for servers is $2.13 an hour which hasn’t risen since 1991. That hourly wage varies from state to state, but if the new legislation introduced by Democrats takes effect, then by the year 2027, all servers would be making at least $15 an hour as well. Most servers worry that customers will be much less inclined to tip if they know their server is making that much an hour. If servers are being paid the same amount as someone who works in other minimum wage jobs, customers will want to know why they leave a tip for their waiter but not for their grocery store clerk. It’s a lot easier to leave a tip for someone who’s only making two or three dollars an hour. Servers also worry that restaurants will be forced to cut shifts and hours in order to afford the new wage. This is a very real possibility meaning that servers could make much less in the long run.
Between entitled customers, the concern of catching Covid and the uncertainty of the health of the restaurant industry overall, the question is: why would anyone want to wait tables at all? The answer is simple: No matter what transpires, restaurant work will always be flexible and it will always be there for people who truly love the job. For many people, serving is part of their very existence and it’s what they want to do with their lives. If, after Covid is over and wage increases happen that might jeopardize tips, maybe waiting tables will become a respected profession. After all, if the only people who are serving in restaurants are the ones who do it because they respect and admire the craft of providing hospitality, think of what amazing service customers would be getting.