It looks easy, doesn’t it? I mean, they just walk up to your table and take your order. Half the time they don’t even bring your food, right? A food runner delivers your plates — and a busser picks them up after you’re done. Of course your server may help you with wine or beer pairings (and also bring the bill!) but, all told, they may spend 10 minutes or less with you. So what exactly do servers do to earn a tip?
First of all, be aware that most servers make far less than minimum wage (the minimum for tipped employees is $2.13 per hour in Kentucky). Yet they must come in two hours or more before opening to get the restaurant ready for service. So, for less than five dollars (before tax!), they have to attend to all sorts of duties before the guests arrive.
Floors must be vacuumed and walkways swept. If the restaurant offers al Fresco dining, all patio furniture must be wiped clean of dust, road grime, rainwater and unmentionables. The fingerprints of yesterday’s patrons must be scrubbed from glass doors. Flatware must be polished and rolled into clean napkins. If there’s a bar, it’ll have to be buffed to a warm gleam. Wine glasses must be polished until clear of water spots. (If you’ve ever done this at home, imagine how tedious it would be to do several dozen.) Picture frames and artwork get righted and dusted. Menus are wiped or reprinted. Plants have to be watered and maintained. Liquor deliveries must be checked in and put away. Bathrooms are cleaned and inspected. Coffee, tea and lemonade have to be made. Salt, cheese and pepper flake shakers, pepper mills and sauce bottles have to be filled to the top.
After service there are additional duties to perform. Gum has to be scraped from underneath tables — yes, really. Chairs must be stacked away from the dining area for the morning’s vacuuming. Money is counted, and each server has to settle up with management, declaring their tips for the shift. They may also have to distribute part of their tips to other members of the staff who form their support system (such as bartenders, food runners and bussers). Servers can’t begin many of these post-service duties until the dining room is empty of patrons; however, good servers will never make it obvious that they are waiting for you to leave.
Good servers do make it look easy, but in a properly run restaurant, it takes backbreaking, foot-aching, hot, exhausting labor and strict attention to detail to perform the daily miracle of smooth service. So, diners: Be mindful of all that servers do to make your dining experience pleasant. Standard, well-informed service should be acknowledged with a tip of around 20 percent of your bill. And if your servers go above and beyond the call of duty, reward them well, because they’ve earned it.
Marsha Lynch, a graduate of Sullivan University, has worked at many Louisville independent restaurants including Limestone, Jack Fry’s, Jarfi’s and L&N Wine Bar and Bistro. She is now the pastry chef at Café Lou Lou.