No single topic addressed in this blog is more fundamental to being a successful server than budgeting. This is the cause of a majority of issues servers have and the primary reason so many servers leave the business. Nothing can make a shift harder than needing to make money. Anxiety, stress, frustration, and most other negative emotions you feel as a server result from the need to make more money than you feel you are during the shift. Learning to budget as a server will alleviate stress and allow you to make more money by worrying about your guests and not your money.
The difficulty in budgeting as a server is that you have no idea how much you will make from night to night. Most jobs have a set wage per hour or week that allows you to anticipate your income and plan accordingly. Serving does not provide this luxury. Everything from bad weather to the season finale of a popular TV show can decimate your income for the night. This makes budgeting based on future income nearly impossible. I know a number of outstanding experienced professional servers who try to do this by predicting the income of each shift. It leads to tremendous frustration, as each shift is a success or failure. Shifts not hitting the mark lead to panic and shifts that exceed it lead to buying a few extra rounds after work.
I will deal with this topic extensively in discussing “The Rules of Serving”, but here are some fundamentals you must keep in mind to budget successfully:
Get Ahead and Stay Ahead: Nothing else I will write in this blog will be more important to your success as a server than this (but please keep reading anyway). You cannot anticipate what you will make in the future, but you can get ahead far enough that a bad week is not catastrophic. Invest some time in working enough to get a rainy day fund set up. It may mean working extra shifts in the short term, but in the long term it will make working far less stressful. Until you are able to get a little money set aside, cut back on your spending. Temporary sacrifice will pay long-term dividends in protecting your sanity.
Live Within Your Means: Whether it is watching people flagrantly spend money all night or walking out with cash in their pocket, servers have ample excuses to spend excessively. For some it is a new car and for others it is a soon to be empty bottle single malt scotch. Inevitably expensive extras lead to you working to support them and not yourself. Buying things that you can’t afford means you have to work to pay for them rather than enjoying them. You can have nice things, but pay for them in cash when you are already ahead. Putting something on credit means anticipating being able to pay for them with future earnings. As servers, this is a luxury we do not have. The temporary happiness of the purchase comes with long-term stress attached.
Measure Income in Months: My father taught me this concept years ago and I attribute it with the fact that I have remained relatively sane as a server. If you look at money on a shift-by-shift basis you will always be too emotional about it. Bad shifts become the end of the world and good shifts make you Donald Trump. Instead measure how much you are making by the week and month. This prevents one table or shift from impacting your attitude so severely. It will prevent you from blowing money after a good shift and eating ramen noodles after a bad one. This is a far more accurate way to measure your income.
Until you learn to budget properly, each shift and each table will determine your attitude. When you have money set aside you can focus on the guests and not the tip. This is why walking into work knowing that you will be fine if you make nothing will actually help you make far more money. It may take sacrifices in the beginning to get ahead, but once you are ahead every shift becomes less stressful. Waiting tables is stressful enough already, budgeting well gives you one less thing to worry about.
Tomorrow is Foodie Friday. Part two of the wonderful world of beef. If you missed it, here is part one. I also ran across a fun new blog today. Of all of the restaurants I have worked at, none left me with more stories than that wing joint with the orange shorts. Here are some great tales from a server who I am assuming is much more photogenic than myself.
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