Let's hope he isn't working while sick.

After 15 years in the restaurant industry, I can still be surprised at how little some people know about how the industry works.  Restaurants operate in a manner far different than most businesses in the United States.  While most Americans are familiar with restaurants from dining out, very few are aware of the working conditions endured by the average restaurant server.  This lack of knowledge is made worse by the fact that the customer who is unaware of this information determines the wage of servers.  This is why a brief refresher on life as server is worth reviewing for those who dine out.

Here are ten ways serving differs from most occupations:

Minimum Wage: In most states restaurant companies are not required to pay servers the minimum wage.  The federal minimum wage for servers is set at $2.13 an hour.  Only four states require the employer pay at least the federal minimum wage of $7.25. In the other states, restaurant companies are allowed to apply the tips received by servers to count towards their minimum wage obligation.

Sick Days: Most companies provide their employees with a limited amount paid time off for illness.  A recent survey showed that 87.7% of restaurant employees received no paid time off for sick days.  As a result 63% reported cooking or serving food while ill.  This not only jeopardizes the health of their co-workers, but also their guests.

Health Insurance: The low of wages on paychecks combined with the lack of availability leads to many restaurant employees remaining uninsured.  Nearly 90% of all hourly restaurant employees lack health insurance.

Breaks: In many states there are no laws requiring breaks for servers working longer shifts.  In states with these laws, they are nearly always ignored.  It is not uncommon for a server to work eight hours plus on their feet without a break to rest or eat.

Scheduling: Most server’s schedules change from week to week with only a few days advance notice.  Weekends in restaurant require more staff than weekdays to match the dining habits of the general public.  This also tends to mean that servers miss a great number of their family celebrations in order to serve your family’s celebrations.

Staffing Levels: On slower nights, servers that were scheduled to work are often told not to come to work with very little notice.  The level of business determines how long servers will work.  This means that a week with six shifts scheduled can easily turn into only two or three shifts.  Likewise a shift that is scheduled for four hours can become two hours or six hours with no notice.

Workplace Dangers: Restaurant employees routinely work with sharp knives, hot stoves, and wet floors.  A significant number of injuries occur.  When an injury results in loss of work, all income ceases.

Co-workers: As a server, you are responsible in part for several other employee’s income.  A portion of the tips servers receive from guests is paid to the person who makes your drinks, brings out your food, and clears your table after you leave.  Paying all of these people can often take 30% or more of a server’s tips.

Human Resources: In most corporations issues can be reported to human resources.  In restaurants you supervisor also serves as the human resources department.  This creates an inherent conflict of interest.  Some larger companies have human resources departments, but they are spread so thin that complaints generally are referred back to restaurant level management to address.

Customers Determine Income: Servers are placed in the often-unenviable position of having their wage determined by the customer.  This means that any displeasure, whether the server’s fault or not, can be most easily expressed by reducing the tip for the server.  Servers are often placed between the desires of the guest and the demands of their employer.  No other customer service position is compensated in this way.

There are over two million servers in the United States.  Over 1% of the total workforce in America is comprised of servers.  Servers are not provided with many of the benefits most workers take for granted.  When you dine at a restaurant you directly impact a server’s livelihood.  Please keep this in mind next time you choose to dine out.

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