I’ve held a few jobs over the years, and during my freshman year of college, I worked at a family-style restaurant chain in Cedar Rapids, Iowa to pick up a little spending money. The secrets I walked away with ensured I would never return to the rough and tumble lifestyle of an under-appreciated server.
The Secret Formula of Food Cost vs Price
I shake my head anyone ever orders a basic pasta dish at a restaurant. I learned from my manager that the cost of the ingredients is about $1.50 depending on what sauces accompany the dish, while the menu charges $20 or more. If this were Manhattan or LA, and the meal was being prepared by a world-class chef with years of training, then it would make sense. But to pay $20 for a bowl of spaghetti tossed together by a line cook? I’ll pass.
Reservations After Work?
This one has always disturbed me. A good friend of mine is a hostess, and she says the restaurant where she works always overbooks the table reservations. “If someone doesn’t show, then we don’t have an empty table,” she said. A restaurant needs seats filled to make a profit, and as customers have a habit of not showing up for reservations, this practice makes sense for the business. But, what happens if everyone shows up?
I made $3 an hour waiting tables, bringing my paycheck after a week, after taxes, to around $90. Of this, the IRS couldn’t help but to have its hand in to take its share. However, I would pull in close to $500 in tips for the same amount of time, and if I wanted to keep Uncle Sam off my back, I made sure to report the full amount. Many serving staff do not. Of my reported tip wages, the government took 20%. If I didn’t report accurately, you can bet your bippy I’d have the feds knocking on my door with their hand out looking for the rest.
My first night working as a server, I took my time and was careful in cleaning the table before seating the next round of guests. After a bit, the manager pulled me aside and told me to stop it. “One quick wipe down if there are crumbs,” he said, “Then move on.” Again, it’s the butts in the seat mentality- the longer I spent sanitizing the table, the less time customers had to spend money.
I worked my butt off for my tips, which is an acronym for ‘To ensure promptness.’ I smiled and showed genuine interest in my guests. Of a random selection of 100 tables, I could count on one table leaving a generous tip (over 25%), 40 tables leaving 20%, 20 tables leaving a 10% tip, and the remaining 39% leaving behind nothing but a mess. To this day, I over-compensate for these thoughtless patrons by always tipping 25% of a bill, even before coupons and the like, and even if the service was lousy.
If I dine out, and the server makes a particular recommendation for a dish, that’s my cue to stay away from that side of the menu. In a finer establishment, I wouldn’t hesitate, but if eating at a family-style, chain restaurant, that suggestion of Chicken Marsala is an indication the kitchen has made too much and folks who know something I don’t aren’t ordering it, or the meat is about to go bad and the restaurant want to sell it before it does.
So my advice is when dining out is to have sympathy for your server. There’s is a tough road with little gratitude, and at the end of the night, it’s your tip that could very well be putting good food on their own table.