Tipping the Bus
Rolando, our fabulous Chileno busboy, is so busy acting fabulous that he’s neglecting my tables. I’ve been fetching bread and butter, refilling waters, and clearing my tables all though lunch. I’m not above doing grunt work, but Rolando’s getting a healthy chunk of my tips for doing nothing but drink espresso and flip through tabloid magazines with the hostess.
“Ayyy,” Rolando says, pointing to a picture of some celebrity. “Look at that puta! Shes so skinny.”
The hostess, another Chileno expatriate, laughs and says something in rapid fire Spanish I can’t understand.
“I know,” Rolando says, still speaking in English. “Put some meat on those bones.”
“Hey Rolando,” I say, trying to get his attention.
Rolando looks up from his magazine, a cross expression furrowing his fleshy forehead.
“Yes,” he sighs. “What do you want now?”
“Could you please clear table 73?” I ask, a brittle smile gracing my face.
“Si Señor,” Rolando replies, looking back down at his magazine. “Of course he doesn’t move.”
Pissed, I go to the table and clear it myself. Rolando’s high up in the bus boy pecking order. I can’t figure if he’s slow on my tables because he’s lazy or because I’m the new guy. Busboys often wait to see if new hires survive the first few weeks before giving them the same level of attention as the veteran waiters.
That’s actually a bad strategy. What Rolando should be watching is how I handle my tip out. The bussers here get 20% of a waiters tips – if I make a $100 they get $20. Waiters are notorious for scamming bus people on the tip out. By not fully disclosing cash tips or tipping out on a percentage of sales when that percentage yields a total lower tip total than the actual tips received, servers nickel and dime their support staff out of hundreds of dollars a year. I’ve seen it done many times.
Waiters often think this practice is justified when they perceive the bus people doing a slow or inferior job. I’ve heard waiters rationalize tip shaving by claiming that its not in their best interest to reward substandard labor. Once, when I disagreed with this practice, a waiter told me that the bus people should be grateful they were even working in a restaurant and not picking fruit somewhere for $2 an hour. Surprised? You shouldn’t be. Waiters can be bigger pricks than the worst Yuppie customer.
If a waiter has a problem with the bus people he or she should talk it over with them, mano y mano. If there’s still a problem, take it up with management. It pisses me off when waiters take it upon themselves to punish bus people by cheating them on the tip out. It’s not a waiters job to take punitive action. Besides, you don’t always know whats happening in a bus persons life. Maybe the owners got his people working overtime picking up dry cleaning, watching his kids, or painting his house. (I’ve seen many restaurant owners, fancying themselves old time patrons on a plantation in the Argentinean Pampas, work back of the house staff like personal slaves.) Maybe the bus persons kids are sick. Maybe they’re tired working 16 hour days 5 days a week. A waiter easily makes double what a bus person makes. Why begrudge them a few bucks?
I’ve never cheated a bus person, even the ones that suck. Thats not because I’m a saint. Its because I know that tactic doesn’t work. If I’m unhappy with a busser’s service Ill hand out the prescribed amount but I’ll tell them why I’m unhappy. Sure, people get their noses out of joint, but, in the long run, they’ll know you’re no fool and respect you. By treating the bus people like adults, they’ll know you respect them. If the BOH staff knows you respect them, there’s nothing they won’t do for you. A good waiter gets tight with his bus people before he even learns the other waiters names.
The lunch shift ends. Its time to tip out Rolando. I hand him thirty bucks.
“Wow,” Rolando says. “It was a slow lunch and you still made that much?”
“Yeah Rolando,” I say. “It was a slow lunch and I still bussed my own tables.”
Rolando’s eyes flicker with anger. “I’m working a double man, he snaps. It wasn’t busy.”
“Working a double sucks,” I acknowledge. “But I’m paying you for work you’re not doing. Is that fair?”
Rolando glares at me. Our eyes lock.
“You gotta do your job too,” I say.
Rolando walks away, a stream of lackluster Spanish curses trailing in his wake. He goes back to the hostess stand to continue his research into yellow journalism.
OK. So Rolando didnt have an epiphany and go “Gee Waiter! I get it now!” I didnt expect him to. These things take time. In the end what’s in his best interest is getting paid fairly. The other waiters around here seem to loathe the bus people. I suspect a couple of them of tip shaving. After a while Rolando will wonder why my tip out is higher than some of the other servers. Things will all work out.
Rolando’s going to be my best buddy. He just doesnt know it yet.