It’s a slow Saturday night and I’m standing by the hostess stand, reviewing my tips. I’m not doing well.
“How’s it going there?” the owner asks, looking over my shoulder.
“Terrible,” I reply. “Less than fifteen percent.”
“Really?” the owner says, looking surprised. “You usually average twenty percent and up.”
“What did the girl on Table Eight leave you?”
“The hot one in the leather pants?”
“Unbelievable,” the owner says. “When she left she told me what a good waiter you were.”
“She’s operating under the delusion that flaunting a nice ass counts as a tip,” I reply, bitterly.
The owner laughs heartily. “You’re a bad man.”
“Is her ass going to pay my rent?” I ask. “Can I use it to buy groceries?”
“I guess not.”
“I rest my case.”
Forgive my flare of working class/misogynistic anger. Every server has good days and bad days. Old pros like me should be able to roll with the punches. But business at Café Machiavelli’s has been so bad lately that my patience is wearing thin. We’re down five hundred covers a week since I started. That’s bad. Waiters are getting cut on Saturday nights. Working a thirteen hour double last Thursday earned me a paltry sixty bucks. The staff members at the bottom of the tip totem pole, the bus people, are really hurting. One guy told me how he was having a hard time affording Pampers. Several bussers have already left, looking for greener pastures. The sad part is that there are no greener pastures. Things are bad all over. I don’t know if America’s economy is in a recession or not, but the restaurant industry sure as hell is.
“People aren’t going out to eat as much,” I say. “And when they do I think they’re skimping on the tip.”
“You think so?” the owner asks. “My stats say sales are down but the tip percentage is holding.”
“The regulars are still good,” I reply. “But the once a month types? I think they’re holding back five or six percent on the gratuity.”
“I’ll keep on eye on the numbers,” the owner says. “Maybe you’re right.”
To cap off a miserable night, a romantically inclined couple decides to come ten minutes before closing and stay two hours. They tip for shit. I get home at 1:30 AM. I only made $120 for on Saturday night. That sucks.
The next morning I put $40 worth of gas in my gar and drive over to the grocery store. I buy only staples, no luxuries. When the girl at the register tallies up my purchases I get my weekly dose of sticker shock. $1 for two lemons? $4.35 for a half pound of domestic Swiss? Thank God I don’t have to buy Pampers.
I read somewhere that the economy’s in a period of stagflation – slow economic growth coupled with rising prices. From a waiter’s point of view this makes sense. Food costs have gone up so menu prices have increased. People bitched when entrees broke the $30 mark – now they’re pushing past $40! Faced with higher prices and economic uncertainty customers are eating out less – forcing restaurant owners to raise prices even more to make up for the losses, causing even more people to curtail dining out. It’s vicious cycle. I’m sure some economic type reading this will correct my logic, but that’s how I see it.
When I finish shopping I head home, put my groceries away, and go to the gym. After I work out, I hit the shower and head into the kitchen. I make rigatoni with chicken and broccoli in a pesto sauce. I wash my meal down with a glass of wine, skip dessert, pack up my leftovers, and put them in the freezer. I’ll reheat the chicken and pasta on a night I’m too tired to cook. It’s good to be thrifty with food.
After I wash my dishes I brew some coffee and settle into my leather chair to do some reading. I’m currently working on No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy. I liked the movie so much I thought I’d try the book. So far I’m enjoying it, though McCarthy’s lack of punctuation takes some getting used to. After an hour lost inside the sere emotional landscape of McCarthy’s Southwest Texas, Buster, my joint custody dog, starts making noise. It’s time for his nightly walk. I leash him up and walk into town. I pass by a restaurant. It’s empty. A lone waiter is staring out the window with his hands in his pockets. Two bus boys are in the back, unenthusiastically folding napkins. I wave at the waiter. He waves back. He looks broke and angry. “I feel your pain, buddy,” I telepath to him. Not picking up on my psychic attempts at camaraderie, the waiter turns around and disappears from view.
I take Buster home and finish my book.