People take their job descriptions for granted. A math teacher is unlikely to be required to shine the floors in her classroom. The pizza delivery guy does not have to bake the pies. A financial analyst will not be expected to design the company's website.
According the Bureau of Labor Statistics, over 70 percent of waitstaff in the fifty states are women. The industry is considered "pink collar," which means that it is blue collar labor dominated by women.
It is also highly unregulated. It was a rude shock to discover that waiting tables comes with no expectation of a job description in most states. A few states have put in place that waitstaff job duties must relate to the dining room, but most states leave this up to the employer.
This means that waitresses reasonably do more than just walk your food. We clean the dining room, polish silverware and glassware, fold napkins... nothing in the dining room should be dirty or out of place.
In most states, we earn less than minimum wage, but rely on the tips that diners leave us for our service. Other jobs that I have performed while working as a "waitress" for tipped minimum wage include, but are not limited to:
I have cleaned bathrooms as part of my job description, including scrubbing toilets. No restaurant owner I have worked for supplied gloves or other safety supplies for the waitstaff/janitors. I have brought in my own disposable gloves, at my own expense. I have also worked in places where I was allowed to use food-handling gloves from the kitchen. However, I am the only waitress I know of who ever bothered to cover her hands as an extra precaution while cleaning public toilets.
Image credit: Flickr user: FaceMePLS.
It makes sense that a waitress would use some Windex on windows in her section of the restaurant. Especially after a brunch shift, children may have left greasy handprints on the inside of the windows. It is another thing, however, to give a food server a large bucket of sudsy water and a sponge, ask her to stand on a ladder and clean the restaurant's outdoor windows. Some of those ladders felt old and rickety.
Shoveling the Walk
This is something that I got away with not doing. A passive-aggressive manager yelled at me in front of my tables "Somebody has to step up around here!" When no waitress on our staff:
- Bundled up in hat, coat, gloves, and boots
- performed hard labor
- came back in not sweaty or smelly from shoveling the walk
- did it fast enough so as to not fall behind in table service
that manager went out and did it herself in her work clothes. After that, the restaurant scheduled the dishwasher to come in a little early and paid him a full wage to shovel the walk in the winter. If any waitress had caved in, we'd be doing it to this day.
Another fun trick some restaurant owners like to do is send the dishwasher, who is making at least full minimum wage, home or simply not schedule him at all. It then becomes part of the waitstaff's job description to wash the dishes at less than minimum wage.
Image credit: Flickr user: ngader.
Lots of restaurants require that waitstaff also prepare food. This would be legal if we were paid at least full minimum wage for doing so. Instead, we are often paid our usual tipped minimum wage for preparing salads and desserts.
One restaurant required us to make salads for the next shift. Part of closing the lunch shift was preparing salads for the dinner shift. And yes, the dinner shift made salads at the end of the evening for the lunch shift the next day. If you think your salad is not fresh, it is because your salad is not fresh.
Another restaurant owner I worked for liked fancy-looking desserts, and required servers to make them so. Canned whipped cream was not good enough, so he insisted that we make whipped cream in the back. During a busy brunch shift I panicked because the whipped cream was loose. I had no time to go back in the kitchen and beg the cooks to let me use the beater in the middle of the shift. I ended up serving a dessert with imperfect-looking whipped cream, a sin in my boss' mind. I had a full section and couldn't spend a large amount of time working as a cook in the kitchen trying to perfect whipped cream. For this, I was threatened with job loss.
The list goes on. I remember one slow shift during which the manager on duty decided it was a great time to strip and wax the bathroom floors. The idea that the restaurant owner might pay a professional to do this when the restaurant was closed was unthinkable.
None of this extra work stops diners from complaining if we are not at their table the minute they want us. I have come out of the dish room and had customers gripe, "We thought you must have been texting your friends in the back. We want..." Sometimes I tell them what I have been doing, but if the job was too gross, I refrain.
When service suffers because waitresses like me are "Janes of all trades," our tip averages go down. Therefore, requiring us to perform various and sundry job duties that have nothing to do with serving food does affect our ability to earn an income.
Right now, at-will employment laws and right-to-work states are fighting back against any progress laborers have made in protecting themselves from grotesque exploitation. What we need are rules and regulations that protect laborers in all trades, including "pink collar," so we can earn a living, enjoy basic safety at work and have jobs with reasonable expectations and a reasonable degree of job security.
This post is part of BlogHer's Women@Work editorial series, made possible by AFL-CIO.
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