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Why do waiters make more than cooks?


Fat Guy
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A few places on the Are cooks underpaid? topic, and elsewhere on the site, there have been references to the fact that servers on the whole earn more than cooks.

First of all, is it true? In other words, adjusting for seniority, experience, training, etc., will there be an income disparity between a similarly situated server and cook?

If it's true, what's the extent of the difference?

Likewise, what explains the difference? Is one harder work? Is one more rewarding in non-financial ways? It is purely a question of supply and demand, or does the tipping system represent a glitch in the market? What are the potential best-case-scenario upsides of the two career tracks? Which is harder work? Which offers better job security and benefits? Which offers more prestige and why?

How about internationally and in various markets and segments within nations?

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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As I'm not really on the inside of this.....I can just respond given what i've heard...and based on my opinion. In short, I think it would be rather disparaging to learn that cooks earned less....I'm a huge advocate of tips being pooled to be shared amongst all the workers, however....the "house" taking a cut of tips ain't cool. If you are an owner of course who needs to rely on the take of tips to keep your workers employed....well what's wrong with the picture?. Talk amongst yerselves....I'm a little beklempt :rolleyes:

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Fat Guy, you're opening a real can of worms here :biggrin:

A few of the places I've worked set it up so the kitchen gets a % of the waiters tips, at least at dinner service.

2317/5000

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Yeah, Fat Guy, this can be an ugly can of worms.

I know what I make bartending. I know what one of our best servers make serving. I also know what our Executive Chef and Sous make. I will not betray or foster ill will by spilling the beans. (sorry for the pun)

I've often been relied upon but never paid for management/supervisory functions. Part of that is to keep the peace and do what I can to keep the cogs of the whole machine greased and running smoothly. Those instincts are going off like a five alarm fire. After all, I depend upon the heart of the house for my guests' entrees so I earn money and they rely upon me to sell their food.

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A few of the places I've worked set it up so the kitchen gets a % of the waiters tips, at least at dinner service.

While that is not customary where I work, if one has gone the extra mile to do something that knocks the guest's socks off, well, the hook up is a given. I'll slip a decent bill into their pocket or make sure, if we're all going for after shift drinks, their tab is handed to me. But that isn't the norm for the entire FOH staff. There are a few that will always make sure one's efforts are appreciated.

Edited by beans (log)
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My complaint is that servers often make more than restaurant owners. Then again, all to frequently, so do cooks and dishwashers.

No one wins in the debate, "Who are more important, cooks or servers?" (Assumes in this thread that money earned defines worth) Both are, of course, essential. But from a restaurateur's point of view, a skillful server can make up for and soothe kitchen problems and errors.

Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."

HollyEats.Com

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I can say that from my experience, which includes both sides of the swinging kitchen door, there is no comparison. It is true that a senior back of house member, i.e., executive chef will likely make more than a front of house server with same number of years experience, as the latter's salary is effectively "frozen" and indexed on the check averages, but most BOH folks are not executive chefs. Most places I have worked, from swank L.A. places (For Hans Rockenwagner, among others) to Chicago, FOH makes a killing over BOH. Egregiously so. When a bad night for FOH means less than $200, or roughly $26 an hour, and a bad night for BOH means, well, a bad night, as in no matter how slammed or fried we get, we're still pulling in $9-13 an hour, then, yeah, that blows. And lest one thinks the labor bullshit about BOH not getting paid for O.T. is just that, bullshit, think again - I worked for a since-closed up-and-coming joint for a then-up-and-coming rising star in the L.A. scene, who had the balls to drive around in the JAG daddy bought for him while he bounced - bounced, a month's worth of pay, at 90 hours per week. Forget no OT; more, no pay. Never paid the straight time back. And this is not unusual.

As to whether this is a market glitch or not, tips do not come out of owner pockets, so they don't care. In fact, many places, placing servers on salaries and appropriating the tips to themselves, do doubly well. So, from a strictly capitalist viewpoint, no, there is no market glitch. They can get away with it because people will work for it. But from a social good standpoint, it blows. Utterly.

-Paul

 

Remplis ton verre vuide; Vuide ton verre plein. Je ne puis suffrir dans ta main...un verre ni vuide ni plein. ~ Rabelais

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Everyone here takes an equal cut of the tips; chefs, waiting staff, wash up and owner :biggrin: does help build a team spirit

I always liked you, but now I know I love you. :wub::wub::wub:

FG: yes, this is a HUGE can of worms/bone of contention/ etc.

I have never worked FOH, so I don't know what they make, except that minimum wage for tipped employees somewhere slightly over $3, and many places illegally require waiters to give a percentage of their total tips to management.

But as points of comparison: in my last restaurant job, at which I was to be the SOLE lunch cook, 6 days a week, my rate was $13/hour. As tournant at a well-known, much moved and recently re-incarnated place, I was paid $575 a week (supposedly for 40 hours, but naturally for more hours); the most I ever got was $600 a week as pastry chef -- basically a one-person production department -- which was, incidentally, $150/week less than the previous pastry chef had received, for the same exact work. At none of these jobs were there any benefits, and none paid overtime (that is, more than 40 hours, which was always the reality).

Remember that cooks do the detailed prep work for their stations, even if someone else does the basic peeling vegetables, washing lettuces, etc. Some make our own sauces (and for others, as well). We start at 7 or 8AM to get ready for lunch service and stay until 5, fighting for space with the dinner crew who come in at 3 and stay until 11, 12, 1am.

And as Paul O'Vendange mentions: I left a place because about 3 months total of paychecks bounced, and the owner only made good eventually on half of them. And what did he do shortly thereafter? close the place and reopen under a new business name, stiffing every worker (including the Chef) and purveyor to whom he owed money. Not all are good guys like Holly. :sad:

Although, Holly: the best kitchen in the world cannot make up for an idiot server who knows nothing about the food in spite of all attempts to teach him/her, and therefore misinforms customers at the least, or gives them lousy service at worst. And very often, the kitchen WILL make up for the shortcomings of the service staff who "forget" to place an order, so that one customer's food has to be rushed while the rest of the table sits under the heat lamps, or remake something that the server fucked up while ordering ("Oh, gee, sorry I forgot to mention, sauce on the side -- what's the usual way, anyway? -- and poached instead of sauteed, and no onions.") It would be heaven if FOH really did have all the necessary "people skills" but very few practitioners, INCLUDING MANAGERS, seem to have what it takes. Those who do, get big tips from me, because they've earned it; those who don't still get tipped, but I grit my teeth as I do it. :angry:

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Although, Holly: the best kitchen in the world cannot make up for an idiot server who knows nothing about the food in spite of all attempts to teach him/her, and therefore misinforms customers at the least, or gives them lousy service at worst.  And very often, the kitchen WILL make up for the shortcomings of the service staff who "forget" to place an order, so that one customer's food has to be rushed while the rest of the table sits under the heat lamps, or remake something that the server fucked up while ordering ("Oh, gee, sorry I forgot to mention, sauce on the side -- what's the usual way, anyway? -- and poached instead of sauteed, and no onions.")

I'm gaining a new appreciation for my employer. He does provide benefits for the salaried and the option to those who want in on the benefits plan, but the hourly staff must pay their way for it.

In this current market, those servers that fall into Suzanne's description don't live to see another shift. We are currently overstaffed, the overall sales volume is down from last year's figures and there are too many that will work hard for that job opportuntity. This is the first time ever the 'no experience, well good luck' happened, because usually we pick up a large amount of teachers on Summer break.

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Dammit I wasnt going to stop by today, I have too much work on my desk and now I see this thread....

Comaparing say a cook and a waiter both with well experianced. Forget about trashing the bad server/actor or a hungover sloppy cook.Consider two professionals.

The Cook.... is not a exec. or even a Sous chef but perhaps runs a station. Does it well in a busy stressfull place, a part of the team for sure. Knows his job, food goes out properly, chef can count on him/her. Maybe even a journeyman, a careeer cook.

Good pay for this person would be 12-14per hour. A piece of the tip pool could be a few hundred more a month as well. Say 30+k a year.

The Waiter.....career server, knowledgable with foods and wine, studies hard. Knows the restaurants goals and knows their clientel.

Could make more than minimum wage. maybe 10 or 12 an hour.

Works a full 40 hour week.

Tips....say they sell an average of a grand a night 5 nights a week. Make an average of 15% and tip out 10% on sales.

They would make 750 a week in tips and tip out 500, take home 250 a week. Thousand a month in tips and say a thousand in wages.

Taxes on the wages and if they are smart they will declare a part of the tips to the Feds as well. I belive Quebec is now manditory to declare 100% of tips earned.

So the Server makes out better on average. If you focus on career people both the server and the cook are doing vital jobs that require training and dedication. My first job in a large hotel many of the Service staff had been with the owner for many years. The kitchen saw far more turnover.

Casual dining is different from this though, cooks make less hourly and servers tend to have small sections with lower cheque averages.

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Sorry I forgot to add though that this can all be meaningless. A friend running a dining room in Vancouver ( top ten room maybe) recently figured that his 4 top servers make in exess or 80k a year in tips alone!

Cooks are not making that! Chef is but not the cooks.

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A friend running a dining room in Vancouver ( top ten room maybe) recently figured that his 4 top servers make in exess or 80k a year in tips alone!

It's show biz, Folks. And the 'stars' of the show, the ones that can keep the audience entertained, always make more.

The BOH, for the most part, is just work. The front is show biz all the way.

All three of my children at one time or another worked summers as waitstaff. And after I explained this truism to them -- and we worked on their 'acts' a little -- their tips tripled.

Fair or not.

That's what it comes down to.

(In fact, isn't there an old joke that goes, "An elderly waiter was asked by his family if he was EVER going to retire; and he said, 'What, and quit show biz??!'")

Edited by Jaymes (log)

I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

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Yes, there are those that really earn a whopping amount. A longtime coworker/friend earned his way through college, got his CPA and works for his father's accounting firm full time. He still bartends nights/weekends because he can't do without the extra cash. His girlfriend is a server for one of our top restaurants in this city. Her entire set of coworkers have my friend prepare their taxes. They all clear 90K on credit card receipts alone. There are always those, in every paid profession, that are paid top dollar. Serving is not alone in this.

How about the long time legal secretary that was earning more than some of the new associates, and certainly more than legal assistants/paralegals? It happens everywhere. My ex SO's financial management consulting group secretary's salary made many want to cry.

I once took a job at The Hard Rock Cafe. One night after a pre-opening trial run with our friends and family "guinea pigs," we all went out for a end of shift cocktail. We sat there and pondered this issue and came to the realization of all of the tipped hourly positions, we realized our independent contractor restroom attendant lady took home by far the most $$$. She had no one to tip out and when presented with her attention and the goodies she had available, one couldn't help but toss a few bucks into her basket.

Yikes, see, I just *knew* this was going to get me rambling, ranting and raving....

[somewhere during mid rant, I spotted Jaymes' post]

FOH is work too. The heart of the house isn't the only ones sweating their cahoneys off. But you are right, there is a great deal of "show" in it too. An entertaining, multitasking bartender will dance around those that have the look of fear, are weeded and short with guests. Also, if the FOH wait staff gets it, they figure out they are not mere order takers, but can with outstanding product knowledge, upsell, add on and increase that guest check and remain cool as a cucumber.

A cook is there because they want to cook. Most service staff are there to earn money.

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Sorry I cant seem to get the quote thing figured out...duh.

Anyway, Beans you stated that a cook is there because they want to cook. I cant imagine saying that of any other trade. Does a carpenter build houses for the love of it only and not for compensation?

I cook because it is what I do,it is my trade. Tony Bourdain described it well in Kitchen Confedential when writing about the different types of cooks. Many of us are the Mercenaries. We are not the architects but mearly the builders,we do it well and expect fair compensation. Without us there is no building. No cooks, no need for the server.

Hope I could make the piont without sounding like Im on the attack.

Im loving it here in the gullet and leaning how to post well takes time. Please bear with me.

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Cooks -- I said that because it is what they want to do and move on and upward, while still cooking. It is more than a trade, it is passion, a love and a calling. I'm always of the belief "follow your passion and money will never be an issue." :smile:

Servers tend to be there to pay their way through college, additional income, an in between job -- but certainly not all servers. There are some that do it for a steady life long job/career. Where do servers go on the upward service ladder? The mid priced restaurant, perhaps onto an upscale; or even into management if all is successfully in that effort.

Other trades, who knows. Inequities always abound. :angry: I certainly don't agree that is a good thing either. :sad:

p.s. Lounge Lizard - your posts are great. :smile: Glad to be reading them on eG. Welcome! :cool:

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Would cooks work for tips if it meant they'd make more?

Sure why not? However I would tend to believe that is an easy route for the owner to take advantage of their staff and justify lower hourly rates/salaries across the board. :angry: That tends to attact the bottom quality server since the next door restaurant doesn't require them to tip out heart of the house.

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"That tends to attact the bottom quality server since the next door restaurant doesn't require them to tip out heart of the house. "

Or not. I'm open on this question--but if the kitchen staff were paid in such a way (tips) that the satisfaction of the customer had a direct bearing on their take, it might make for a very motivated kitchen.

It might also attract a better class of kitchen staff, who would gravitate to the money.

Arthur Johnson, aka "fresco"
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