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In the Weeds: Where the F is my Black Card?

May 19, 2009
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This is one of my favorite scenes from an all-time favorite movie. In Quentin Tarantino’s “Reservoir Dogs,” this early scene sets the pace for Tarantino’s dialogue-heavy trademark style. Mr. Pink refuses to tip and his rationale is at once riveting and revolting. I first saw this movie before becoming a server, and I must say I agreed with Steve Buscemi by the end of his diatribe. But looking at it now, I’m amazed by the lack of research. The entire scene hinges on the fact that servers make minimum wage plus tips. Of course, this is not the case, but who would know? I certainly didn’t know until I started serving tables at $2.35 per hour. I arrive at work at 4 p.m., and by the time a couple finally gets their back sides into a cozy booth at 6:30, I’ve made exactly $5.87. I’m not complaining, simply educating. Servers do not make “minimum wage.” I didn’t know. Now I do. And now you do, too.

Other happenings from the weekend: I lost an American Express black card. This is no joke. An American Express Black Card’s official name is the Centurion Card. It’s made of titanium and it’s issued to only about 400 people worldwide who charge more than $250K annually. Female servers routinely run these cards across their breasts for good luck. Mr. X was in a hurry to get going after 3 bottles of wine and a $750 dinner and asked for the check. I brought it, he gave it a quick glance, and handed it back to me. I went directly to the computer but found an empty book when I opened it. I figured he was just drunk and went back to the table to politely explain that no card was in the check presenter. He said, “I put the card in there. You better find it.” Hives began to form on my neck. I launched a full-scale NATO search party. An agonizing 15 minutes went by with no sign of a heavy Amex card. I was at the table giving my mea culpa to Mr. X and his guests (even though I secretly thought it never left his wallet) when a fellow server came to the table saying it had been found. It was in the pant cuff of a server assistant who had been pouring water at the nearest table when Mr. X put the card in the book. It slipped out when he handed it to me, and we didn’t hear it hit the wood floor or it would have sounded like this.

The restaurant bought the entire dinner because of the inconvenience. Was this the right thing to do? Who knows? It was a one in a million shot that the card fell from the check presenter, slid down the leg of a server assistant, and made me look like a tool. But that’s what happened. Mr. X was plenty pissed (Amex black card holders are not the type to wait around for anything) but he still pulled $110 from his wallet at the end of the ordeal just for me. I was touched. I guess nearly crying while holding a flash light and looking under every nook and cranny in the restaurant qualifies as “something special” to people like Mr. X . . . and Mr. Pink.

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4 Responses to “ In the Weeds: Where the F is my Black Card? ”

  1. miguel on June 13, 2009 at 8:02 pm

    Although servers in some states do not make the Federal Minimum Wage-Like Missouri, this rate below minimum is eventually covered by tips. If, in the event you did not make enough tips to bring you to Whatever the current minimum wage is, the restaurant you are employed by is obligated to make up the difference. As we know, most servers average over 3 0r 4 dollars an hour in tips, even on slow nights.

  2. Jonas M Luster on June 15, 2009 at 4:11 am

    I am sorry you didn’t make minimum wage at your job, but as you wrote later you are leaving the place with about $300 in tips – which is, all things considered – about three times as much as my guys in the kitchen make, and that’s before tax. They’re usually in two hours before the first FoH shows up, and out an hour after the last one leaves. They’re standing in a hot kitchen, contending with the dangers of playing with knives and fire, not to mention being at the very end of all weeds, be it from the front, the back, management, or diners. At the end of the day, they’ll walk home with $8/h compared to your $40 and my FoH’s $150/h (we do about 70-90 covers ranging from $90 without wine to $350 for the chef’s tasting menu, flights not included).

    The solution, here, is not mandatory tipping, but fair pay for good work, not to lay the onus of job evaluation onto the customer but onto the GM where it belongs (or Chef for BoH). I’ve worked in a place where FoH made $15/h non-tipped (as opposed to $8-$10 for BoH, which I still claim is the harder job, having done both for years) and we lost servers left and right simply because they made more at the $3.50 tipped job down the street.

    It’s not that I don’t sympathize with the plight of being dependent on tips – I am, and I lived quite a while off tips, but I agree with Mr. Pink in that it shouldn’t be on the diner to cover a worker’s wages. Unfortunately, this won’t ever change in the U.S. – eventually a restaurant charging 15 per cent more and paying its staff fairly will lose out to the “hidden” charges of a tipping restaurant paying its staff below-minimum wages.

  3. J on June 18, 2009 at 5:54 pm

    I worked in restaurants for years and have worked in every position at a restaurant; cook, server, bartender, management, dish washer, etc. If money wasn’t an issue, I would gladly choose the hot kitchen over the floor. The work may be more physical, but it is by all other accounts much easier.

  4. waitress on October 1, 2009 at 7:41 pm

    I work for the OG, another Darden affiliate, and here in Washington State servers have to be paid minimum wage, which is also one of the highest in the nation at $8.55. Unfortunately we have some cheap things on our menu (unlimited soup and salad for $7.95) that make it so even though I work full time (35-40 hours per week), I still make less than $30,000.

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