DO NOT PUBLISH Joys and trials of being a student waitress

Alexandria Kobryn - Jobs Reporter Email at [email protected]

Emily Barnhouse spends hours at work surrounded by delicious food and bending to every person’s whim and need. She, among many other college students, deals with the good and the bad of the restaurant business to make some money for school.

Barnhouse is a junior exercise science major and works as a waitress at Ruby Tuesday. She has worked as a waitress for two other restaurants.

“I’m pretty happy with my job. I have enjoyable coworkers and an easy schedule system,” Barnhouse said. “I’d be lying if I said the best thing wasn’t the tips.”

Waitresses get paid anywhere between $2 to $5 an hour, not including tips. On a good night, Barnhouse’s tips can add up to over $100.

“Not having to wait every two weeks for a paycheck is a God send,” Barnhouse said. “I make between $12 and $14 an hour just on tips and get the small paychecks every week.”

Standard tips range between 15 to 20 percent of your total meal cost. Smaller tips may mean dissatisfactory service while larger tips indicate excellent service. Also, the more expensive the meal, the larger the tip should be.

One of the restaurants Barnhouse previously worked at was Steak n’ Shake, which hosts many college students. Students tended to leave $1 or $2 tips, which Barnhouse said was acceptable for the prices. Occasionally, other students skip out on leaving a tip completely.

“At Ruby Tuesday, I only really see college students when they’re on dates or with their parents. The people on dates tip around 15 percent,” Barnhouse said.

College students are not the only ones who do not tip well or skip out on tips. Emily Fulmer, a junior public relations major, used to work at a country club while she was in high school. She used to serve more high school students than college students and they never tipped well either.

The amount received as tips is something servers must learn to deal with because customers are unpredictable. Fulmer has had customers who were satisfied with their meals and had no complaints, but would leave a small tip. She believes it has to do with lack of knowing how to tip.

“I had a table literally ask me how much I should leave as a tip,” she said. “I also had a table with a bill around $172, and the woman who paid gave me $180 in cash and told me to ‘keep the rest.’”

Slow days mean little tips and that can be inconvenient with the small paychecks, but many student waitresses enjoy other aspects of their jobs besides the tips.

“There are customers that can really make your day,” Barnhouse said. “I love having regulars. You eventually get to see into their lives a little, and having people remember your name feels good.”

Mike Dalessandro, a manager at Ray’s Place in Kent, said his waitresses and waiters seem to enjoy their jobs and the atmosphere.

“It’s half job half social because you do socialize with your customers and you get to know them. Certain regulars become friends,” Dalessandro said. “You don’t feel like you’re at work.”

At Ray’s Place, all servers combine and divide the tips they receive throughout their shift. Servers begin at server’s wage and are able to receive raises based on quality of work and how long they have been working there.

“If there’s three servers/bartenders working on the floor or shift one day, then they’ll all split it equally,” he said. “They all pitch in and help each other out.”

At Ruby Tuesday, Barnhouse gets to keep all cash tips but must divide all tips left via credit amongst the host and other staff members. Other dining establishments, such as The Pufferbelly in downtown Kent, let all servers keep whatever tips they receive, both credit and cash.

Stephanie Thelen, an assistant manager and bartender at The Pufferbelly, notices a tipping trend in college students and the elderly.

“I find that college students are really good tippers. Most of them are workers themselves so they tend to know,” she said. “Sometimes the worst tippers are the elderly. I think because times have changed, maybe they just don’t know or are not aware (of the server’s wage).”

Dalessandro notices trends similar to those mentioned by Thelen.

“There are always some younger customers that don’t tip well,” he said. “We are very fortunate. A lot of college students that do come here are very generous.”

Paige Kinney, a junior public health major, works at the TGIFridays in Hotel Breakers at Cedar Point over the summer. She makes a lot of money from tips and the long hours she works.

“My favorite memory was when a table told my manager I was the best server they have ever had and left me a $100 tip,” she said.

Kinney works around 80 hours a week during the summer and saves enough money so she can enjoy her time at school.

Long hours mean more opportunities for tips, but servers are constantly on their feet and breaks are rare. If you take a half hour break, you miss out on an hour’s worth of tips, said Barnhouse.

Besides the long hours and lack of down time, servers must also deal with uncooperative and rude customers and coworkers.

One of Barnhouse’s worst waitressing experiences was at Steak n’ Shake when two new members were left in charge of the prep team and customers were left unsatisfied.

“Half of the orders were wrong and the new guys refused to fix anything … then the coffee started overflowing and there were grounds everywhere,” she said. “I almost walked out that day. Everyone wanted coffee and their food was coming out late and cold, and I got all of the complaints even when I couldn’t do anything.”

Fulmer claims that the worst parts of serving is no aspect of the job itself, but dealing with the customers, particularly people with more money.

“They’d over-complicate their orders and modify items to the point where it’s not even something we have on the menu. I felt like they would talk down to me as if they were better than me, simply because they were millionaires,” she said. “I’ve had members at the country club flat out scold me … even humiliated me before in front of other patrons and staff.”

Fulmer said she has dealt with humiliation at her other restaurant jobs as well.

When searching for a job, college students are often turned off by waitressing because of the low wage per hour. But compared to retail jobs, waitressing earns a lot more money in a lot less time.

“It’s a great job for college students. Hours are very flexible and there’s so many different shifts that you could possibly work,” Dalessandro said. “When you make tips plus your hourly wage and break it down, you have a fantastic wage per hour.”