Consider the lowly server

I am not sure of the time frame, but sometime in the last year or so someone finally saw fit to give servers a raise. If you didn’t know, the people who handle your food made $2.13 an hour up until then. Yes, we are tipped, but let me be the first to say not everyone knows how to tip! So our income is based on the kindness of strangers.

After the raise, we made $3.13 an hour! After 10 years of working in the service industry, I had gotten a raise, and it totaled about $2,000 bucks a year. Now those 10 percent tips didn’t hurt as bad (but almost). After much thought(?), our wage was lowered to $2.83 and then recently $2.43 an hour. Tonight I was looking at the N.C. Department of Labor Web site and realized that our wage was going to be lowered yet again, and worse—back to $2.13 as of Aug. 24.

So to the N.C. lawmakers, thanks for the year of the raise, and just one question: How did my wage get lowered three times in less than a year?

— Holly Harwood

Editor’s note: According to N.C. Department of Labor information, employers may pay as little as the amounts listed by the letter writer, provided an employee receives enough in tips to reach the current $5.85 federal minimum wage—which changes to $6.55 effective July 2008. (See “Wage and Hour Act” text at


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27 thoughts on “Consider the lowly server

  1. Rob Close

    the only person i knew who made under the minimal after tips was too scared to lose his job to complain. so he made about $3-4 an hour working downtown for a long time. quoting him from his first appearance on free radio asheville (about 5 years ago) “i came to asheville to be a poor artist – but so far, i’m a starving artist”

  2. quotequeen

    Work is the curse of the drinking classes.
    Oscar Wilde, In Life of Oscar Wilde, H. Pearson

  3. Cheshire

    This is why I usually tip 15% if I have to put the tip on plastic and usually more if I can leave cash. I prefer to leave a cash tip. It takes a lot to make me drop my tipping amount, and just about malicious intent to make me not tip.

  4. Will it anger people to say that i tend to think servers are probably some of the highest paid non-skilled laborers around this town?

  5. travelah

    Holly, your income is based on your entrepreneurial motivation rather than the kindness of strangers. If your service makes my dining experience enjoyable , then I tip appropriately. If you are too busy chatting with the guys you go out with for drinks after work rather than tending to your customers, well, you will need to rely on the kindness of strangers to pick up your bar tab. I am assuming you are not of the latter.

  6. Wow. $6.55 an hour? That’s almost 200 dollars a week after taxes, full-time. Anyone out there able to live in or near downtown Asheville for $800 a month?

  7. Cheshire

    sammule…that’s standard minimum wage, and it’s hardly enough to be self-supporting. Show me a realistic scenario where you can live on your own for that. Please!

  8. travelah

    Chesire, the solution for that is to work two jobs or change vocations. Minimum wage does not allow for a comfortable living in the midst of a desirable neighborhood. For that matter most “middle income” people cannot afford to live downtown except in substandard housing.
    If a person cannot make a go of it economically in Asheville, the most obvious solution is to move.

  9. Cheshire,

    Um, I felt my last post was clearly marked with sarcasm font. I apologize for the miscommunication. Of course you cant serv-ive on 800 bucks a month if you have rent and whatnot.

    In fact, after re-reading my post i do not see how it could be read any other way.

    But, still, servers do end up making another 50-100 bucks a night in tips, so…

  10. Nam Vet

    I tip 15-20% for good service. If I get a server with a bad attitude, which is rare, I tip a dime. My cousin worked in Disney World upscale restaurants for years and made good money. Travelah is right. If the server makes the dining experience pleasant, they usually get a good tip. They certainly do from me.

  11. AshaKasha

    Having worked in the service industry in between social work, I can tell you: I made a killing in service work in comparison.

    I’d often forget to pick up my paycheck, as I had at least 60-100 bucks cash per day/night.

    I eat out a lot, but rarely receive service that deserves more than the bare minimum.

    Heck- these days, if a server actually looks at me and is nice, I consider it excellent service. How the standards have dropped.

  12. brebro

    What about those places where you walk up to a counter and there is a tip jar right there? Are you supposed to give them money for sliding something across the counter to you? If so, how do you determine the correct percentage and the amount of effort put into sliding it?

    What about buffets? I have to get up and do most of the work myself, the server brings us drinks and I guess cleans up the dishes but do they deserve as much tip as a full service restaurant waitron?

    Then there is the problem of deciding which profession gets all their money from their employer and which ones the customer should chip in on. Servers get paid less than minimum due to the patrons being expected to help pay their wage, that’s clear but what about taxi drivers and barbers? Do they get paid less too and are they supposed to receive gratuities as well? Don’t bus drivers and tailors need to be rewarded for their efforts? You tip the bellhops but not the desk clerk; you tip the bartender but not the clerk at the ABC store. It’s confusing. I tried to tip my congressman once, but found out it was illegal.

  13. AshaKasha

    Heehee…yeah, I tried to tip the kid who endured the ravages of blustering, freezing weather to help me get my groceries to the car- and he, too, declined due to “policy”.

    I would agree (being that I know quite a few) that servers in this town are making darn good money (depending on where they are working, of course).

    I bartended at a restaurant at the Grove Park Inn- one of my duties was tallying up the servers tickets and then the restaurant’s revenue for each night. Those night servers walked out with as much as 300 bucks a night. Average tips for lunch: 80-100 bucks. AND lets not forget, the average serving shift is 4-5 hours. For a lunch server, that is about $20 per hour. C’mon!

  14. Carrie

    Correct me if I’m wrong but I think there is a gratuity automatically charged to the patrons at the Grove Park. I’ve been a bartender most of my adult life and can tell you that servers in this town aren’t exactly raking it in.

  15. AshaKasha

    Carrie- yes, there is a gratuity added, but 3% is automatically taken out and distributed to the kitchen and corporate.

    What do you consider “raking it in”? How much should someone make as a server (something which requires no education and has more flexibility and less hours than most occupations)?

    Social workers and teachers spend more or less than 100,000 on their education, yet make less than most servers I know.

    Bartending (which I have done most of) is an entirely different story. I have made far more as a bartender than I ever did as a server, and did FAR LESS WORK. Additionally, I put up with far less attitude from customers than I did in serving.

    What do you think servers should make?

  16. Ashevegasjoe

    I like what Steve Buscemi (as Mr. Pink) said in Reservoir Dogs, if you don’t make enough get a job somewhere else

  17. Carrie

    Ashakasha: I think servers should make as much as they can. You say they made $20 an hour working 4-5 hours per shift. If they worked 5 nights a week at that rate they’d have about 24K a year before taxes. And I think that number is most likely high for most places and low for a few others.
    As a bartender, you should know that just because you don’t punch in and sit on your butt for most of the day doesn’t mean it isn’t hard work. There are benefits of the lifestyle, yes. But to make some real money, you better know a few more things than what they taught me in college.

  18. AshaKasha

    Carrie: specifically how much do you think servers should make? 30K…40K? Just so ya’ll know, I don’t know one single server who makes less than 30K. I know a server who works at a middle end restaurant (lunch daily, and dinner a few nights a week) who cleared 47K last year. Our first year here, my husband worked at a downtown restaurant (nothing fancy) and made over 31K.

    In the past, as a lunch server, I brought home at least $80 a shift. As a night bartender at the same restaurant, I brought home about $150 in tips, and had a higher per hour wage ($5).

    It isn’t the right job for everyone- I definitely think you need a specific skill set, but it certainly isn’t rocket science.

    Its hard work if you aren’t cut out for it (lack people skills, can’t multi-task, aren’t energetic, can’t handle stress, and can’t problem-solve quickly). But it isn’t THAT hard.

    My opinion is that servers make plenty- if they have good skills and work in a restaurant that is doing reasonably well. It wouldn’t bother me in the least, though, if they made minimum wage.

  19. Carrie

    AshaKasha: Again, I think they should make whatever they can. Putting an exact amount on it would defeat the purpose of tipping what the patron feels the server is worth.

    What do you mean when you say, “it wouldn’t bother you if they made minimum wage”? Going back to the letter, do you mean minimum wage plus tips or minimum wage and eliminate the tipping system?
    You also said, “it certainly isn’t rocket science” and brought up education and the teaching profession. Yes teachers don’t make a lot of money and education is expensive. I hate the “rocket science” argument, however, but, since it’s your thought, teaching first grade isn’t rocket science either.

    Basically, you are paid to be a servant. You are in a profession that society may deem lowly. You may have less personal satisfaction in your job and sense of good works. You are in a pain in the ass job that deals with non-stop pain in the ass people. I’m glad servers/bartenders etc. are compensated richly.

  20. AshaKasha

    Carrie: minimum wage, plus tips.

    Sorry about the “rocket science” remark- but my only point is that serving isn’t really physically or intellectually challenging. It doesn’t require much more than what I do at my own home for my family and friends.

    Teaching 1st grade requires far more knowledge and skill than waiting tables.

    The rest I would almost entirely agree with. But your last remark offers an opportunity to make a good point: good servers, the ones who should be servers and make good money at it, don’t think of customers as “non-stop pain in the ass people”-
    The really good servers I have known love interacting with their customers- and making their experience an awesome one. That, after all, is what people are paying for when they go out to eat.

  21. Carrie

    I agree with your last point, as well. Maybe I should have said that most the customers are great and the interactions are, too. They make the pain in the ass ones tolerable!!

  22. AshaKasha

    Consider the lowly worker who works with the most vulnerable in our society (the elderly, adults and children with developmental disabilities, etc). They have the worst shifts, extremely challenging work (and, amazingly, the companies have found ways to jip them of their over-time pay if their shift gets extended or they pick up an extra), and get paid 7-10 per hour…period. No bonuses, commissions, tips, etc.
    That just blows my mind.

  23. Go West

    Here’s a tip for all you Asheville servers who think you don’t make enough money:

    Move to Oregon.

    Servers there are required to be paid minimum wage (which in that state is $7.50 per hour) IN ADDITION to tips.

    I am not making this up.

  24. I am a good tipper (almost always 20%), but the system is flawed, why should I as consumer subsidize the restaurateurs payroll figures allowing the boss to pay less payroll taxes and also allow the server’s to have cash that they do not fully claim as income.

    The solution is pay employees real wages, and then when I tip it is because of great service, not acceptable service.
    If the restaurant owner cannot afford to pay for quality wait staff then he/she should not be in business.

  25. Catherine

    I am a waitress here in Asheville, serving mostly lunches.
    I’m sure there are places here where you can make good money waiting tables, but most comments here are VERY general. My work for Lunches usually lasts from 10am to 4pm (with maybe 2-3 hours of actually serving tables) and will walk away with 15-25 dollars in tips and 13 dollars in wages this totals to 28-38 dollars PER DAY.

    And good tipping should not result from having an entertaining experience with your server. We are not monkeys!
    Your server SHOULD be nice, bring you your food, keep your drinks full, and be the relay between the restaurant and the patrons.
    Your server is NOT a monkey, we are not lower than the patrons, sometimes we are very busy and we will help you as soon as we are able, we DID NOT make your food take longer, and most of the problems anyone would have is NOT the servers fault.
    Please be nice to us! We are people too.
    I think there should be an increase in the Server minimum wage (all I’m asking for is 4 dollars instead of 2.13).

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