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Jan 19, 2008 06:25 PM

Wait Staff and Kitchen Staff [Moved from Ontario board]

I got into an arguement today with a person regarding money in regards to who should make more the front of the house and the back of the house. He argued that the service job is harder then working in the kitchen and I disagreed. I know that servers work hard ,and unlike many chefs I have worked for, I have respect for the waitstaff. The discussion started with a disagreement about how the servers make tips and I felt that the back of hoouse should get tipped considering the work that is being done. I have worked in fine dine kitchens and I know that as kitchen staff money isn't great , but in most kitchens there is a chain of command and the servers are at the bottom of the chain. So what do you guys think what's a harder job? , who should get paid more ? , what's your take on this.

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  1. Hmm, interesting question. I've never worked as either a waiter or in the kitchen and can go only by what I've read in Kitchen Confidential etc. Let's take a top notch restaurant. Given that cooks need to have greater technical knowledge, have the pressure of putting together several dozen consistently prepared meals in an evening, and can make or break a restaurant, I'd have to favour cooks being paid more and sure, let the waiters make the tips depending on the level of service they provide and how hard they try (hopefully not too hard which is another extreme). Don't get me wrong, the wait staff don't have it easy, have to face the customers from hell and being the frontline guys, they project the image of the restaurant. But supply and demand being what it is I'm thinking a good cook is harder to replace than a good waiter, so my vote is the cooks should get more.

    1. Most restaurants I worked paid the chefs a salary and the prep cooks/dishwashers hourly. All the back of house that worked full time were provided benefits. Front of house worked for tips, plus a wage of $2-4/hour. Wait and bar staff received no benefits, no matter how many hours they worked.

      Now that I'm out of the biz, I can say that benefits far outweigh tips. Health insurance, paid vacation, and 401k add up to a lot over the years.

      12 Replies
      1. re: mojoeater

        >>I can say that benefits far outweigh tips

        Servers aren't unionized? Or does this depend on their location?

        Absolutely, health benefits are important. Unless they are transitory migrant workers, and they are not, servers should be paid a decent hourly wage, their employer should pay into SS for them, and they should get health insurance.

        As to the issue of who gets paid 'more', I would have to go with the level of expertise, education and draw factor of the chef. I'm sure there's a hierarchy of payment in the restaurant business, depending on all of the aforementioned.

        1. re: dolores

          Very few restaurants give their staff (waiters and cooks alike) benefits. Very few cooks are unionized, and to be perfectly honest unions make me uncomfortable.

          Thing is, any cook who isn't in management will almost surely earn less than an equivalent waiter. Sometimes waiters earn more than the chefs as well.

          1. re: Blueicus

            Hmmmm, then it sounds like some restaurant owner shovel it in without paying fairly for work done.

            Makes me happy that I don't go to restauants that specialize in tiny bits of food ('elf' food, per one recent television commercial) piled prettily on a plate for which they charge exorbitant prices.

            1. re: dolores

              Although I am not a restaurant owner, I would say it's far easier to earn a bucketload of money from fast food and cheap high volume food than it is to do lower volume fine dining. Non-management cooks on either scale of the business earn similar amounts of (non)money anyways and with the exorbitant prices of high end ingredients (add extra money for organic, local, heirloom, humanely raised, hand-massaged produce) and the need for a lot of human labour it can be very hard to hit a reasonable food/labour cost even for a 200 dollar tasting menu of dainty foods.

              1. re: Blueicus

                Perhaps, but the eyeopener to me is that neither the servers nor the cooks are paid extraordinarily well. I imagine a renowned chef is paid handsomely.

                Therefore, for the amount of work it must take to serve the public and cook for the public (I know I couldn't do either job), and if I am correct in understanding that neither faction is well paid, then I have to assume the restaurant owner is pocketing the majority of the money.

                1. re: dolores

                  From my experience, the majority of money goes to overhead. It is extremely expensive to run a restaurant, and most are not profitable for the first few years (if they survive that long). The insurance is hefty, as are the licenses and permits. If you serve alcohol, those expense rise greatly. If you are part of a chain/franchise, a lot of that is covered by corporate. If you are on your own, you need to live meekly for a while.

                  1. re: mojoeater

                    I've heard that if you haven't cleared most of your debt by the first year or two then you're only digging a deeper hole for yourself.

                  2. re: dolores

                    A renowned chef is likely paid handsomely....if the restaurant is making any money at all to begin with. Most restaurants do not make lots of money. According to a report from Delloite and Touche in 2004, restaurants have, on average, a profit margin ranging from 4% (for full service restaurants) to 7% (for "limited service" restaurants).

                    That means, after you subtract food costs, labor costs (including taxes paid by the employer and so on), overhead (electricity, rent, insurance, etc) a fine dining, full service restaurant makes about $4 for every $100 in sales. There's not a lot of room for increases to salaries.

                    Wait staff does fairly well, comparatively, in a well-run fine dining restaurant as they will receive (for argument's sake) about $16 or so for every $100 of sales they ring in. But, as mojoeaer noted, wait staff are often paid an hourly "wage" well below the otherwise applicable minimum wage in the locality. A regular minimum wage might be $7.50 per hour, but wait staff are paid at $2.45 or something similar because it is believed they will more than make up the difference in tips.

                    In San Francisco, wait staff does quite well by comparison to other places as San Francisco laws require that wait staff are paid the same minimum hourly wage as everyone else and collect their tips on top of that. I'm sure other localities have different rules that benefit some workers and hurt others.

                    Back of the house folks are often paid at or just above minimum wage. They normally receive no tips (there are certain to be exceptions, but they are just that).

                    Restaurants, by and large, do not make loads of money. (Again, there are exceptions, but they are just that.)

                    I've worked for years as both a sever and as a prep cook, line cook and head cook in a restaurant. I always made more per hour or per shift as a server than I did as a cook of any sort. The trade off was that I always got more hours as a cook and as I moved up in responsibility level in the kitchen I made more in a month than I could have as a server. I never made a lot, though. A couple of years after college I spent a while working as the manager of a popular restaurant; we grossed $1.5 million in a particular year...I made $20,800 that same year as a salary. $400 a week which included 2 double shifts and 4 other single shift days. I worked 6 days a week, two of those including 14 or 15 hour days. It was absurd looking back. I'm not complaining, I rather enjoyed the work and I was young and didn't need to be making more money than I did at the time. I'm just (hopefully) illustrating that it's not a huge money making proposition, generally speaking.

                    1. re: ccbweb

                      In your 16%, don't forget to include the 3% to the credit card company, then the tip out to the kitchen, bartender, busboys, hostess and house.

                      1. re: Cam D

                        Good points all. I didn't mean to imply that wait staff were living high on the hog.

                      2. re: ccbweb

                        The 16% does not go into the waiter's pocket. 3% to credit card company, tip out to hostess, busboys, bartender, kitchen and the house.

              2. re: dolores

                I worked in restos in 3 different states (well, one was DC), and have never heard of a waitstaff union.

            2. I have worked both sides, though much more front of house. Which is harder depends on a lot of factors - what is being ordered (some thing are simpler to prepare), how it is being ordered (some customers are delightful and some are rude), and in fact how much money you are taking home (your compenstation can really change your attitude).

              Also, some people are cut out for one side more than the other - love the fast pace, can't handle the onslaught of people? The kitchen is the place for you. Love social interaction, go a little batty without? Front of house it is!

              Personally I feel that both sides work hard to make it all happen and should be taking home around the same amount of pay. When I work front and my kitchen really makes it all go smoothly (or I know our customers are making it hard) I try to slip them a little extra thank you.

              This is substantially easier to pull of with a small staff, because with a big kitchen you have to break it up to much to make it meaningful. Except maybe for a bit for an individual this system has only worked for me in a smaller establishments. Dishwashers count for my self-enforced tipshare, too.

              BTW - I don't intend to sound more generous than I am, this isn't an everyday occurrence. I don't make more than the kitchen everyday, but if I do and it is because of them I feel they deserve some, too.

              1. I've given up even approaching this subject. There will always be arguments, it will always lead to resentment. Unless someone finds a way to pay everyone equally, but even then one 'side' will think they deserve more. Of course I don't think that waiting tables 30 hours a week should pay more than a lead cook working 45 hours a week. Do what you can to change the system, and until then, make sure the waitstaff pays for all the drinks when you go out!

                1 Reply
                1. re: babette feasts

                  "Of course I don't think that waiting tables 30 hours a week should pay more than a lead cook working 45 hours a week."

                  Every cook/chef I've ever worked with says they could never wait tables after hearing all of our crazy customer stories and special orders. People really underestimate the difficulty of the job. I'm not saying cooking isn't hard; it's very demanding work. But at least you know you're getting your $17 per hour (example) while working. It doesn't matter if it's busy or slow, you're getting paid. You don't have to grovel and kiss ass to some real jerks in order to get paid (tipped).

                  Are all customers jerks? Of course not. I waited on some really great people when I was a waiter. Interesting, funny people with great stories to tell and great attitudes towards dining out. Sometimes I miss that...and $500 Saturdays.

                2. I was vacationing in Aruba for New Year's. I discovered that many restaurants add a 15% service charge which was broken down to:

                  5% government tax
                  5% for servers
                  5% for kitchen staff

                  The general etiquette is to leave an extra 5-10% which goes to the servers.