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Feb 17, 2009 07:13 AM

Due to bad economy, some restaurants are eliminating busboys

Catching up on some WSJ reading and came across this: Due to slumping sales and fewer customers, some restaurants are eliminating busboys and relying on servers to take over typical busboy duties such as clearing tables and refilling water glasses. Not surprisingly, some servers are not happy about the increased workload.

I don’t know what to make of this statement from a restaurant industry consultant: “The busser is a luxury that, in this environment, is very difficult to justify.” Really? It seems to me bussers are needed to ensure efficient and smooth running of the restaurant both in the dining room and the kitchen. Sometimes, bussers are invisible but the work is essential. Yes, servers can take up the slack to some degree but service will suffer if servers are wiping tables, moving dishes to the sinks, and trying to wash their hands after handling dirty dishes all while performing their regular duties.

And to top it all off, since eliminating busboys, many more spoons than usual are disappearing from Bob Evans. I wonder if the same is happening at other restaurants who’ve cut back on busboys.

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  1. Who knew that busboys made more per hour than servers. I mean I knew servers made 50% of minimum wage, but I never thought about a busboy making more. In a lot of the restaurants around here the busboys are hispanic, so I thought that immigration might have something to do with it, but I sure was wrong. And spoons? That's really odd, IMO. Very interesting article.

    20 Replies
    1. re: danhole

      The busboys may make per hour in wages but with tips servers will end up with more money at the end of the day. There is no server that would willing switch places with their busboy.

      1. re: KTinNYC

        Oh, I'm sure of that! Both my daughters have been servers. The servers work their butts off and it just seems so wrong to add the burden of bussing the tables along with providing good service. I'll bet this bites the restaurants in the behinds in the end.

        1. re: danhole

          I sympathize with the restaurants. In this economy they all have to cut corners somewhere and we all know we would not put up with poorer quality product and most people would complain if portion size went down so where to cut cost? Payroll is the easiest fixed cost for them to control so fewer workers may be there only solution until things pick up.

          1. re: KTinNYC

            True, but the bussers at my work also earn only $2.63 per hours, plus tips. I realize there are some hidden additional costs (but not many, as most bussers don't have benefits), but restaurants really can't swing a couple bucks an hour? If not, there are bigger problems than the economy.

            1. re: invinotheresverde

              From everything I've read the average profit margin for most restaurants is 5%-6% and with this economy being what it is this average margin will surely be lower. If a restaurant lets go 2 bussers, making $2.63 per hour, that work a 6 hour shift over the course of a year they can save over $11,000 a year, not an insubstantial amount of money

              I don't support this move but I really have sympathy for the restaurants.

              1. re: invinotheresverde

                I'm guessing that their pay may be a labor law violation. In most cases, anyone who is "indirectly" tipped, meaning relying on other employees who are not required to do so for tips, must be paid full minimum wage. In both cases, any server or busser who makes less than minimum wage with wages and tips combined must be reimbursed by the employer to ensure full minimum wage.

                1. re: soxlover

                  That must vary from state to state, since every place I've worked in MA has paid their bussers $2.63. Many of these were corporate. Why would they flaut the law?

                  1. re: invinotheresverde

                    Same here, invino. Never worked in MA, but have in four other states. Never seen bussers, runners, or any other "indirectly tipped" employee make the full minimum wage. Perhaps there are states where the law requires them to be, but I imagine they're in the minority.

                    1. re: nc213

                      The point was, if after tips the wages don't equal or excede minimum wage, the difference to minimum must be paid. It is Federal law, not state. This applies to all W2 employees, including those working on a commission-only basis.

                      1. re: AHan

                        No, I don't think that was soxlover's point until the second part of the post.. He/she was saying anyone who relies on tips but isn't tipped directly himself must make full minimum wage.

                    2. re: invinotheresverde

                      >>""Why would they flaut the law?""

                      Its all about money-greed-or exploitation...

                      "Work" still requires minimum wage.

                      Tipped employees are in the "Sales" category (as waitstaff). Unlikely table bussers or food runners would pass the "Sales-Tip" test- thus should be BUSTED- IMHO.

                      I may be flaunting the crystal ball a bit, but some companies that add further expectations of work, could lose the ability to treat waitstaff as tipped employees.

          2. re: danhole

            Waiters make much less than 50% of minimum wage per hour.

            Waiter pay in MA is $2.63 per hour; minimum wage is $8.00.

            1. re: invinotheresverde

              Your matching funds and workman's comp are related to payroll and number of people on it.

              1. re: lcool

                Like I said, I'm aware there are hidden costs.

                It just seems so shitty to go after the "little guy". Such is life, I guess.

              2. re: invinotheresverde

                Our minimum wage is not that high. I'm not exactly sure what servers make these days. And I do have sympathy for the restaurants. They are shutting down right and left around here. One day they are there, the next day - poof! It's incredibly sad.

                1. re: danhole

                  "Our minimum wage is not that high."
                  Yes, Massachusetts minimum wage *is* $8.00.


                  and from the MA Dept. of Labor website:

                  1. re: LindaWhit

                    I don't live in Massachusetts, Linda.

                    1. re: danhole

                      I thought you were replying to invino's comment re: MA minimum wage. My apologies.

              3. re: danhole

                I just happen to come across these post and fthought this would prob. be the perfect place for me to vent. I am a server in an area of Boston that at one time was the place to make money. Lately not so much. And let me tell you I am a server who will clear my own tables and do whatever it takes to make the operation work all while keeping to safety and sanitary codes. My employer has kept bussers and host on. In other terms..... I work my shift which now I'm lucky if I have 2 or 3 tables a night and I am even lucky if I am getting 10-15% tips. plus at the end of the shift I have to (even thought it is against state law to make us) tip out my host (who makes a of min. 9$hr), busser (who makes an amount i think i heared $25 under the table which means no taxes) and the bartender (averages min. wage of 5hr+tips) and I must say the bar at my place is seating 5x more ppl then I get in a night. The bar also servers full menu so you know check averages are at least 30perperson. My thing is if I make $43 on a 5hr shift and have to tip at least 8dollars out to people who already make over min wage and on top of that I have all my wages in a check which get taxed I am lucky if for that night I made $24 which in actually is definitely no min wage. I am not sure how to even address my boss about this problem because I know they will prob. just tell me there are plenty of people out there who would be happy with what every I am making. I already work two jobs and every little bit is needed!!!! What should I do?? Oo0 and another thing in the past year I have kept track of all the tip outs I have made it this year alone was $5467.00 so now even though my W-2 includes that in my income for the year my accountant isn,t sure how i can write that off. because I did not make that money and quite frankly if the people i am giving it to who already make over min. wage don't have to pay taxes on it WHY DO I!!!!

                1. re: rEdOrWhItE

                  The only recourse is to find a serving job at a restaurant that doesn't require tip out (some independents don't) or quit serving, which is what I did. I went into retail for PT jobs instead. It's not high paying, but it's STEADY and though you have to put in more hours to make what you would make serving, it's guaranteed income without the variances of the whims of the public. You get paid your hourly wage whether the customers are happy with the store or not, whether their coupon works or not, whether they found what they were looking for, or not, etc.

                  Eventually I couldn't take the standing any longer so I moved to office work for a FT job and retail for PT only. With that you also get insurance benefits and paid days off, which you don't get in PT retail, and some FT retail jobs are cutting these benefits as well. All I can tell you is, learn to type and get out of there. The worst office job has better benefits than the best server job I ever had.

              4. The only places I've worked with bussers are chains, and they only get about 60-70% of the bussing work done on all tables, some they just don't get to at all. You are expected to "pre-bus" as you go along - removing 90% of the items so that by the time the customer leaves, the only thing the busser has to do is take maybe 2 glasses off the table and wipe it down. The indies I've worked at, you do all the bussing. Only in pretty high end establishments have I seen servers who literally JUST serve and don't bus. I think they could elminate bussers without it being too much of an impact on service.

                2 Replies
                1. re: rockandroller1

                  I totally, I have bussed, been a server for a while, been a bartender, line cook, head chef and a part owner ... yes We always now at the restaurant have 2 guys that help in the kitchen they are our runners. They make tea, coffee, get anything we need from the freezer, start the potato masher up, get things out of the oven and the other takes care of outside issues, refilling empty items, help behind the bar area, restock ice, and bus tables. It works great. They are too young teenagers that need a part time job. Since we are only open for dinner it is perfect. We actually have four guys. 2 each night. All only work 3 days a week and I let them work out their own schedule. It makes them feel better and it has always worked. The servers tip accordingly how much if anything they did extra. Never once had an issue. I think sometimes, if you have quality people, they can work together well and not have a problem.

                  I think most servers with maybe just a little hlep now and then would be fine with out bus boys or girls.

                  1. re: kchurchill5

                    A friend of mine used to work at a small restaurant without bussers and he eventually quit because he wasn't able to give the kind of service he was used to giving. I think it depends on the size of your station and what level of service you are giving. If it's a fairly informal cafe it would be fine, but much more difficult at a higher end restaurant.

                2. Remember, this is in restaurants where business is off substantially. Less business means a lighter work load for the servers, so they should be able to handle it. Given the choice of doing a litle extra or joining the ranks of the unemployed the choice seems pretty easy. The establishment needs to cut expenses or go out of business.

                  1. No surprise it came from the WSJ. Just like corporations cutting teeny tiny salaries and expenditures from the bottom instead of the fat at the top.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: Up With Olives

                      Hear, hear. They do like to demonize the workers, although in the case of a small establishment like a restaurant there may not be anywhere else to cut.

                      My concern with this whole deal is that the waiter who is serving you has just bussed a table, wiped it down with a nasty rag, and then gone to grab your food with no time to wash between tasks. YUCK

                      1. re: coney with everything

                        Yeah, well I wouldn't count on waiters doing a lot of washing between tasks anyway. As fo the nasty rags--yeah, the 5 second rule does NOT apply to food that hits the table!

                        1. re: AHan

                          A scary thought has entered my mind... (See below link) I wonder how those tables would test out???


                    2. Of our favorite places only one has busboys.The floor is worked by all front of the house as a team.Two locations switched about 1 year ago,all prefer the "new" format and make more $$$.Service has not suffered AT ALL.Both are smaller,tighter teams.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: lcool

                        I agree, that is why my friends restaurant has, both of them have dual jobs and still work the floor. Seems to work well.