by Kris Mason
I recently attended back to back weddings; both were a spectacle. Down to the smallest detail, every aspect of these functions would rival the greatest Pinterest posts imaginable. One was at a Reception Center and the other at a Country Club. One was indoors, one was out. One was overflowing with rustic charm, the other was rather formal. Although each ceremony and reception was completely different they both had one glaring thing in common. The service was horrible.
I’m not talking about the wedding ceremony (church service), I’m talking about the table service; or more specifically, the banquet service. It seems hard to believe that with tens of thousands of dollars on the line, the service was… eh… okay. There was nothing catastrophically wrong, just okay. Lackluster. Forgettable. That’s what you get with minimum wage employees in the service industry.
Weddings weren’t always like this. I’ve waited tables for over thirty years and at one point I was even a banquet server. When you wait tables for a long time, you learn to go where the money is and in the 1980’s the money was in banquets. It was the place where the average person could live out their Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous fantasy even if only for an evening.
We made so much money because as servers, our tip was included in the contract. At only 10%, the tip, when divided amongst the number of servers working the function, averaged out to be over $15 per hour. Not that great until you figure out that at the time, minimum wage was $3.35 an hour. We ran our butts off, and would do anything to make our guests feel like they were the most important person in the world (whether they were in the wedding or just at the wedding).
Over the course of a few years, the industry got greedy. The large Hotel chains thought that banquet servers earned a disproportionate amount of money when compared to everyone else involved behind the scenes, so they began withholding portions of the contract tip and raised the pay of those people earning less.
When the servers complained, the Hotel gradually raised the tip percentage from 10% to 12% to 15% and in some instances all the way up to 18%. The greed came when the Hotel decided to not pay out the entire tip to the employees. Nobody can say conclusively where the extra money went; but since it didn’t end up going to the employees, a law suit was filed.
"It’s hard to believe that the banquet industry is even a part of the hospitality industry at all."
In the end we won… and lost. We won the right to keep all of the money that was listed in the contract as a Tip. The Hotel chain’s lawyers figured out that if they changed the word from Tip to Service Charge on the contract, the Hotel was entitled to the entire amount and was no longer the property of the wait staff.
When a guest asked about the Service Charge on the contract, they were still told that it was to cover paying the waiters even though it was no longer true. Needless to say, working together as former plaintiffs and defendants wasn’t an ideal situation for everyone. Eventually, at the facility where I worked, we were offered a flat rate of $7 per hour, take it or leave it.
Of course I left it; I was used to making five times as much. When you wait tables for a long time, you learn to go where the money is.
For a while, the Hotels did okay. They were paying more than double the minimum wage; but the staff wasn’t as willing to jump through hoops like we were, mainly because the newly hired staff didn’t have restaurant experience. They had no point of reference as to why they should jump through a hoop in the first place. Today, functions like wedding receptions pay at or near minimum wage… and it shows. It’s hard to believe that the banquet industry is even a part of the hospitality industry at all.
There is a small sector of the restaurant business that is toying with the idea of doing away with tipping altogether. Like Danny Meyer of the famed Union Square Hospitality Group in New York City, he is planning on raising his menu prices almost 30% to pay his cooks and his managers a more competitive wage in the marketplace. His plan must also be doing away with his entire wait staff.
In his restaurants, Meyer intends on paying his waiters $9 per hour with no chance of receiving a tip of any kind. There is no waiter on the planet that will go from earning $20 to $30 per hour to accepting $9. As of January 1, 2016, $9 is the current minimum wage in New York City; and The Governor is working with state officials to raise that to $15 for fast food workers.
How do you expect people to pay menu prices that are 30% higher while receiving the highest quality of service that a minimum wage income can buy? Why put up with the hassle of waiting tables in a full service dinning room for $9 per hour when for $15 you can simply stand there and learn the phrase, “Do you want fries with that?”
When you wait tables for a long time, you learn to go where the money is.
I do Waiter Boot Camps at your restaurant. Contact me to schedule a meeting. 480-600-6973