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The Hard Life of a Waitress

Working as a waitress in a restaurant or bar is a tough job, particularly when you are faced with complaining customers, nagging bosses and limited time. However, waitress’ responsibilities are higher than on may expect. Generally, the term “waitress” refers to female individuals employed in eating establishments to serve customers with food or drink, clean up during, before and after servings as well as collect money from the patrons (Ginsberg 5). Waitresses are responsible for ensuring that customers are served properly. Waiting staff is a general name given both to female and male employees of eating establishments.  The waitress’ profession does not necessarily require an educational qualification; high school degree may meet the requirement. Apart from their wages, waiting staff also receive extra income from tipping.

However, due to underestimation of the waitress’ work in most parts of the world, waiting tables offer a little payment which cannot sustain a comfortable living (Boushey et al. 14). Majority of waitresses worldwide cannot sustain a high living standard and provide themselves with basic needs such as food, rent and medical expenses. Without education they cannot go up their career ladder or change the occupation. This paper attempts to find out whether the statement is valid that most waitresses cannot sustain successful and comfortable living. One waitress was interviewed to get authentic information about the profession.

Interview with Jane, a Waitress

When conducting the research, I interviewed one waitress the McDonalds restaurant. In order to preserve her anonymity, we will refer to her as “Jane” to avoid publicity. Jane said she had been working for the restaurants for the last three years. She expressed her feelings on the biggest problem she faced, the cause of which was absence of appropriate qualifications for the work shift. Additionally, she claimed that if it were not for the customers’ tips, she would not be able to pay rent, buy gas and take care of her beautiful daughter. Fortunately, she had frequent customers who requested specifically for her service due to her respectful treatment. She argued that on many occasions she had to work day and night shifts to earn extra money and improve her living standard. Jane affirmed that she was lucky to have one child. Most of her colleagues with larger families find it difficult to balance between work and family due to the fact that pay is discouraging and cannot satisfy their needs.

According to the report released by the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2005, it is estimated that waiters and waitresses are the lowest earners in the working environment. The report also indicated that an estimated 2.3 million workers are waitresses and waiters and about half of them earn less than 14,050 dollars a year (Boushey et al 14).  Since they are the lowest wage earners in the United States, it is almost impossible to have a decent life and be able to pay all their bills.

Responsibilities of a Waitress

The responsibilities of a waitress include serving food and drinks, arranging tables for a meal, taking patrons’ orders and cleaning it up. The silver service personnel are particularly skilled at serving at high-end restaurants or banquets (Ginsberg 134). They follow specific regulations of serving. They usually dress in black and white clothing with white apron on the waist. The head is responsible for the rest of the waiting staff as well as allocates the seats. The duties of a waitress can be partly similar to the head waiter’s responsibilities. Some bars and restaurants employ so-called “busgirls” or “busboys”, increasingly known as to as “bussers”, to set tables, clear dirty dishes and provide help to the to the waiting staff. Emotional labor is often a requirement for the waiting staff, especially at high-class bars and restaurants. Sometimes a waitress may be required so serve pancakes in one corner and coffee in the other.


Most waitresses live in poor housing facilities and can only afford cheap clothes. This is an indication that they have no surplus money to spend on luxurious things. For instance, Miss Moore, in Bambara’s story was “always looking like she is going to church though she never did” (Bambara). This statement shows that the kind of clothes she wore was not expensive since most people associate simplicity with a church. It is very important for the waitresses to do some window shopping in advance in order to make sure they can afford a purchase. “Some people can spend on a toy what it would cost to feed a family of six or seven” (Bambara). Waitresses cannot afford such kind of spending because an amount of money they earn can only help them meet their basic expenses.

However, some waitresses are comfortable with a little salary and even feel thankful to earn at least such small amounts of money. In such cases, some of them undergo difficult experiences in their lives and therefore gladly accept any job. Some of them feel like they were born under a lucky star whenever they find such kinds of jobs. Therefore, they eagerly accept even small weekly wages. Waitresses live in small rooms where they can only get a rest and spend a night and go to work. There homes are only supplied with the basics such as water, electricity etc. In fact, sometimes they cannot afford even to take a hot bath.


Unfortunately, a large amount of tips waitresses make is taken by their employers. For instance, in Laux’s story, the author asserts that she used to wake up at 5 in the morning and went to serve the customers. At the same time, the manager used to sit and sip his vodka. However, when the waitress was given any tips, the manager was the first to ask for it. There has always been a tendency for the waitresses to do all dirty work but it is their bosses who always demand large amounts of money out of waitresses’ profit. The job is not easy because waitresses spend most of their time standing. Laux says “My feet hurt…even the tip of my fingers ached” (Laux 84). Due to the fact that they spend most of their time serving the clients, they barely have time to eat. This fact is very frustrating but they can do as jobs are not easy to find nowadays.

Medical expenses

Although waitresses are often under pressure, they are allowed to miss their shifts when taking a sick leave.. In fact, they have nothing to do but go to the public hospitals for checkups. To succeed as a waitress, one needs to persevere in developing complacency because it is not an easy job. The job requires a waitress to ensure that every table is clean. The waitresses move up and down the dark storerooms (Ginsberg 45). This may cause injuries since the stores are full of provisions. Some waitresses believe that a small tip they are given is an opportunity for employers not to pay wages and shift this responsibility on the customers. The issue is interrelated with employer’s biases as well as their cultural values. Taxes on wages are deducted from waitress' hourly earnings as well as tips.

Sometimes waitresses serve noisy customers but are supposed to keep smiling all the time.  For instance, Ginsberg claims that “You have to smile to keep the job” (Ginsberg 25).  A waitress may be required to take many orders when every customer wants to be the first among all. Not many people understand that there may be lots of orders and it could take some time to serve every customer. In most parts of the world, waitress is an occupation that is underestimated whereas salary gained from it is mostly minimal. Although earned profit can provide a person with his or her basic needs, they cannot sustain a comfortable living.

From the interview with many waitresses, it is quite evident that most of them have a hard life and claim that they cannot sustain decent living by paying rent, buying food and incurring medical expenses. They earn low wages and can hardly make ends meet even with generous tips. Most of them have to work double shift to obtain extra cash to meet their basic needs. In fact, it is arguable that waitresses depend on their tips to pay most of their bills. Although some of them increase income from tipping, this is still not enough to sustain comfortable living. They are forced to smile even when the customers are abusing them in order not to lose their jobs. Since most of them have no qualifications, it is almost impossible for them to obtain better and well-paid jobs.

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