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The Saturday Market Theory Of Waiting Tables
By Paul C. Paz --

It's my morning opening shift for the restaurant and I have a new server trainee following me. We are going through the scheduled routine of opening and cleaning (including waxing tabletops and picking gum off the bottoms). My trainee says, "For such a big company why don't they have a cleaning company do this? They're probably just trying to save a buck."

I looked at him and said, "Have you ever been to Portland's Saturday Market?" (I should explain that the Saturday Market is familiar to many across the country. You know... the craft fairs and flea markets. Where entrepreneurs gather to sell their crafts and services.)

"Yep", he answers in a quizzical tone.

Well, here in my restaurant, I'm in the same boat at the entrepreneurs at the Saturday Market. You see, my "booth" is my five-table section and my success is completely determined by what I am willing to do with it. OK, yes I am an employee. But, when I encounter my customers they only see me... I am the owner. I am everything they expect to happen. In my customer's eyes I am responsible for everything that happens to them during their visit... at my Saturday Market booth.

Now on a practical basis that's a ridiculous concept. But, the reality of my being "in charge" of my opportunity to stage myself for professional and financial success is to understand and appreciate what an entrepreneurial opportunity I have handed to me as a professional waiter. I dream of having my own business, but on the immediate, I don't have the resources to make that happen. I worked another career for ten years that was based on the concept of using other people's money to get ahead... insurance. (A dignified profession I might add.)

Well, I got hired as a waiter (not so dignified in some eyes) by a restaurateur who handed to me a facility (a clean facility with polished table tops and no sticky "gak" on the bottoms) that cost over $1,000,000. They also gave a food and beverage inventory exceeding $70,000 to offer my customers. They also provided an accounting department to calculate my business costs (to save a buck) such as taxes, health insurance, vacation pay, and even retirement. Plus, an executive division to plan my future profitable expansion (and managers to execute effective daily operations, staffing levels, guidance, and personal support to satisfy my customers). They even hired and trained a professional in-house support staff (other waitstaff, hosts, bartenders, cocktail servers, cooks, and dishwashers) so I could focus on my customers' needs and requests. Why, they even paid thousand of dollars for advertising to bring in customers for me. All of this for my own personal use!

You know what's crazy? The first day I showed up they paid me an hourly wage... without ever selling a thing for them! But you know what is really, I mean REALLY NUTS? I get all this opportunity handed to me... for nothing. I didn't have to pay a dime for any of it. All I have to do is show up and invest creative professional effort using the resources given to me. I am responsible for my future. My challenge is how am I going to maximize all this opportunity given to me at no cost?

Who says I'm not an entrepreneur? All I have to do is think like a business person. I have my own business as a waiter...

A dignified profession, I must add!!

Reader Feedback

Just finished reading this article and was quite impressed. What a great view the writer has of his position and how true. Congratulations on his keen observations and being able to train another individual in the capacity of his thinking.

Having never been a waiter, but a restaurant shopper, I would have to give this server some 5's which in his business is pretty hard to come by.

Thank you for letting me know that there is one server out there who really cares.

Edward Kodatt

**Next Post

As a waitress, this really put things back into perspective for me. Thank You! I'll let the owner of my restaurant know about this. Maybe she can print it to distribute to my co-workers.

Thanks Again,
Alicia M.

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Great job--I've tried for years to instill this ethic my staff, I was a manager for 12 years. And now that I am back in school at age 40 and bartending I try to lead by example to my co-workers. My "booth" generates $1.5m/yr and I work 20% of the shifts. That translates to about $300K/yr in sales or about $60K in income to me!!

Tracy Hergert
Hard Rock Cafe, Indpls IN

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Your article on the entrepreneurial spirit of waiting tables is to be admired! If only more waitstaff would take on a similar attitude as opposed to acting like they're doing you a favor by waiting on you, dining out would be a much more pleasant experience!



I must admit Paul Paz has a deliciously sarcastic sense of humor after reading his "Saturday Market" posting in the current issue. Indeed how else could one take his writing? But I feel obligated to respond to a few of the points he made in his article.

First...Restaurant owners (be they privately held or corporate based) are not in the business of philanthropy. These folks are in business to make a profit on their investment the best way they know how. Owners hire employees to run various parts of their business to free themselves up for other tasks.

Second...I am not an independent subcontractor. I am an employee of the business I work for. I receive a small hourly wage as a waiter (currently $2.38/hr in New Hampshire) and in return I have tasks I must perform to meet the expectations of my managers and my employer. Those I do and do well because I like what I do for a living and it shows in my pocket at the end of my shift.

Third...I do not share in the profits of the business where I work and I think that is a fair assumption for most restaurant workers. But that's okay because I don't own the business.

Fourth...It is a hallowed tradition that because waitstaff are usually the lowest paid employees, they are the most expendable. It is also a tradition that more "busy work" and extra cleaning jobs should be given to waitstaff because they make "so much money". Do I resent having to vacuum rugs, clean bathrooms, wash windows and tidying up a space which should be taken care of by a full-time cleaning person? Yes very much. This is what the owner has chosen to do and I am obligated to comply if I want the job. It's a tradeoff I'm willing to do for several reasons...among them...I make a big pile of money at my work place, I usually work less than 35 hours a week and I genuinely like the man who owns the company I work for and the people who manage it for him.

Before we all start running around calling ourselves "entrepreneurs", I think a big glass of common sense is in order. I am not an entrepreneur when I am a waiter, I'm an employee. I have a lot of freedom, and very little supervision, but I am still just another employee. We in this industry should stop trying to make our jobs sound more complicated than they are especially with the introduction of new titles to describe what we do. It makes us appear as if we are ashamed of what we do for a living. And this is one guy is neither ashamed of what he does nor concerned about admitting it to others. I make good money, I work less hours than almost all of my friends, I have more free time and (this is the best one) when I walk out the door of my work work stays behind.

Thanks for the space and peace,
Joel Folliard --

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Dear Paul, dear Joel,
You both have been touching a lot of good points relating to the work and life as a waiter. Let me add my viewpoint to the argument.

From my experience the freedom to pick the place where I wanted to work has been the best part. After extensive training in Hamburg I wanted to work and live in Spain. There was no problem as restaurant businesses are always in need for employees.

Next, when I decided to move to South Africa, the same happened, jobs were available and again I was able to work and make money. When I decided to move to the United States it was exactly the same, hospitality work was available and my skills matched the demand.

There are not many professions which can be equally profitable around the globe. When I say profitable I mean able to support an okay life style in the best parts of the world. No! Waiters usually don't get rich over night, yet the steady income (not based on minimum wage) from tips can be rather substantial. I'm a strong believer that it's the waiter's choice as to where he works. Maybe he wants a smoky bar in the mountains, a small cafe near the ocean, a five star property on an island, some fast food place in the inner city, or a cruise ship job. Sufficient skills and experience together with a strong desire are the first step to get the job. Let's not forget it's not the manager or boss who picks the location where I work, it's totally up to me the waiter. The picture I have of myself is;

a) I see myself as a salesman and I sell for my own good as well as for the profit of the house.
b) I do have profit sharing because the more I sell the more I make.
c) I carry the minimum of risk but get the maximum of profit in the short hours I work.
d) I don't milk the time clock and if there is no business I prefer to go home instead of twiddling my thumbs. Yes with this I am my own business.
e) I receive benefits from my employer which I consider I nice bonus plan.
f) I get to wait on people from all over the world at my work place.
g) I haven't had a boring day yet, by waiting on tables.

Each one of us waiters makes a choice as we go to our job. We are not stuck with the place where we work. If the business fails we still have what we came with including our corkscrew, notepad and pen. Not every body can do the work as a waiter, we are special. Waiting on tables asks for wit, quick response, math skills, ability to stand and walk for many hours at a time.

We may be different as to looks, language and upbringing, yet all of us are attracted by the hospitality industry like moths to light. And somehow once we overcome the stage of hating our job we are hooked and love it all the way.

Dear Paul, dear Joel,
You both have been touching a lot of good points relating to the work and life as a waiter. What I read between the lines in Saturday Market as well as in Counterpoint is that you both love what you do.

Helmut S.

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Re: Paul Paz's article on the "Saturday Market Theoryof Waiting Tables"...Can't say enough good things about this tongue-in-cheek dialogue between mentor & beginner.

As a trainer, I have often used the analogy of "this is your little lemonade stand..." with allusions to many of the same observations Paul makes about how financially & logistically supportive restaurant owners are toward their "commission salespeople." Incredible! They take most of the risk and we (FOH staff) take most of the easy money!

All of us in the industry must do more to MARKET both the opportunity and the respectability of the role of "Hospitality Service Professional" for non-career (part time or full time) newcomers to the biz.

As a Maitre 'D, for example, I have NO waiters or waitresses in my Dining Room -- only "Hosts" & "Hostesses." Consequently, when I seat parties, I explain that their Host or Hostess will be Sam, or Sally, or whoever. I do this for a twofold reason. First, I want my guests to know that the person who will be attending to their comfort and needs is not merely an uneducated, can't-get-a-job-elsewhere subservient slave or scullery maid (which, unfortunately, still tends to be a prevailing attitdue among too many patrons). Second, I want my staff members to always remember that they are hospitality PROFESSIONALS first & foremost... order takers, salespeople, food runners, etc., secondly.

As a working colleague, I want to be treated with respect, courtesey, dignity and I know that the only way to sufficiently receive is to give in like manner - first.

Let's face it; we're all "Partners In Prosperity." If the place we work at does well, we all do well; and, therefore, if we do well individually, the place we work at also does well. If the places we all work at do well, the industry as a whole does well. That translates, quite simply, to the fact that there's more money to go around for everyone and therefore there will be more money to spend on marketing & advertising which will attract to our respective restaurants even more nice people who will leave even more nice money for all of us!

Let's all work more to eliminate the "Them versus Us" (Management vs Labor) mentality and encourage, instead, a "Partners In Prosperity" mindset!

John Brotchie, Executive Director
Hotel And Restaurant Professional Servers' Co-Op

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