I don't remember my first table the first night I went solo. I do remember having a three table section on a Tuesday night in the back dining room. I made $34 after tip out. Yes, that first night on the floor I truly learned how restaurants earned a profit: the tip out. Not only do eateries pay their employees just over $2 an hour (in TN), they can also pay their busboys, bartenders, hostesses and to-go cashiers the very same rate, and many do. In many a restaurant across this great nation waiters and waitresses pay the bulk of the earnings for front of the house employees.
At Outback Stake House* servers were required to tip out 3% of our total sales for the evening, despite what we made in tips. I tipped out well over $30 after many, many long and grueling shifts, sometimes taking home just 7 or 8% of my sales, instead of the 12-15% that people leave on the table.
However, at the Cooker tip out was voluntary, and I use that term loosely. Tip out there was given to the bartenders and the busboys, not the hosts. This happened at the end of each shift. Tipping generously resulted in promptly cleaned tables and quickly made cocktails. Skimping on a co-worker due to a bad night was considered bad form. Skimping could also get you talked about, or worse, stalled at the bar's well, waiting for a frozen daiquiri that is melting just out of your reach. Tipping out is a fucking racket.**
The staff at the Cooker was huge, as was the place itself. It took a while to get to anyone, so I kept sticking with Lia. I felt lost on the days she didn't work. They scheduled us for the same shift a lot, which looking back now, was nice of them. There were so many servers on the schedule, I shit you not, there were at least eighty. Some people worked just one day a week. I would for a month or more, working, getting familiar with folks when some very tanned girl with beads in her hair would show up, saying she's been waiting tables for a while on an island somewhere.
We always had "line up" before every shift. We'd stand for 15-30 minutes getting a pep talk from managers, drilled on the specials, scolded for last night's slackery. The bosses even came by to to individually inspect our uniforms. In line up we were assigned our sections and opening sidework. This was labor you did while waiting for your tables to fill up, anything from scooping butter balls into ramekins (easy, but messy--plus you had to put the butter scoop in hot water while working, which created a nasty hot butter water that would always make me gag) to hauling buckets of ice from the back to the bar. As an aside, the design of the West End Cooker was atrocious--the bar and the kitchen on opposite ends of the building. There was no ice machine up there!
After the rush of people died down I'd get "cut," stricken from the floorplan, finito, done bringing anybody anything. I had to roll up 150 forks and 75 knives up into linens, "spec out" all my tables by topping off condiments, wiping and sweeping and then so closing "sidework." After my first solo shift at the Cooker my task was to consolidate salad dressings and clean out that bin. The closing server who had to okay my work before I could leave made me go back and scrub the bin five times. Maybe six; it was a lot. I nearly cried that night, scrubbing the stainless steel, wondering what spot or crumb he could possible have been talking about. He was so vague in his demands to redo it. That dressing bin shone like the top of the Chrysler building!
It wasn't until I stared at my bedroom ceiling that night, tired but unable to sleep, that I realized I'd been hazed. The next day when I asked him why he did that he said it was for my own good.
*They accepted checks way back in the day, and I will always remember seeing one with that written in the Pay To line.
**Though I benefited nicely some years later when I moved behind the bar.