Nickel and Dimed is still getting to me...and it's not even my assignment anymore

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During my first year at Seton Hill, I was assigned to read Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich.  At first, I honestly thought that I was going to hate it, but I ended up reading it three times because I was amazed at how true everything was.  So why did the book touch me you ask?  Well because I'm a waitress and I can relate to EVERYTHING in the restaurant business.

First off, I would like to admit that I actually do like waitressing most of the time because I like to think of myself as a people person.  But more so lately, I hate walking into work in the morning.  Not only is the business corupt, but with the current state of the economy, you just can't live working part time as a waitress. 

Due to my arrival back at home, I called my manager and they threw a schedule together for me.  When I looked at what they had given me, I realized I was given four days (which I was more than happy with), but they were all swing shifts.  For those of you that are new to how the business works, a swing shift is in essense a double shift.  Normally a waitress that is part time works a five-6 hour shift of either the breakfast, lunch, or dinner rush.  Well in my case, I would be swinging through lunch and dinner. Big deal right? Why should I be bitter?

Well, due to my workplace's lack of staff, I started working 9/10 hours days, and was called in on my day of, etc.  I was treated like a slave, and felt no sense of appreciation for the hours/help that I was putting in.  My last straw the other day was when a fellow employee threw is fist at me, and then proceeded to throw the food at me through the window.  How does this stuff go on? You got me.  Needless to say, I took of my apron and walked out of the store. Nevertheless, due to my lack of money and want to study abroad next year, I let my manager talk me into coming back for a few days.  Thankfully, I picked up a third job this summer and won't have to spend a lot of time there.

Contrary to the negatives, the relability to the book continues.  Waitressing only pays $2.83 and hour + tips.  NEWS FLASH! With gas being 4 dollars and everything else rising in cost, WE CAN"T LIVE ON THAT! I find it really hard to believe that minimum wage can go up, but ours can't? I think our measly 2.83 should at least go up a dollar or so.  But I also have noticed that because of the pricing of the items these days, that people are tipping as much as they should.  I know personally that I had a table of 5 the other day that left a 3 dollar tip! AH THE HORROR! Plus when you're working 10 hours days, and barely have fifty bucks in your pocket, there is a problem. But I digress.

Does anyone else feel that this is an injustice towards waitresses or is my biased behavior towards the industry just catching up with me after three years?


I waited tables in my college town, and once got a $0.01 tip on a credit card receipt for a table of six or eight.

The head of the family, with a little smirk on his face, hung around as I checked the receipt... he wanted to see my reaction. I thought to myself, I'll never have to deal with him again, but the people at that table are related to him by blood, and I felt sorry for them that he's their example for how to behave.

On another night, I got applause from a table one Friday night, and I collected $55 in tips. This was 20 years ago, so that was a great haul.

At that restaurant, there was a little old lady who would order a glass of wine with lunch, and she would often slump over and pass out on the table. The manager would then call her a cab and send her home. I felt very awkward taking that woman's order, especially when the manager told me to dilute her wine with water (in part so she wouldn't pass out, and in part to make her dislike the wine so she'd stop coming).

I remember all those experiences now that I'm only in a restaurant as a customer. Once when the kitchen messed up our order twice, the manager took the price of my meal off the ticket, and we had coupons for at least one of the kids to eat free, but I knew it wasn't the server's fault and tipped her for the full amount.

The experience of waiting tables made me take the 15% tip suggestion seriously, and if the service is good, I make sure to tip the whole amount.

Stephanie Wytovich said:

A one cent tip!!!! AHH! If it makes you feel any better, the other day, I had a couple leave me a handful of pennies on the table, hahaha.

Mike Arnzen said:

I remember that book discussion, Stephanie. Great post (and great follow-up Dr. Jerz).

I think it's good that you're going to school with the goal to raise yourself out of these kinds of oppressions. It takes persistence and drive and a lot of time, but it can be done. Keep your eye on the prize.

Oh, and if you're like me, you should try to milk every story idea, article concept, research project topic, journalism story, contact, and interview you can out of that "dive" job! Sometimes the money isn't where the money is, and you can always sew a silk purse out of a sow's ear (unless you're serving it for the blue plate special).

Good bloggin'!
-- Mike Arnzen

Stephanie Wytovich said:

Dr. Arnzen, I just wanted to thank you for the adivce on always looking for story/article ideas, because I took this idea to the editor of the newspaper I write for and got a weekly column out of it! Thanks again!!

Mike Arnzen said:

BRAVO! So happy to have helped with the nudge, but you earned it all on your own. Best wishes - and here's hoping you never run out of ideas.

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