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Hospitality: Just Waiting

Hospitality: Just Waiting

Done well, service can be a solid career, so train as a “service professional.” A full-time professional waiter at a fancy steakhouse or other high-end restaurant can average $60,000 to $90,000 per year in wages and tips. Think of tips as a commission on sales.


This column is dedicated to my fellow New Mexico waiters – or to be more politically correct, servers. It seems to me that the term “waiter” has become neuter and refers to both male and female food servers.

Some waiters, both male and female, dislike the term “server” for its perceived connotations of servitude or servants. Waiting is a tableside business. Three million full-time professional waiters are entrepreneurs who depend on commissions from tableside sales they generate.

A full-time professional waiter at a fancy steakhouse or other high-end restaurant can average $60,000 to $90,000 per year in wages and tips. Think of tips as a commission on sales. Waiters typically make approximately half of the minimum wage, and they depend on tips on sales to augment their wages. The term “tips” originated in England as the acronym for “To Insure Proper Service.”

Waiting tables is a proud profession, and hospitality remains one of the largest employers; only the federal government employs more people. Statistics show that 73 percent of the public returns to a food service establishment due to service; only 12 percent return for the food; 10 percent return for comfort and ambiance; while only 5 percent come back for miscellaneous reasons (such as an uncle who owns the joint).

Imagine the mastery of chefs who’ve studied and trained for several years going down the drain because of 30 seconds of poor or improper service. Remember that line from the theme song from TV’s “Cheers”: “You want to go where everybody knows your name.” The waiter is the one who knows your name.

I’ve been keeping tabs on job websites, and there are lots of ads for servers and other food service line personnel. There are 650,000 jobs open in the hospitality industry annually in the United States. I tell waiter-wannabe students that “J-O-B” stands for “Just Over Broke.” Done well, service can be a solid career, so train as a “service professional.”

My uncle Ted once held the No. 1 waiter’s button as a union waiter in NYC’s Plaza Hotel. When he died in 1963, he was making approximately $125,000 per year as a professional waiter. Just yesterday, I trained the staff of a 4-Diamond Award-winning hotel here in Albuquerque. In my training travels, the best students are always those who want to get better at their job.

This training ended in applause because attendees really appreciated the fact that management cared enough to invest in making their jobs easier and more efficient and teaching them how to generate increased sales and tips by offering their guests the correct procedures and precise protocols of proper service.

In the past few years, I’ve trained full staffs, including management and owners, in the art and science of service. Service training is the No. 1 morale builder of staff in food service venues.

The owner who invests in such training sends a message to staff that management cares enough to show them how to do it better. There is only one way to serve, based on the principles of health, safety and logic. Waiters of New Mexico, you’re not “just waiting.” You’re pursuing a rewarding career as a professional server.

Keep your eyes on this column for an announcement about joint ABQ Free Press and New Mexico Restaurant Association training events; these events will lead to the White Glove Awards for Exceptional Restaurant Service. That’s an “86” from Ian Maksik, “Professor of Service.”

As ever, address any questions you have on service, etiquette or catering to me via email to ian@usawaiter.com, and I’ll reply via email or in this column.


Ian Maksik is a Cornell Hotel School graduate and a former Hilton general manager and catering editor for New York magazine CUE. Known as “America’s Service Guru,” Maksik has keynoted, lectured and trained owners, management and staff of hospitality facilities in 21 countries and at notable industry conferences. Contact him at ian@usawaiter.com or (954) 804-5413.

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