Why Do I Wait Tables (at Red Lobster)?

By Richard Johnson

Someone once asked me, “Why do I wait tables?” She suggested that since I have multiple degrees (I have a graduate degree as well as my undergrad) and I only make $40-$60 a night I should do something else.

First, I don’t only make $40-$60 a night. If I did, I would’ve gotten out of this business a LONG time ago. I have co-workers who make that a night because they suck and don’t care, but rare is the shift that I make under $80, and most nights are beyond that. Honestly, I am disappointed in less than $100 per shift (but yes it happens). It’s not worth my time (especially in winter) to drive into work for less than that. I have a fairly long commute by city standards to get to my restaurant. There are other Red Lobster stores (and other Darden owned restaurants) closer to where I live, but I work at my present store because I can make more money there than at most of the other regional stores. I’ve worked in enough Red Lobsters to know a good one when I find it. Good being a relative term of course.

Hypothetically, let’s say I work 5 shifts a week for 30 hours. In those shifts if I average $125 per shift, that is $625 a week that I am taking home (with health care and the pittance that we get as tipped employees, we never see our hourly wages). Figure I work at least 49 weeks a year and that is over $30,000. And honestly, there are people in my store who make more than that, all for a “part time” job. Plus I get paid vacation. Plus we get stock options. And dental/health care is available.

So part of it is the money. The health care is actually a bigger reason for me, as my outside interests don’t afford me health care options. Out of pocket health care plans are absurdly expensive.

The biggest reason I wait tables is it affords me a schedule I like. I have worked where I work long enough to be toward the top of the shit heap. That means I generally get a steady schedule of shifts that I can plan around. I don’t bounce from shift to shift much because I work nearly as many hours as allowed most of the time. And when I want to pick up a shift (if I am far enough under the 40 hour mark to avoid over time) then I know my management team will approve me for whatever that shift is, no questions asked. I can open, close, etc. – any shift there is, I’ve done it and trained others for it.

So with this flexibility, I can pursue other interests. Some of which are money making, some of which are just personal hobbies. Red Lobster hasn’t been my only source of income for a long time, and I don’t expect that to change. I’m a hard working guy, probably working too many hours when you add everything together, but I guess it is what it is. My Red Lobster dollars are the most steady money in my life, so I need to keep that going while I work on other things. My hope is that someday my outside interests will overtake my waiting and force me to quit, but thus far it hasn’t gone that way. It will though, I am confident of that. And that too is why I have never gone into management, it would force me to give up my outside things, and push me into a rotating schedule that is the schedule from hell. Red Lobster pays their management team fairly, but I think their work schedules suck donkey balls.

Reprinted with permission from Red Lobster Blog.

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