Life in Service

Gulfport Mayor Sam HendersonWhile many of you know me from my role in public service, others know me for my role in the service industry. While I am always the mayor, three nights a week I work as a bartender. It is not a political gimmick, nor is it for fun (though at times it can be). I do it to supplement my family income while I finish graduate school at USF St. Petersburg. I do it for the same reason that most of us go to work – to make money and pay the bills. I spent several years working restaurants in my younger days, so it was a natural fit to join this line of work again due to the flexible hours. It still allows me time to handle my mayoral and scholarly duties.

I had forgotten how hard jobs in the service industry can be, but it is all coming back to me. Bartenders and waitstaff in Florida are paid $4.91 per hour, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. That’s $3.02 less than the minimum wage. That is what we earn by law, and the hope is that the generosity of our clientele in the form of tips will fill the gap.

Restaurant and bar work is dirty, sweaty, hot, harried and humbling. We deal with garbage, dishes, used napkins, mops, rags and bus tubs, and occasionally the abusive or disrespectful guest. We run our behinds off trying to satisfy the customer, and that is the essence of the job. While most of the people we serve understand this, and show it through their tips, there are many who do not. A minimum standard tip for good service today is 18%, while tips of 20% or more are considered generous indeed. We as servers appreciate those people, and remember them. Tipping less than 15% is insulting, and should never be done unless your server has been truly negligent. Folks who tip poorly are remembered too.

Some countries require that their citizens do a stint in the military. Perhaps, just to keep us humble, we should all have to do a stint in the service industry or retail sales as well. I think it would help keep a healthy perspective by reminding us that the person in the apron, behind the bar or the register, bringing your food or cleaning your table, is a person – no more or less important than you or me. So, be polite and patient with your servers and bartenders, your bussers and managers, food runners and hosts. Expect the same from them. They work hard for the money, most of which comes from you. Tip well, my friends.

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