A Waiter Who Dropped Out of College Makes Thousands in Tips Weekly

This essay as told is based on a conversation with Kyle Zajac, a 22-year-old waiter based in Indianapolis. It has been edited for length and clarity.

Since my first shift as a restaurant server in 2020, I have tracked my hours and tips in an Excel spreadsheet.

You might not think servers are paid well, but it’s different at the top and a far cry from the days when I made less than $8 an hour. At the time, I couldn’t wait until I was old enough to get a job as a waiter where I could earn tips.

When I turned 18, I took a part-time job as a server at Cracker Barrel where I made between $14 and $17. an hour of tipping, in addition to $2.13 an hour, the minimum cash wage that the U.S. Department of Labor requires employers to tip employees.

Today, I work as a server at a high-end steakhouse and bring home thousands in tips every week.

I quickly learned that college wasn’t for me

When I applied to college and was offered financial aid, I enrolled even though I had no idea what I wanted to study.

We were in the middle of a pandemic and since my family lived close to campus, I decided to stay home with my parents.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, all of my classes were online. I felt completely disconnected and started skipping classes and struggling to turn in assignments on time.

Two semesters later, I dropped out. Since I didn’t take my studies seriously, I thought all college could do was put me in debt. I left and spent more hours at Cracker Barrel.

Without school, I looked for a better paid waiter role

When I turned 19, I was legally allowed to serve alcoholic drinks in a restaurant, so I decided to look for a better-paying job as a waiter.

I took a job at The Cheesecake Factory where I made an average of $25 an hour in tips. During the year I worked there, I started applying for high-end server jobs.

One evening, while dining at an upscale steakhouse, I contacted the manager about a position for an assistant server that I had seen posted online. I was 20 years old and had no experience in gastronomy, so the role seemed ideal to get my foot in the door.

I got the job and was promoted to server within five months, becoming the youngest server at the steakhouse. My colleagues, mostly in their thirties, joked that I wasn’t even old enough to drink the cocktails I was serving.

I average almost $1,500 in tips per week

two waiters wearing sunglasses

Zajac and his colleague.

Courtesy of Kyle Zajac

These days, I work 30 hours a week, five days, and I earn on average between $1,200 and $1,500 a week in tips after tips. Tipping requires all servers to contribute 4% of our team tips to our bussers, food runners and hosts.

My company offers an employer-matched 401(k) that I take full advantage of by contributing the maximum contribution. I earn PTO and am eligible for dental, vision and health insurance, but since I can stay on my parents’ insurance until age 26, I do not use these benefits.

The steakhouse is located near a convention center, so we tend to have a lot of convention attendees. Every time I’m assigned to a large group of well-dressed guys wearing convention cords for dinner, I know I’ve hit the jackpot.

Recently, thanks to a convention, I earned $2,400 in tips in one week, and the week before that I earned $1,800. My biggest week to date was $2,690 after working 33 hours over six days.

June and July are our slowest months because there are no conventions. I had a week last summer where I worked 28 hours over five days and only made $865 in tips, but that’s still $30 an hour, so I’m not complaining. not.

Here’s how I earn the most tips possible

You have to know how to read people’s body language and how they react when you approach them. When you get to work, leave everything else behind. Nobody cares if you’re having a bad day. You are there to ensure that the customer has a good time.

When I approach a table, I greet them and ask if they’ve had dinner with us before. If they’re coming from a conference, I might ask them where they’re from. Some people want to engage in conversation and even joke, while others want to have minimal contact, which is also a good thing.

I recently served a table of eight guys whose check totaled $860. They barely spoke to me, so I just made sure to keep their table manicured. They left me a $1,200 tip.

The opposite end of the spectrum is given an 18th birthday reservation because it’s almost guaranteed they won’t tip at all. Teenagers don’t seem to have a problem clicking “no tip” on the screen, and automatic tipping at the steakhouse only kicks in for parties of eight or more.

The hardest part is the planning

The hardest part of my job is that I work nights and weekends when all my friends are out. Sometimes, after I finish my dinner shift, I meet up with some of my colleagues at a local bar and hang out.

As for college, dropping out when I did was the best thing I could have done. I don’t see myself going back there anytime soon. It would be like taking a pay cut.

I earn more than most of my friends and have no debt. I recently bought myself a 2022 Ford Ranger and could afford to take time off and go on vacation to the Philippines and Europe last year.

I am happy where I am currently and plan to continue living at home, serving and saving money.


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