I got a job as a Waffle House server that pays $2.92 an hour and now realize why there's a labor shortage

As a new server at Waffle House, I earn $2.92 per hour plus tips, which is surprisingly above the minimum wage for tipped workers at $2.13 an hour. Waffle House is just a side job for me, as I am also a freelance writer and strategy consultant. During a cross-country road trip in 2021, I noticed many roadside restaurants struggling to find employees, which sparked my curiosity about working in the food industry today. So, I began searching for a part-time job and eventually found one at Waffle House.

What surprised me the most about my experience as a server at Waffle House is not the low pay but the overall cost of employment. With each shift, I spend $12.58 on expenses like a "meal credit," special non-slip shoes, commuting costs, and taxes. In some ways, it feels like I am paying to work at the restaurant.

On average, I make about $75 in tips during a seven-hour shift. While I was in training, I made $11 in tips and earned an hourly rate of $12. After completing my training, I was able to serve my own tables and keep all of my tips. In total, I have worked 54 full-time hours across 8.5 shifts and earned approximately $343 in cash tips.

Working solely for tips is a new and confusing experience for me. In the United States, servers are paid poverty-level wages, with the expectation that customers will tip them. Although restaurants are supposed to make up the difference with a tip credit, this does not always happen. Moreover, serving at Waffle House involves additional tasks like sweeping floors and cleaning dishes, which do not generate tips.

Despite the learning curve and old-fashioned systems at Waffle House, I find the job satisfying. I enjoy getting to know regular customers and completing tasks like washing dishes, which provide a sense of accomplishment that I never experienced in a traditional 9-to-5 job.

After nearly nine shifts, I have earned around $320 after taxes from Waffle House and a little over $660 when including tips, which amounts to about $12.24 an hour. However, when considering the costs of employment, my actual hourly rate is closer to $9. The low wages in the food industry are likely why employers are struggling to find workers.

My coworkers at Waffle House are some of the most hardworking people I have ever met, and they genuinely love their jobs. As someone who took the job out of curiosity, I feel fortunate that Waffle House is not my primary source of income. My experience has shown me that some jobs simply cost more to show up to than they are worth working on.

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