Many college students are working full time jobs while taking full-time college courses to make ends meet. Naturally, these students are under significant time and energy constraints. Why are students flocking to jobs that are physically and mentally demanding and that rely on unstable tip income?
Kira Wayman, a history major and past waitress at Petra Café and The Martini Spot, said serving is a great job for students. “The hours are more flexible, and there’s the potential to make a ton of money on a really good night, depending on where you work.”
“The best part is having time to get school work done and still be able to make money,” Wayman said. “I think [success] is most determined by work ethic… some people are just ill-suited to customer service,” she said.
Jeremy Wise, a junior microbiology major, is not one of those people. He said he loves his serving job at Tabella. “Waiting tables allows me to have a lot of interaction with random people from all over Hattiesburg,” he said. “It’s more fulfilling, in my opinion, simply because of the great conversations and contacts that I’ve made during my time working at Tabella.”
Wise said he doesn’t consider relying on tips as too much of a problem. “The amount of money you make completely depends upon you as a server. It’s an additional incentive to always show up with a smile on your face.”
He said he feels the stress of school and work sometimes, but his experience at the restaurant makes it worth it. “Overall, my Tabella family is superb; great attitudes and amazing personalities all around.”
Coworkers can sometimes make a job a lot better. Logan Halliburton, 17, is a host at Chesterfield’s in Hattiesburg. “Working a desk job doesn’t seem as fun as waiting tables,” he said. “Personally, I live for socialization. There are so many people to meet and greet.” He said his favorite part of his job is making people smile, but the worst is “the fact that no one really appreciates the service industry.”
Sean Murphy, a junior German major and server at O’Charley’s, agrees. “People tend to not respect folks in the service industry and that really shows about 60 percent of the time here in Hattiesburg,” Murphy said of his job waiting tables at the local O’Charleys. “The hours can be god-awful; the people who come in and stiff you and the inconsistent wages are pretty huge negative aspects of the job.”
He said he works in the restaurant industry because of the convenience of getting hired.
“I took the job because it’s one of the easiest to get,” Murphy said. “They’re pretty much constantly available, and if you’re good, it’s an easy job to keep and make a decent amount of money.”
Murphy is right; the annual turnover rate at casual dining restaurants is about 44 percent annually, according to Nation’s Restaurant News. For fast food, that number is about 50 percent. That means most restaurants will almost always be open to training and hiring new servers.
The promise of tip money has brought many students into the restaurant industry, whether they stay in the industry for a few months or several years. It takes energy, patience and a strong work ethic to be a server, but these students find that the professional network, energetic atmosphere and financial gains might be worth it.