Most of those interviewed said they were paid a wage, but almost all indicated that they had in the past worked at establishments that did not pay a wage.

Cape Town - From being called “dumb and uneducated” by your boss, to being stiffed on your tips, the life of waiters and waitresses is often not a happy one.

Following an incident last month in which patrons were chased from a Kalk Bay restaurant for not tipping a waiter enough, IOL sister publication Weekend Argus spoke to local workers about their personal experiences on the restaurant floor.

Most of those interviewed said they were paid a wage, but almost all indicated that they had in the past worked at establishments that did not pay a wage.

One waiter said that at an upmarket restaurant he recently worked at, he was paid a small commission rather than a wage.

“When you add it up, there is no way the commission is what you would have earned if you were being paid hourly.”

One waitress said she had previously worked at an establishment that did not pay wages at all, while in others, it was sometimes a struggle to get the money.

“Sometimes at the end of the month you’ll find you’ve been underpaid, and then it’s a big fight to get that money.”

A quick internet search for waitering jobs in Cape Town revealed an hourly wage ranging from the minimum wage (R12.80) to between R25 and R50 an hour for event waiters.

Many of those Weekend Argus spoke to indicated that they had to pay for breakages from their tips, even if they hadn’t broken anything. Others said they had to pay the runners, kitchen staff and bar staff a percentage of their tips at the end of each shift too.

The Basic Conditions of Employment Act states that deductions from a staff member’s salary can only be made with their consent. Loss or damages can only be deducted after a hearing with the employee, and with their written consent.

When it comes to tips, waiters said there were certain groups of people they favoured.

One waiter said: “As a male waiter, if I get a table of women I’m pretty much guaranteed a tip.”

Tourists, particularly from the US and the UK travelling with their families, were also good tippers. Students were rarely good tippers, he said, using the excuse that they were “poor students”.

He didn’t have anything nice to say about the customers who arrived with group discount vouchers from sites such as Groupon and Daddy’s Deals, who felt they did not need to tip the waiter.

Another waitress said families with their children often tipped well, while a “table of high school pupils never ends well”.

Another waiter said he found that the tables he interacted with the most, and with which he developed a rapport, were usually the nicest to service, and the best tippers.

On quieter nights of the week he earned about R300, and about R500 on busier nights.

A career waitress who has worked in the industry for a number of years said her best customer was the Crown Prince of Dubai. Not realising who he was, she served him and his table of 10 throughout the night.

“He tipped me R1 000 over and above my tip, and insisted on speaking to the manager. He introduced himself and mentioned that he felt that I was highly professional and that I would be a benefit to his hotel industry. Only then did I realise who he was,” she said.

Her worst customer? A woman who had too much to drink, refused to be cut off, and who during a tirade against her, vomited all over her. “I removed my apron, grabbed her by the shoulder and steered her towards the scullery, where I hosed her down over the basin.” - Weekend Argus