In North America, a busboy, busgirl, busser or bus person is a person who works in the restaurant and catering industry clearing tables, taking dirty dishes to the dishwasher, setting tables, and otherwise assisting the waiting staff. Speakers of British English may be unfamiliar with the terms, which are translated in British English as commis waiter, commis boy, or waiter's assistant. The term for a busser in the classic brigade de cuisine system is commis de débarrasseur, or simply débarrasseur. Bussers are typically placed beneath the waiting staff in organization charts, and are sometimes an apprentice or trainee to waiting staff positions.
The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the occupation typically did not require related work experience or a high school diploma, that on-the-job training was short term, and that the median income in 2012 for the position was $18,500.
Primary functions of the busser are to clean and reset tables, carry dishes and other tableware to the kitchen, serve items such as water, coffee and bread, replenish supplies of linens, tableware and trays, and assist servers with clearing plates and other areas of table service. Other tasks include cleaning and polishing fixtures, walls, furniture and equipment, cleaning tableware, cleaning food service areas, mopping and vacuuming floors, cleaning up spills, removing empty bottles and trash, and scraping and stacking dirty dishes.
One guide to manners advised that bussers should not speak or interrupt those being served, and to simply refill glasses at the table rather than asking if customers would ilke more water. Likewise, it advises customers against engaging bussers and waiting staff in distracting conversations, as they are often busy. A business etiquette guide suggests that customers should refer to bussers and waiting staff with the gender-neutral terms busser and server rather than waiter or busboy. It also says that bussers are the employee to inform if items like a water glass or piece of flatware is missing.
Bussers are not traditionally tipped directly in the US, but restaurants may employ "tip pooling" or "tip sharing" arrangements, in which a portion of servers' tips are shared with other restaurant service staff.
In the US, tip sharing may be either voluntary, where waitstaff give a portion of their tips to coworkers as they see fit, or mandatory, where the employer sets a formula by which tips must be shared with coworkers such as bussers and bartenders. Federal Department of Labor regulations do not allow restaurants to include managers in tip sharing, and inclusion of "back of the house" employees such as dishwashers and cooks has been the subject of legal disputes since 2009. Recipients of tips in shared tip restaurants may be paid a "tip-credit wage", below the ordinary minimum wage in the US, if the amount of shared tips in a pay period brings their average pay to the minimum wage. Federal subminimum wage is set at $2.13 per hour, though state and local laws may require higher rates. California, for example, requires tipped employees be paid full minimum wage.
A spokesperson for restaurant operator Darden Restaurants, which incorporated tip-sharing in 2011 at their Olive Garden and Red Lobster chains, said that it was more consistent and fair "to recognize everyone who delivers a guest experience", and noted that the lower hourly base wage for bartenders and bussers offered "the opportunity to ultimately earn more," depending on a restaurant's volume of tips.
Notable former bussers
- Alec Baldwin, American actor, producer, and comedian was a busboy at Studio 54, a New York City disco.
- Arthur Bremer, American failed assassin of George Wallace in 1972, and whose diary became the basis for the movie Taxi Driver, was demoted from busser to custodian at the Milwaukee Athletic Club when he was caught talking to himself.
- Jacques Chirac, former President of France, worked as a busser and waiter in a Howard Johnson's restaurant while attending summer school at Harvard University.
- Robert Downey Jr., American actor, worked as a busboy at a restaurant in New York City for three years, was "too sweaty" to work as a waiter.
- Richard Feynman, American physicist, experimented with ways to optimize dish-stacking while working as a busboy during the summer growing up.
- Red Foxx, American comedian and actor, worked as a busser and dishwasher at a famous Harlem eatery called Jimmy's Chicken Shack. He was friends with Malcolm X, who then worked there as a waiter, and who later described Foxx as "the funniest dishwasher on this earth".
- Langston Hughes, American writer & poet, dubbed the "busboy poet" by journalists in 1925 after he left three of his poems beside the plate of a famed poet at the hotel where he worked, who then read the poems at a large poetry reading later that evening.
- George Kirby, American comedian, singer, and actor, worked as a busser at Chicago's Club DeLisa for $13 per week, until his comedic impersonations earned him a trial on the club's stage, which launched his comedy career.
- Jerry Lewis, American comedian and actor, worked as a busser at Brown's Hotel in the Catskills, where he would try to get laughs from diners. When he later teamed up with Dean Martin to do live shows, a signature bit had Lewis playing an inept busboy, interrupting the suave Martin's singing numbers, an act revisited years later in a scene from their eighth movie, Scared Stiff.
- Bree Olson, American pornographic actress, worked as a busser at age 15.
- Al Pacino, American actor and director, worked as a busboy among a series of low-paying jobs to fund his acting studies.
- Chris Rock, American comedian and actor, worked as a busser at a Red Lobster restaurant in Queens, New York; both Red Lobster and "a one-legged busboy" featured among his later jokes.
- Jon Stewart, American comedian, writer, and host of The Daily Show worked as a busboy at a Mexican restaurant. Stewart named his production company Busboy Productions.
- Oscar Tschirky, Swiss-born maître d'hôtel of Manhattan's Waldorf-Astoria Hotel who created the Waldorf salad, began his career as a busboy.
In popular culture
- An early (1991) Seinfeld episode entitled "The Busboy" was centered on a busboy who was fired due to George Costanza's accidental actions.
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