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 like 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 and must inform if items like a water glass or piece of flatware is missing.
Bussers are not traditionally tipped directly in the United States, 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 United States, 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 United States, 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 and 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.
- (2004.) "Busboy". The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition, Houghton Mifflin Company, via Dictionary.com. Retrieved on 2007-09-19.
- "Busgirl". Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1), Random House, Inc., via Dictionary.com. Retrieved on 2007-09-19.
- Schmich, Mary (2007-08-24). "Uh, no offense, but do you still say 'busboy'?". ChicagoTribune.com (Chicago Tribune). Retrieved 2014-05-20.
- "Busser: Definition of Busser in Oxford Dictionary (American English) (US)". Oxford Dictionaries. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 2014-06-10. "busser; Syllabification: bus·ser; Pronunciation: /ˈbəsər/; Noun; A person who clears tables in a restaurant or cafeteria."
- "Busser - definition. American English definition of busser by Macmillan Dictionary". Macmillan Dictionary. Macmillan Publishers Limited. Retrieved 2014-06-10. "busser - definition; Noun [countable] American /ˈbʌsər/; a busboy"
- Medlik, S. (2012). Dictionary of Travel, Tourism and Hospitality. Routledge. p. 28. ISBN 978-1-136-41018-5. "busboy/busgirl/busser American term for assistant waiter or waitress, who pours water, clears away plates and cutlery but does not take orders or serve the food."
- Матюшенков, Владимир (2013). Dictionary of Americanisms, Canadianisms, Briticisms and Australianisms. Англо-русский словарь особенностей английского языка в Северной Америке, Великобритании и Австралии (in English/Russian). ЛитРес. p. 85. ISBN 978-5-457-47832-9. "bus boy, bus girl, busser Am., Can. /Br. commis waiter/"
- "Keyword Relevance for: bus cleaner". O*Net OnLine. O*Net.
- Davies, Christopher (2007). Divided by a Common Language: A Guide to British and American English. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. p. 1. ISBN 0-547-35028-7. "Words such as clapboard, bleachers, and busboy are everyday words in the US, but they would perplex the average speaker of British English."
- Davies, Christopher (1998). Divided by a Common Language: A British/American Dictionary Plus. Mayflower Press. p. 148. ISBN 978-0-9660945-7-2. "Busboy/Busser, Waiter's assistant/Commis Waiter"
- Rubinstein, Marv (2011). American English Compendium. Taylor Trade Publications. p. 229. ISBN 978-1-58979-726-0. "British, U.S. ... commis boy, busboy"
- The Culinary Institute of America (2009). Remarkable Service: A Guide to Winning and Keeping Customers for Servers, Managers, and Restaurant Owners. John Wiley & Sons. pp. 53–54. ISBN 978-0-470-19740-0.
- Wilson, Kenneth G. (1993). The Columbia Guide to Standard American English. Columbia University Press. p. 80. ISBN 978-0-231-06989-2. "A bus boy or busboy assists the waiter or waitress in a restaurant; he clears dishes (he buses or busses them), and all of his duties come under the heading of busing or bussing. The origin of this Americanism is uncertain."
- "Employment Projections". United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved 2014-06-12. Occupation data is listed under "Dining room and cafeteria attendants and bartender helpers" (job titles are hidden by default).
- Boswell, Sandra (2007). Protocol Matters: Cultivating Social Graces in Christian Homes and Schools. Canon Press & Book Service. p. 98. ISBN 978-1-59128-025-5.
- Mitchell, Mary (2000). The Complete Idiot's Guide to Business Etiquette. Alpha Books. p. 186. ISBN 978-0-02-863615-3.
- Pounds, Marcia Heroux (2011-04-25). "Do You Know Where Your Restaurant Tips Go?". Sun Sentinel.
- Beland, Peter (2010-12-16). "Tip pool ruling cuts restaurant costs". Oregon Business.
- Descherer, Dorinda D. (2013). Wage Hour Compliance Handbook (2014 ed.). Aspen Publishers Online. pp. 3-31–3-32. ISBN 978-1-4548-3419-9.
- "Wage and Hour Division (WHD): Opinion Letters - Fair Labor Standards Act". United States Department of Labor. Retrieved 2014-07-15.
- "Tips and Gratuities". Department of Industrial Relations, State of California. Retrieved 2014-07-15.
- Oliver, Willard M.; Marion, Nancy E. (2010). Killing the President: Assassinations, Attempts, and Rumored Attempts on U.S. Commanders-in-chief. ABC-CLIO. pp. 165–166. ISBN 978-0-313-36474-7.
- Allport, Alan (2007). Jacques Chirac. Infobase Publishing. p. 32. ISBN 978-1-4381-0470-6.
- "Robert Downey, Jr.", Playboy Interview. December 1997
- Greenstein, George (1998). Portraits of discovery: profiles in scientific genius. John Wiley. p. 122. ISBN 978-0-471-19138-4. "While a kid during a summer job as a busboy, he tried to invent a better way of carrying dishes on trays (everything ended up on the floor)."
- Heenan, David A. (1 September 2002). Double lives: crafting your life of work and passion for untold success. Davies-Black Publishing. p. x. ISBN 978-0-89106-167-0. "Working summers as a busboy, he discovered new methods for stacking as many dishes as possible."
- Snauffer, Douglas (2008). The Show Must Go On: How the Deaths of Lead Actors Have Affected Television Series. McFarland. p. 168. ISBN 978-0-7864-5504-1.
- DeCaro, Louis A. (1996). On the Side of My People: A Religious Life of Malcolm X. NYU Press. p. 66. ISBN 978-0-8147-1891-9.
- Anderson, Jennifer Joline (2013). Langston Hughes. ABDO. p. 28. ISBN 978-1-61783-718-0.
- Travis, Dempsey (1983). An Autobiography of Black Jazz. Urban Research Institute. p. 134. ISBN 978-0-941484-03-9.
- Watkins, Mel (1994). On the real side: laughing, lying, and signifying: the underground tradition of African-American humor that transformed American culture, from slavery to Richard Pryor. Simon & Schuster. p. 488. ISBN 978-0-671-68982-7.
- Epstein, Lawrence Jeffrey (2004). Mixed Nuts: America's Love Affair with Comedy Teams : from Burns and Allen to Belushi and Aykroyd. PublicAffairs. pp. 180, 182. ISBN 978-1-58648-190-2.
- Krutnik, Frank (2000). Inventing Jerry Lewis. Smithsonian Institution Press. p. 72. ISBN 978-1-56098-369-9.
- "Bree Olson News, Pictures, and Videos". TMZ. Retrieved 2014-06-05.
- "About Me". BreeOlson.com. Archived from the original on 2013-07-02.
- "Biography: Al Pacino Lifetime". The Biography Channel (UK). AETN UK. Retrieved 2014-06-11.
- Todd, Anne M.; Blue, Rose; Naden, Corinne J. (2009). Chris Rock: Comedian and Actor. Infobase Publishing. p. 15. ISBN 978-1-4381-0074-6.
- Dan Miller (28 August 2012). Wisdom Meets Passion: When Generations Collide and Collaborate. Thomas Nelson Inc. p. 24. ISBN 978-0-8499-6409-1.
- Acham, Christine (2004). Revolution Televised: Prime Time and THe Struggle for Black Power. University of Minnesota Press. p. 192. ISBN 978-1-4529-0707-9.
- Hospitality, Issues 25-56. Hotel, Catering and Institutional Management Association. 1982. p. 63.