In North America, Busser, busboy, and busgirl are terms used for someone who works in the restaurant and catering industry clearing tables, taking dirty dishes to the dishwasher, setting tables and otherwise assisting the waiting staff.
A busser's duties generally depend on the size of the restaurant. In upscale or larger restaurants, they may bring water and introductory foods, like tortilla chips and salsa in Mexican restaurants or bread in an Italian restaurant. The busser may also serve initial drinks like water and orange juice. In large restaurants with many employees with specific duties, a busser may not be required to do much in the kitchen except bring in dirty dishes and items from the dining hall. On the other hand, they are generally responsible for all assistant activities in the dining hall—like resetting tables, clearing dirty dishes from tables, clearing spilled items, shining cutlery, refilling water and juice glasses, restocking waiter stations with water, bread, or juice. They may also restock dinnerware—clean plates, cups, glasses and utensils. They may also help the server carry food to customers. In small restaurants with few employees, they may have additional duties, like washing dishes, restocking the kitchen, taking out the trash, etc. The most popular organizational method assigns each busser to a station, or area of tables.
Bussers receive varying salaries. Generally they get a low hourly wage (often the minimum wage), but also earn tips—usually a percentage of tips left to the servers for that shift. (If they are a trainee, often they receive no tips for around three days. Trainers typically take those tips as their "training wage". In a busy restaurant that might be between $10 to $250 for a shift. Therefore, a busser who works alone can make more than a server, but generally makes a little less. Bussers may also wear slightly different clothing to differentiate them from servers. For instance, they may wear a black apron while the server wears a white apron.
Bussers typically clear dirty dishes into bus tubs or bus boxes. (In many upscale restaurants the cafeteria look of bus tubs or boxes is prohibited, bussers may carry dishes individually.) They store cleared items in the bus box or tray and take to the kitchen's dish washing area. Bussers often use larger tubs or trays to lessen the number of trips. Restaurants must also have glass racks and such for the busser to unload the dirty dishes.
Notable former bussers
- Al Pacino, actor.
- Alec Baldwin, actor, was a busboy at Studio 54, a New York City disco.
- Andy Kaufman, worked as a busboy allegedly in case something happened to his acting career.
- Bree Olson, pornographic actress
- Chris Rock, comedian, worked as a busboy in New York
- Danny Gillies, rockabilly drummer.
- Dick Cavett, actor and host of The Dick Cavett Show
- Ho Chi Minh, Vietnamese revolutionary and President, was a busboy in Boston at the Parker House Hotel.
- Huey Morgan, musician.
- Ike Barinholtz, actor and comedian on MADtv.
- Jake Gyllenhaal actor, was a busboy at the restaurant of a family friend.
- Jhonen Vasquez, cartoonist
- Jim Root, musician.
- Johnny Depp, actor
- Martin Lawrence, comedian, worked as a busboy.
- Jon Stewart, comedian, and host of The Daily Show worked as a busboy at a Mexican restaurant. Stewart has in fact named his production company Busboy Productions.
- Kathy Griffin, comedian
- Langston Hughes, writer & poet; dubbed the "busboy poet" by journalists after a famed poet read his work on a restaurant table and decided to publish his first compilation.
- Martin Luther King Jr., civil rights leader
- Michael Alig, founder of the Club Kids who started as a busboy at Danceteria in Manhattan, NYC in 1983
- Phil Anselmo, singer.
- Raymond Orteig, hotelier.
- Richard Feynman, American physicist and Nobel Laureate, worked as a busboy in his aunt's restaurant in New York in the 1930s
- Rivers Cuomo, musician.
- Robert Downey Jr., actor, worked as a busboy at a restaurant in New York City for three years, was "too sweaty" to work as a waiter.
- Wally Wood, cartoonist
- Zach Galifianakis, actor and comedian
- Kenny Carkeet, audio engineer, musician, and AWOLNATION band member, worked as a busboy for several restaurants around Orlando, Florida.
Busboys in history and popular culture
- Juan Romero, then working as a busboy, was shaking Robert F. Kennedy's hand the moment he was assassinated. The picture of him comforting the dying Senator became an iconic image.
- Raw Dog Screaming Press published a Tom Bradley novel entitled Lemur, about a would-be serial killing busboy.
- The Coconut Grove fire in Boston, Massachusetts was started accidentally when a busboy lit a match.
- A band called The Busboys had success with two songs "The Boys Are Back In Town" and "Cleanin' Up The Town" featured in the movie Ghostbusters.
- Busboys are quite common in the works of comic artist Corey Lewis.
- Busboys were portrayed as lazy, habitual cannabis users in the film, Waiting... (played by comedian Andy Milonakis and Max Kasch).
- An early Seinfeld episode entitled "The Busboy" was centered on a busboy who was fired due to George Costanza's accidental actions.
- In his stand up special Chris Rock: Bigger and Blacker, comedian Chris Rock claims that no white person would ever trade places with him, even though he is rich. As he puts it, "There's a white, one-legged busboy in here right now that won't change places with my black ass. He's going, "No, man, l don't wanna switch. I wanna ride this white thing out. See where it takes me."" Chris Rock also comments on busboys in his song Busboys, McDonald's And Minimum Wage that appears on his comedy album Born Suspect.
- In the Disney Channel Series The Suite Life On Deck, one of the main characters, Zack Martin works as a busboy on the ship, the SS Tipton.
- In the Disney Channel Series Lizzie McGuire, the protagonist (Lizzie) works as a busgirl.
- Cyrus DeBarge (played by Tyler James Williams), in the film Let It Shine.
The term "power bussing" refers to three or more bussers simultaneously cleaning one section of a restaurant. The term is gaining popularity in current restaurant establishments across North America.
Receiving their tips
Many restaurants require their servers to "tip out" the busser responsible for the servers section of the restaurant. It is considered common courtesy to tip out the busser, and failure to do so will be frowned upon. The amount that a busser receives from their server should be related to how much money the server made, as well as the effort the busser made during the night. Despite this, many servers choose to give a "standard" tip-out. In other words, they will give this amount to any busser, and for every shift. The amount that they give out has no relationship to the quality of their shift. A common term for this "standard" tip-out is "capping out". For example if a server always gives a five dollar tip, they are said to be "capping out" at five dollars. The term "capping out" has become increasingly popular among bussers in North American restaurants.
- (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'?" Chicago Tribune Web Edition. Retrieved on 2007-09-19.
- Robert Downey Jr. Playboy Interview: December 1997