In 2011, I started as a busboy at a busy restaurant in midtown Sacramento. Six months later, I became a server. Five years after that, I was a manager. The general manager of that restaurant now was a busser I trained 12 years ago. And the assistant GM was the bus boy who trained me when I started working there. Bussing tables for us was not just a job but a stepping stone to bigger and better opportunities in the restaurant industry.
If you're looking to work in restaurants and you've got hustle in your bones, then becoming a busser might be right for you. Even if you have no previous restaurant experience, you can get hired as a busser if you can prove you're a reliable and hard worker. A busser is an entry-level position that can be a great summer job or the start of a career in restaurants.
What is a busser?
A busser is a person who cleans tables in a restaurant. Depending on the size and volume of a restaurant, there could be as many as 5 bussers scheduled during a busy shift. In some restaurants, hosts handle the bussing duties along with greeting and seating guests. Besides ensuring tables are ready for guests, bussers will set up the restaurant before it opens or perform cleaning duties when their shift ends or the restaurant closes.
What does a busser do?
Busser responsibilities include clearing, cleaning, and resetting tables and other cleaning duties. The bussing team will often work together to complete these jobs faster. For instance, one busser might clear 3 or 4 tables while another comes behind to wipe and set them up. Or in restaurants with a large dining room or patio, bussers might be assigned to a particular area, while others run bus tubs to the dish room. Whatever the situation, bussing tables effectively requires good communication skills in a team.
Here's a list of duties you'll find in a busser job description:
1. Clearing tables
Bussers must learn how to sort dishes and trash to clear tables quickly. This includes:
- Consolidating leftover drinks like water, tea, coffee, and soda into cups
- Stacking cups, water glasses, and multiple plates so you can carry more at a time
- Separating the utensils, making it easier to stack and transport dirty dishes
- Getting the trash together—like napkins, sugar packets, and kid's coloring sheets
If a restaurant requires tables to be bussed with a tray, then bussers should be able to stack these items on the tray and balance it with one hand while walking around. Other times, bussers may clear tables with bus tubs or carry stacked dishes directly to the dishwasher.
2. Cleaning tables
After clearing tables, it's time to clean. Let's look at what this entails.
- Wiping down the table and chairs with a sanitized cloth
- Sweeping the floor around the table with a broom or carpet sweeper
- Putting the table or tables back in their default position if they were moved
- Neatly arranging chairs and putting away extra chairs or high chairs
3. Reset tables
Setting tables indicates to the host that tables are ready to be sat. And if tables are not very dirty, the busser wiping the table will often be the one setting the table. This includes:
- Placing napkins and silverware on the table so they are straight and in front of each seat
- Straightening salt and pepper shakers, condiments, and decorations on the table
- Placing water glasses or cups on the table if required by management
4. Assisting other staff members
If bussers aren't busy clearing tables, they may be required to help managers, servers, and hosts take care of guests.
- Bringing extra chairs or highchairs to tables
- Pre-bussing tables when servers are busy
- Running food and drinks to tables
- Helping hosts seat waiting tables
5. Other busser responsibilities
Apart from cleaning tables, a busser job description may also include:
- Running bus tubs from the bus station to the dish room
- Sorting glasses and dishes into a dishwashing rack
- Restocking plates, silverware, glasses, and mugs
- Taking out the garbage once it gets full
- Keeping bathrooms clean throughout the day
- Cleaning up spills on tables or floors
- Ensuring guests have a pleasant dining experience
How much do bussers make?
Bussers usually make between $8.00/hour and $16.00/hour in base pay, depending on the state's minimum wage laws. On top of that, bussers often get tips, too. So they may see their hourly pay total be between $12.00/hour to $25.00/hour. Sometimes, it is even higher during busy shifts or when guests tip more.
Do bussers get tips?
Yes, most bussers get tips. Often, bussers get minimum wage as their base pay, plus tips from each server. A restaurant may require servers to tip out bussers as a percentage of their daily sales. For example, Server Suzy's daily sales are $1,500. Her restaurant requires her to tip all the bussers on the shift 2.6% of her sales. So after her shift, she calculates her total busser tip-out to be $39 (1,500 x .026 = 39).
There were 3 bussers on the shift, so she tips each $13 (39 ÷ 3 = 13). Maybe she gives them an extra dollar for working hard. This tip-out is just from one server. If there were 5 servers on the shift, a busser's tips might look like this: $14, $10, $8, $16, and $11 for a total of $59.
Restaurants can save time and simplify these server tip-outs with tip management software. Bussers (and other support staff) get their tips right in their bank account to eliminate the frustrations with cash.
How to become a busser
If you're looking to become a busser at a restaurant, it's best to go in and fill out an application. A good time to talk to managers is between 2:00 pm and 4:00 pm on weekdays, when they're the least likely to be busy. Make sure you list your most recent work experience (restaurant or not) and any other accomplishments demonstrating you're a hard worker.
Bussers are not only a critical part of restaurant staff, but bussing tables is an excellent way for anyone to get their foot in the restaurant industry.
About the author
For 10 years, Joe Nicholson worked as a manager, server, and busser at Tower Café, one of the busiest restaurants in Sacramento. As a front-of-house manager, he's trained and coordinated teams of bussers to effectively keep tables turning during busy weekend brunch and evening shifts.