STUDENT WAITRESSES at Flame & Ash eagerly await the arrival of new customers. Photo: Skyla Thornton

Working students reach tipping point

BY SKYLA THORNTON

A well-known struggle of student life at Stellenbosch University (SU) is a lack of funds. Many students attempt to rectify this problem by working part time. For the most part, they work as waitrons or bartenders, but this proves to be more challenging than it would seem from a customer’s perspective. Tipping even ten percent on bills is scarce, and working students have to develop patience in order to deal with crass customers and their superiors in the workplace. 

Sophie, a third-year BA (Humanities) student, who preferred not to disclose her surname, worked as a waitress at Flame & Ash on Plein Street. Regarding the culture around tipping in Stellenbosch, she said, “Sometimes when serving students, it would be a 50/50 whether they’d tip or not. Bartenders sadly didn’t get tipped often where I worked because most people don’t think that they need to.” 

Nikita Roberts, a third-year BSc (Food Science) student, who was previously employed at Flame & Ash and now works at Decameron, said, “I’ve had customers, students usually, that are very demeaning with no human decency. In my opinion, if you can’t afford to tip 10% you shouldn’t go out, especially in Stellenbosch where most of a server’s income relies on tipping.” 

Despite the number of students who work part time in Stellenbosch, the owner of certain establishments has—according to these two students—been known to mistreat the student employees. 

“The owner was an unpleasant man who often made servers cry, or insulted them,” said Sophie. Roberts shared the same sentiment, “[It was a] really disrespectful work environment where the waiters were expected to do a lot of intense physical labour for no money.”

To other students, some establishments have a welcoming workspace, such as Decameron. “I feel like I’m part of a family and have made some very great friends here. … It’s my home away from home,” said Roberts.

Jordan Engelbrecht, a second-year BSc (Biodiversity and Ecology) student and bartender at De Lapa says, “We are all treated very well by our managers and we are very fortunate in this regard. They are lenient when it comes to exams, test week and our busy schedules, which may affect how often we can work.”

A word of advice for students looking to work part time is that one should be mindful of time management, ensure that studies come first, and remain aware of deadlines. It is, however, manageable to work part time, stay on top of studies, and even have a social life, which Engelbrecht said “is all about time management and self-discipline”. 

Sophie added that students also need to “be careful [and] make sure that [they] have some form of written word about your terms because it’s very easy [for employers] to take advantage and underpay or overwork them.”

So, keep student waitrons, bartenders and other employees in mind when going out this year, and never underestimate the power that even a small tip has. 

“I urge all students to tip their bartenders and waiters/waitresses as this is what makes long hours and late nights worth it for us,” said Engelbrecht. 

If one plans to start working part time, be strategic and do research to avoid any uncomfortable experiences. 

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