By STEVE EIGHINGER
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
Being a waitress is all Cheryl Murphree knows -- and she's not complaining.
"I wouldn't change a thing," she says of her career choice. "It's been a great life, and I plan on doing it another 10 to 15 years."
Murphree, 58, has been serving customers in Quincy for more than 40 years, dating back to when she was a teenager. The last five years she has been a fixture at Elder's Family Rstaurant at 1800 State.
"When I started, we got paid 30 cents an hour," Murphree said.
That's where waitresses carve out a career -- or find a new line of work. Some use waitressing as a part-time or second job, yet for many it's a full-time position that pays very well, thanks to the gratuities.
Local waitresses make about $5 per hour, plus tips.
"You can make a good living being a waitress," said Rick Putnam, who manages Buffalo Wild Wings, 6120 Broadway. "Some waitresses make well over $20 an hour. It all comes down to the effort you put into it."
Putnam, who has been involved with the restaurant industry for more than 20 years, says there are certain traits he looks for when hiring a waitress.
"The first thing is personality," he said. "As a waitress, you have to be able to get along with people."
And how well you "get along with people" goes a long way in determining the size of that tip, which most guidelines say should be a minimum of 15 percent.
"I remember the customers who tip well, and those who don't," said Mackenzie West, who has been at Wild Wings for two years. "It might be a little discouraging if you don't get much of a tip, but I never let it affect my service."
West, 20, is able to support herself waiting tables. She enjoys the interaction with the public and has no plans on changing professions.
"I make decent money and enjoy what I do," she said.
Lori Boren, who is the bar manager at One Restaurant, 600 Hampshire, has worked at a variety of venues and in a number of serving positions in more than 25 years in the industry.
"I would never do anything else," she said. "(Being in a waitress-like position) has helped raise three children. You make your own money."
Boren once tried an office job and soon went stir crazy. She missed the buzz, the back-and-forth with the public.
Boren said the top-tipping age brackets are usually the young adults and young families. Their discretionary income has not yet been eaten away by the debt load that comes later in life.
Many times older adults tend to leave the smallest tips, but the waitresses understand the hardships that often accompany the aging process.
"(The lack of tipping) never affects my service, it really doesn't," Murphree said. "I know some are on a fixed income, and I understand that. ... I may be in the same position some day."
Murphree says waitresses learn to know their regular customers, not only by name, but also by what they will likely order. She speaks in glowing terms of many of her "regulars," especially the older customers. She enjoys the conversations.
"They make your day," Murphree said.
Boren says that for any waitress to be successful, there must also be a strong supporting cast.
"You have to have a quality kitchen," she said. "You also need a good menu."
The restaurant business itself has evolved through the years. That metamorphosis has affected the waitresses.
"I think computers have been the biggest change," Putnam said. "They speed up the ordering (and preparing) process. They save a waitress or waiter a lot of time and customers get their food quicker as a result. Computers have made life a lot easier."
Putnam said a speedier serving process does nothing but make the dining experience more positive, especially for the customer.
And if the customer is happy, a waitress is likely to realize that satisfaction first.
With a bigger tip.