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Busboy or Busser: What Is the Officially Preferred Term
 for the Person who Clears Restaurant Tables?
By Mary Schmich, Chicago TribuneMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Aug. 31, 2007 - 'Hasn't been a busboy in Seattle since the 1970s, my dear," wrote Ronald Holden, who works in Seattle as wine tour director for The International Vineyard, a Chicago company. "They're all bussers, sweetie."

Well, Ronald, cutie pie, dis is Chicaga and a lot of people remain attached to the word "busboy."

Last week, I wrote about discovering that the officially preferred term for the person who clears your restaurant table is not "busboy" but "busser."

"Political correctness run amok," responded one reader, a view shared by many, primarily those with distant memories of their days as busboys, paperboys or bagboys.

Raymundo Garcia, owner of El Taco Real restaurant in Hammond, stood up for "busboy" with this story:

"A couple of months ago, while dining at a very popular and upscale restaurant in Chicago, I caught someone staring at me. As I walked through the dining room, I watched a little girl tug at her mother's dress sleeve and follow me with her eyes. This girl recognized me and proudly announced to her mother 'Look Mom, it's the busboy from Taco Real!'

"I could not have been more proud. To be recognized by such a young person, and identified as one of the bus staff, not the owner or boss or manager, was a moment of clarity unmatched in my career. So impressed was I by this little girl's observation that I changed my business card to identify me as 'busboy.'"

When a reader named Kor was a restaurant boss, in the 1970s, he viewed the word with less benevolence.

"'Busboy' seemed like the only sexist term we had," he wrote. "Even though all of the people who cleared tables were young and male, it just didn't ring true, so I started calling them bussers, often to snickers from the rest of the staff. This was in Joliet, not known at the time for its attention to such issues. It's nice to hear that the rest of the world is coming around."

A colleague who in high school worked at a Montana restaurant with "bussers", not busboys, added a French twist: "The French don't really use 'garcon' for waiter anymore. It means 'boy.'"

Oui, but the surest way to make Chicagoans resist a trend is to tell them it's in vogue in France or San Francisco.

More language lessons:

"There has been a movement in the last few years to not genderize these positions," wrote Dave Miller of JTECH Communications Inc., a Florida company that supplies pagers to restaurants.

"We find using hostess as a generalization for the person that seats you can be offensive in today's environment. Greeters is the preferred title."

Jon Butterbaugh, proprietor of Limerick's Pub & Grill in Reno, wrote: "Our restaurant calls this position a dining attendant. When I first heard the term busser, some 25 years ago, I recall it started with negative connotations."

And, in fact, a reader named Sarah noted this: "In high school slang, a 'busser' (usually pronounced 'bussa'), short for a 'bustdown,' is a girl who willingly and frequently shares her sexual talents."

Laurel Hague noted that just as "server" has bumped "waiter" out of the linguistic way, "server's assistant" is edging out both "busser" and "busboy."

"Another term that most people probably do not know is warewasher," wrote Hague, who's studying hospitality management at Northern Michigan University. "It is the new term for dishwasher with the intention that there is a lot more to do than just wash the dishes: pots, pans, floors, things that are so important to the success of a restaurant.

"It would be nice if we could get used to terms that show a little more respect for jobs that might appear easy, but really are not easy to do well and require a lot of effort."

It's not necessarily bad manners to keep using the old terms. I'm sure I will sometimes, just out of habit.

But language changes, and people are entitled to be called what they want to be called.

I'm happy to let the greeter seat me, the server serve me and the server's assistant take the dishes to the warewasher, as long as the food and the attitude are good.

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mschmich@tribune.com

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