Hard Times on Wall Street
A WSJ After the Boom feature entitled “From Ordering Steak and Lobster, to Serving It” (and with the Web title attribute “Former Wall Street Employees Forced to Accept Low-Wage Work“) is getting some play. A snippet:
Carlos Araya used to order lobster, filet mignon and $200 bottles of red wine at the Palm Restaurant in midtown Manhattan.
Now, he seats customers at its Tribeca branch.
Mr. Araya, 38 years old, lost his job in 2007 as a crude oil trader on the New York Mercantile Exchange. After visiting dozens of headhunters with no luck, he applied in August 2008 to be a host at the Palm to support his wife, two young daughters and mortgage payments. His salary has plunged from $200,000 to $25,000.
Now, this is a sad story. I know nothing about the man not contained in the piece but let’s charitably presume he’s a decent sort who worked incredibly hard to become successful doing something he enjoyed and then, through no fault of his own, wound up having to take a job that paid less and was less psychically rewarding to boot. That sucks and I hope there are better days ahead.
That said, unless he’s the Worst. Waiter. Evuh., the $25,000 salary doesn’t come close to representing his earnings from the job.
Looking at a rather dated sample menu, I see that appetizers go for $6-$18, salads from $8-$14, and steaks from $24 to a whopping $86. And sides are extra! Their wine list doesn’t come with prices but I’ll take an educated guess and estimate that those served by the glass go from $8-12 and bottles range from $40-$400 or so. An average couple having dinner with a bottle of wine (say, $50), two appetizers (say, $20), and steaks (say $80) with two sides (say, $15) and dessert (say, $15)– all very conservative estimates — would come in at $180 before taxes. At 20 percent, pretty standard in that sort of joint, that comes to $36. Many — frankly, most — Palm dinners have the money to spend $200 on a bottle of wine alone, as Araya says he did, so he surely gets $50 tips several times a night for parties of two and huge tips for larger parties.
I’d be surprised if he wasn’t pulling in $400-$500 on an average night. Let’s call it $450 times 5 days a week times 50 weeks a year. That’s $112,500. Plus the $25,000 salary, which brings it to $137,500. And, again, those are conservative figures all around.
Now, that’s still a significant pay cut but it’s a decent income even in Manhattan. Again, Araya didn’t work his whole life to be waiting tables at 37 and I hope he gets back to doing something he enjoys soon. But many of his former colleagues are doubtless doing worse.