The Cute Waitress Problem

This is a life/career issue faced by people in many different career situations but is known as the “cute waitress problem” as that is where almost everyone has seen it arise and were it can most easily be demonstrated.

The problem goes thus:  A cute girl works at a diner during high school.  She earns far more money than she could doing “normal” high school jobs which generally pay minimum wage and have no benefits.  When she gets out of high school she can now work full time and pick up the best shifts.  She makes great money not only because she is cute and gets great tips but also because most of her income is in tips and she needs only claim a fraction of them on her taxes giving her a large income advantage over someone earning similar money but paying full taxes on them.

She has a choice, go to college or pursue some other career path that will take a great deal of her time and effort and make it difficult, if not impossible, to maintain her waitressing career.  She has to choose between taking a hit when she is young and giving up great income in return for the hope of better income later in life.  Waitressing will not continue to earn her more money, in fact her greatest income potential comes when she is in her late teens and twenties – if she gives that up and chooses to go to school during her biggest earning years she has no way to recoup those lost wages later in life if her chosen career does not pan out as hoped.

This is a major life challenge, especially for someone likely only seventeen or eighteen years old to have to make.  A cute, competent, friendly waitress can easily earn, the day they leave high school, more money than the average college graduate can, but can’t continue to earn more and more.  Giving up an income that allows for moving out, buying a car and being self sufficient so young is very, very difficult to do.  Other people at a similar age often have worked horrible jobs like dishwashers and look forward to college or an internship or some other means of moving into a more fulfilling career path.  They have no decision to make – there is nothing to “give up” that can’t be regained at any moment if college doesn’t meet their needs.

The end result is that it is harder for the cute waitress to obtain the lifetime of career advancements, raises and benefits that come from other careers where experience heavily builds upon itself only because there is such an attractive option offering far better front loaded benefits than a somewhat risky career and education option that offers back loaded benefits.  The availability of such a great job at such a young age can end up turning from a blessing into a curse.

Join the Conversation

1 Comment

  1. A twist on the fable you shared –

    A very cute young woman finds work as a stripper at the local strip joint on three nights a week and pulls down $2200 a week in pay and tips while attending college full time. She completed her BS and MBA degrees without any student loans and now operates her own successful company. (early 1980’s)

    Lesson: Financial planning should be taught in and should begin before you leave high school.

Leave a comment