Being a busboy is not something one aspires to. Bussing is a job one takes to merely get by, or as a stepping stone to loftier heights, such as waiting on tables. Often bussing is a job reserved for younger applicants, those who aren't yet old enough to serve alcohol1 and thus do not qualify to wait on tables.
Bussing is essentially the clearing of the table in a restaurant after the guests have paid and gone. In some establishments this may be a task assigned to the waiting staff, in others it is a job unto itself, and includes a host of additional duties that may vary from place to place. Busboys, or bussers - as the position isn't reserved for only males - provide support to the waiting staff so the waiting staff can get on with their primary duty: to anticipate and provide for their diners' every need. For this, bussers typically earn somewhat less than established minimum wage supplemented by a portion of tips from the waiting staff.
How Does One 'Bus'?
The primary duty of a busser is to clear tables in a timely fashion. This is done with a bus tub; the tub may be on a trolley. Once the diners at a table have paid and left, the busser puts everything that doesn't belong on the table into the tub: glasses full and empty, plates with half-eaten dinners, cutlery, trash. If using a trolley, it may include a garbage bag as well as different compartments for plates, glasses and utensils, otherwise everything goes straight in the tub and gets sorted in the kitchen.
Anything remaining on the table, condiments, candles, vases, whatever, is returned to its assigned position. If there is a cash tip it is also left on the table for the server to pick up on his or her next round. The busser then wipes off the table, the seats, and checks under the table for messes on the floor. Finally, the table is reset to the dictates of the establishment, most commonly with placemats, napkins and utensils.
Being the 'It' Boy
Whatever menial task it is, the restaurant staff usually turn to the busboy for it. Cleaning up dropped plates, mopping up spills, taking out the garbage, whatever else may come to mind. Bussers may be asked to assist servers by seating guests, taking drinks orders or topping off drinks. Generally it's a good idea to keep the waiting staff happy as it's up to them to share their tips at the end of the night. Since the servers earn their tips by providing good service and the service they provide is somewhat down to the support they receive from the bussers, there is a direct relation between how good a busser is and how much money one can make.
Service With A Smile
As in all jobs that interface with the public, it's important to at least give the appearance that you're satisfied, even happy with your job. No one likes a surly waiter, and being a surly busboy is certain to ensure you never have the chance to become a surly waiter. Smile while you work, because the best thing about being a busboy is that there will come a point in the future when you are no longer a busboy, and that's certainly something to smile about.
Being prompt in your tasks not only provides good service, but contributes to your continued success; speed and accuracy are skills that pay off in nearly every job you will have for the rest of your career - whatever that may turn out to be. Promptness will also show results in your restaurant's safety record when there are spills involved.
The Road to Success
Being a busboy is not a glamorous job, but a necessary one. It provides an intimate exposure to the workings of the restaurant industry if you have any notions of supporting yourself through uni with tips. If you have even higher aspirations of restaurant management, bussing is essential experience. Knowledge and experience of each of the cogs of the restaurant wheel will help you create a more smoothly running machine, with happy customers, happy servers, happy cooks - and happy bussers.