Bussing Tables – Meaning, Origin and Usage

Did your dad just tell you to get a job bussing tables to pay your way through college? What is he talking about? Does he mean you need to go to the bus stop?

This post unpacks everything you need to know about the meaning and origin of this idiomatic expression.

Bussing Tables Meaning

If you’re “bussing tables,” it means that you’re either waiting tables or clearing and setting tables at a restaurant. The term can also be inclusive of all front-of-house restaurant duties involving serving customers.

Typically, the job would initially refer more to the cleaning and resetting of the table. However, as restaurants tightened salary bills, bussing would become the responsibility of waitrons, making the “busboy” position irrelevant.

As more women entered the workforce, the use of “busboy” faded away, moving to the term waiter or waitress. This term was also considered sexist, evolving into the genderless form of “waitron.” However, “bussing tables” is still a common term in the restaurant industry today, and you probably hear people use it all the time in movies and conversations.

Bussing Tables Example Usage

“One of the best jobs I had, when I was young, was bussing tables; it’s a great way to make a cash income.”

“We haven’t seen Rob in a while since he got that job bussing tables.”

Bussing tables can be hard on your feet, so make sure you wear comfortable shoes.”

“There’s nothing wrong with bussing tables part-time during college; you’ll end up with less student loan debt.”

Bussing Tables Origin

Bussing tables” first appeared in print media as early as 1945. However, the term “busboy” would appear some 40-years before bussing tables, appearing in print in 1902. “Bussing tables” originates from the use of the word “busboy” describing their duties in the hotel or restaurant.

It might surprise you to learn that the term “busboy” originates from “omnibus boy.” Since waitrons must perform several tasks on duty, such as setting and clearing tables and serving the customers food and beverages, they earned the term “omibus” to describe the range of skills and functions.

The word “omnibus” originates from the Latin “Omi,” referring to “all.” So, a busboy is an employee at a restaurant or hotel with a host of responsibilities in their job description.

However, with the rise of women in the workforce, the term “busboy” started to fade away in the 80s and 90s. Instead, people would use the term “waitrons” to describe waiters and waitresses without bringing a sexist overtone to the word.

While “busboy” faded away over the last two or three decades, people still use the term “bussing tables” to refer to the art of waiting on other people in restaurants. Some people may use the word to describe the clearing or tables and not the serving of food or drinks.

Phrases Similar to Bussing Tables

  • Waiting tables.
  • Serving tables.

Phrases Opposite to Bussing Tables

  • Setting tables.

What is the Correct Saying?

  • Bussing tables.

Ways People May Say Bussing Tables Incorrectly

Some people may refer to the job of bussing tables as demeaning. However, waitrons are necessary for the industry, and the restaurant experience wouldn’t be the same without them. Therefore, using the phrase in a derogatory manner may show that you don’t care about the plight of working-class people, and some might find that highly offensive.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase Bussing Tables

Bussing tables is a respectable working-class job. Waitrons are a somewhat underappreciated part of the service sector, and they deserve good treatment. When you’re using “bussing tables” in conversation, it’s best to use it in a positive light to avoid offending others.

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