A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from January 25, 2009
Busboy or Bus Boy ("busing” tables)

The “busboy” (also “bus-boy” and “bus boy") does many tasks at a restaurant, such as cleaning dirty dishes off the table, setting the table, filling diners’ water glasses, etc. A ‘busboy” was almost always a boy or a man; the term derives from “omnibus” boy, a waiter’s assistant assigned “omnibus” or many tasks, cited in print since the 1880s.

“Busboy” is cited in print from 1902. The verb of “busing” tables is cited from at least 1945.


Wikipedia: Busboy
Busboys or busgirls or S.A. (serving assistants?—ed.), increasingly referred to as bussers, work in the restaurant and catering industry clearing dirty dishes, taking the dirty dishes to the dishwasher, setting tables, and otherwise assisting the waiting staff.

At an upscale restaurant, they may bring water and introductory foods, for example tortilla chips and salsa in a Mexican restaurant or bread in an Italian restaurant. The busboy may also serve drinks and sweep the floor under the tables. Occasionally, they also perform extra duty for the server by refilling the customers water or getting more bread. The busser is also usually responsible for cleaning up spills occurring in the kitchen or dining room.

In most smaller family diners, the busboy is responsible for washing the cutlery (also known as silverware in the U.S.) and dishes and stocking the kitchen and waiter stations. The most popular method of organization is for the busboy to be assigned a station, or area of tables, which he or she shall serve. At most restaurants, the busser is responsible for taking out the trash also.

Typically, a busboy receives a separate, fixed payment or wage. Many bussers also receive tips from the waitstaff.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary
Main Entry: bus·boy
Pronunciation: \ˈbəs-ˌbȯi\
Function: noun
Etymology: omnibus busboy
Date: 1913
: a waiter’s assistant ; specifically : one who removes dirty dishes and resets tables in a restaurant

(Oxford English Dictionary)
bus-boy orig. U.S. = OMNIBUS n.
1913 Industrial Worker (Spokane, Washington) 12 June 4/2 They are cooks, bus boys, dishwashers.
1947 AUDEN Age of Anxiety (1948) ii. 36 A bus-boy brushing a table.
1965 R. HOWARD tr. S. de Beauvoir’s Force of Circumstance x. 477 After a difficult adolescence, he had been a sailor, then a busboy in a London restaurant, and I don’t know what else.

omnibus, n. and adj.
slang (chiefly U.S.). A waiter’s assistant. Cf. bus-boy n. at BUS n.2 Compounds 2. Now rare. Perh. Obs.
1888 Star 11 Aug. 4/5 To pay to what is known in a restaurant as an ‘omnibus’, i.e. a lad that clears the tables.
1897 Daily News 19 June 2/6 Omnibuses..apprentices—who wait on the waiters.
1912 Collier’s 1 June 27/1 A waiter is paid $25 a month. He must pay his omnibus himself. The hotel does not pay omnibuses.
a1930 H. S. HARRISON in Webster’s 3rd New Internat. Dict. Eng. Lang. (1961) (at cited word), Little omnibuses in white suits moved about gathering up papers or napkins dropped by careless diners.

bus, v.
[Back-formation from busboy s.v. BUS n.2 3.] To clear (a table) of dirty dishes, etc., as in a restaurant or cafeteria; also, to carry or remove (dishes) from the table. N. Amer.
1952 R. V. WILLIAMS Hard Way iii. 17 Laura and the guy with her..sat a table across from us under a big sign that said Bus your own trays.
1958 Fast Food Jan. 40/3 Customers bus their own dishes to a window of the dishwashing room.
1979 Washington Post 4 Feb. G2/3 John, 12, helped out washing dishes; and Jimmy, 16, bussed tables.
1980 News & Observer (Raleigh, N. Carolina) 28 Oct. 4/4 Your message is clear: Blacks who agree with you may dine at your table; all others will please bus the dishes.
1988 New Yorker 1 Aug. 50/1 Chad Laughner, Chip’s twelve-year-old son, buses tables at Castleton.

9 June 1896, Syracuse (NY) Daily Standard, pg. 6, col. 6:
The witness said that Raymond, the omnibus boy, carried the tray containing the clam chowder and pie away.

Chronicling America
17 January 1902, Washington (DC) Evening Times, pg. 7, col. 2 classified ad:
...busboy for dining room,...

Chronicling AMerica
2 October 1902, Washington (DC) Evening Times, pg. 7, col. 2 classified ad:
...three busboys, $39.

27 December 1902, Syracuse (NY) Post-Standard, pg. 11, col. 5classified ad:
WANTED—Two omnibus boys for the Grand Grill.

Chronicling America
29 April 1903, Washington (DC) Times, pg. 11, col. 2 classified ad:
...bus boys, dish-washers, $18;...

Chronicling America
4 June 1904, San Francisco (CA) Call, pg. 12, col 1 classified ad:
...omnibus boys…
(...)
...busboy, $25;...

Chronicling America
1 October 1905, San Francisco (CA) Call, pg. 48, col. 7 classified ad:
...dishwashers, porters, housemen, busboys, waiters, other hotel and restaurant help.

Chronicling America
12 March 1906, San Francisco (CA) Call, pg. 10, col. 7 classified ad:
Busboy, first-class country hotel, fare paid...$25.

5 September 1906, Logansport (IN) Journal, “The Art of Waiting,” pg. 2, cols. 4-5:
Next comes the assistant head waiter, followed by the “captains” who supervise each his own part of the dining room, the serving waiters and the “piccolo” and “omnibus” men, who keep the water carafes filled, remove dishes which have been used and generally supply the tables with what small articles may be required from time to time.
(...)
In each dining room there are three watches consisting of twelve men and six omnibus boys.

Google Books
February 1907, Everybody’s Magazine, pg. 212, col. 1:
If the waiter does not share his harvest with his helper, the ‘“bus-boy" will complain to the head waiter and the latter will also demand a share. 

14 August 1908, Chicago (IL) Tribune, pg. 4:
Captains and bus boys will be In the restaurant.

19 December 1909, Philadelphia (PA) Inquirer, pg. 4, col. 1 classified ad:
...bellboys, busboys, porter for club;...

Google News Archive
3 August 1910, St. Petersburg (FL) Evening Independent, pg. 2, col. 1:
The kitchens were overcrowded with a noisy mob of cooks, waiters, bus-boys and scullions.

1 January 1911, Washington (DC) Post, pg. 10, col. 5:
WAITER or busboy.  1121 4th st. nw.
(One of several classified ads—ed.)

20 August 1911, Indianapolis (IN) Star, pg. 21, col. 2 classified ad:
WANTED—Situation: Busboy, porter or dishwasher; house man in private family.

12 July 1914, New Orleans (LA) Times Picayune, “The New Fable” by George Ade, pg. 25:
After donning the complete Soup and Fish, known in swozzey circles as Thirteen and the Odd, he didn’t look as much like a Waiter as one might have supposed. He looked more like the ‘Bus who takes away the Dishes.

23 January 1945, Tucson (AZ) Daily Citizen, pg. 10, col. 6 classified ad:
WANTED—COLORED OR SPANISH WOMEN FOR BUSING TABLES. HOUSING AVAILABLE FOR SINGLE. POST EXCHANGE RESTAURANT. MARANA ARMY AIR FIELD. 

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityRestaurants/Bars/Bakeries/Food Stores • (0) Comments • Sunday, January 25, 2009 • Permalink