Most waitresses and servers at bars, restaurants and catering facilities are employees of the business and receive a W-2 to report their employment income on their taxes at year's end. Employees are limited in the expenses that they can claim on their taxes against their employment income. If waitresses have non-reimbursed job-related expenses, they may claim some of them to reduce taxable income.
When you are required to wear a uniform for your job that is outside of what people would normally wear, you can deduct the cost of purchasing it and having it cleaned. For example, if you are required to wear a particular blue dress and apron, those are deductible. If your uniform is a plain white shirt, blue pants and dress shoes, you cannot claim those as a deduction because you could wear them elsewhere. If your employer covers the cost of your uniform upfront or reimburses you for it, you cannot claim it.
If your employer requires you to run errands for the business with your own vehicle and does not reimburse you for the vehicle expenses, you can claim those expenses on your taxes. Two methods are used to calculate expenses: detailed and simple. The detailed method requires that you track all business-related mileage and divide by the total mileage to come up with a percentage of use for business purposes. Apply that percentage to all of your actual vehicle expenses, such as lease payments, financing interest, gas and oil, repairs and maintenance, and insurance. The simplified method is most often used by those who don't drive a lot for business purposes. Take the total miles in the year driven for business purposes, and multiply by the IRS-set rate (55 cents per mile as of September 2011). For both methods, you will need to keep a log book of what dates you drove, the purpose, and the mileage for the trip.
Employment expenses are reported on Schedule A of the 1040 return. The total of your employee expenses plus other itemized deductions must be over 2 percent of your adjusted gross income for you to claim a portion of them. Any amounts under that limit cannot be claimed. Keep all receipts and detailed records of deductible expenses in case of an IRS audit.
If you have tips over $20 per month, you are required to report them to your employer for inclusion on your W-2 form. If you don't meet that threshold, you are still required to report your actual tips on your taxes.
When you work several waitressing jobs in a year, either concurrently or one after the other, none of them likely are withholding enough tax. Unless you specify otherwise, employers will withhold as if their income is the only one you will have in a year. Meet with a CPA or experienced tax preparer close to the end of the year to come up with an estimate of tax that you will owe. In the future, you can fill out an amended W-4 form to increase the amount of income tax your employers withhold.
Angie Mohr is a syndicated finance columnist who has been writing professionally since 1987. She is the author of the bestselling "Numbers 101 for Small Business" books and "Piggy Banks to Paychecks: Helping Kids Understand the Value of a Dollar." She is a chartered accountant, certified management accountant and certified public accountant with a Bachelor of Arts in economics from Wilfrid Laurier University.