Don’t be that guy.
Ed. note – Don’t click the link in the first sentence if you don’t want to be pissed off. It drives traffic to his site. Tony didn’t want to link to it, but I felt it was important to show what inspired his post.
Way back in 2009, a blog post was written by a person foreign to the United States lamenting the uniquely American practice of tipping restaurant staff for serving a delicious meal. The blogger included five reasons Americans had given for why wait-staff should be tipped, why each of those understood reasons are bullshit, and why he attempts to shortchange every waiter or waitress he encounters. Due to the cyclical nature of viral internet content, and Facebook’s newsfeed algorithm (why do I only see my ex’s statuses?), I did not become aware of this post until February of 2014, but I still felt compelled to remind our readership why it is important to leave a gracious tip for the men and women who make our anniversary dinners, late-night coffee binges, and Tinder-induced pre-hook-ups possible.
1) Waiters and waitresses can be paid less than minimum wage.
For those of you keeping track of this sort of thing, the minimum wage deemed acceptable by the Federal Government is a cushy $7.25 an hour. The actual minimum wage paid, however, varies widely by state. Some allow wages to be as low as $5.15 an hour, as it is in Georgia and Wyoming, and as high as $9.32, in the state of Washington. Despite this mandated minimum wage, in some states it is legal for waiters and waitresses to be paid less than minimum wage by federal law, in separate category known as a tipped minimum. Although the law maintains that employers must pay their customers the difference if the hourly wage and the amount earned in tips doesn’t equal the state mandated minimum wage, this system places added emphases on earning tips and places an employee’s earnings heavily at the mercy of the customer. This may be why the original blogger found American servers “pretending to like me and chatting as if you’re my best friend.”
Simply examining tipped minimums also fails to take into account that busboys/girls, bartenders, food runners, expediters, and sometimes even kitchen staff and dishwashers are tipped out of each server’s overall tip pool at the end of the night. For instance, let’s say that after an eight hour shift at Bucchieri’s Italian Eatery in Santa Fe, Mercedes makes a total of $125 in tips. Sounds like a really profitable shift right? It would be, except that New Mexico allows hourly wages for wait-staff to be $2.13 an hour. After eight hours, and not counting the taxes that might be taken out, Mercedes has earned a $17 paycheck.
No matter, once tips are added Mercedes’ total take is $142.04. That comes out to more than $17 an hour! At least until Molly the bartender takes 15% of her tips, and she decides that Sonny, the red-headed busboy, deserves $15 for all the work he put in tonight. After all this, Mercedes might go home with $91.25 in tips. Except that all credit card tips must be claimed and taxes paid on that money earned. Mercedes’ $17 paycheck is voided to go toward the cost of paying the tax on her tips (this actually happens), so she walks away with $74.25, or $9.28 an hour.
“But that’s better than the Federal Minimum Wage!” you might say. “How can anyone complain about that?” Well, there is a reason that in the 2014 State of The Union Address President Obama announced a plan for the minimum wage paid to federal workers to rise to $10.10 an hour, and urged Congress to pass legislation that would force the rest of the country to follow suit. Anything less is extremely difficult for people to live off of, let alone raise a family on. Based on the scenario I laid out above, if Mercedes makes exactly $125 in tips every night she works and tips out the same amount to her coworkers every shift, she would make $19,302 a year. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Services, if she is a single mother raising two kids, she is below the poverty line. Now that the Affordable Care Act has passed, Mercedes can also get the bare minimum of health coverage for somewhere between $150 and $500 a month that covers her and her children only in the case of a catastrophic event like a serious illness or accident. Her restaurant, like so many others, does not yet provide its employees health insurance. This also doesn’t take into account that the restaurant industry is one of the only sectors in which predominantly male positions have a different and higher minimum wage than female employees. Keep that in mind next time you try and snub your waitress.
2) Bad food is not always the server’s fault.
So you’re at Sal’s Diner in Hackensack, New Jersey and you’re starving. You order a “Sal-ivater!” Burger cooked medium-rare and a Captain and Coke. Your waiter places the order quickly, brings you your drink promptly, and comes back in less than 10 minutes with your burger. Unfortunately, what you get does not make you salivate. The Captain and Coke is all coke, your fries are cold and wilted, and the burger is burnt to a charcoal black. Rather than call the waiter back over to try and rectify the situation, you begrudgingly swallow the drink, choke down the “Sal-ivater!” and leave exact change with a note on the check that says “this restaurant sucks!” Before you shove the front door open and slump into your Ford Focus, ask yourself, “Am I punishing the right person?”
The purpose of a waiter or waitress from the perspective of a customer is as follows: to help us understand the restaurant and what kind of food it specializes in, to take our order correctly and have the kitchen begin preparing it as soon as possible, to make sure we are comfortable while we wait for the food and we eat it, and to bring us what we ordered or relay our grievances if we do not receive what we wanted. Nowhere in that list of duties does it read “cook the meal to our exact specifications, tastes, and preferences.” That is because the task of cooking belongs to the back of the house, to the chef, cooks, and preps. If you are truly unhappy with your experience at a restaurant ask yourself who caused it to be a bad experience. If the blame does not lie with the server, that person does not deserve to be snubbed a tip. It might be more acceptable to leave a good tip, and pull the waiter aside to say, “Listen man. You’re a good server, too good for this shit hole. You should find a restaurant that will serve better food so that people won’t feel like they shouldn’t tip a good waiter.”
3) Being a server is not easy.
As was illustrated by point number two, waiters and waitresses rely on many people for the dining experience to be pleasurable. Busboys and girls need to promptly clear plates and fill glasses of water, the kitchen needs to make all of the orders that were placed and get them out quickly, and hostesses need to make sure that none of the waiters and waitresses have too many tables. While each of these things hinges on the aptitude of others, the server has internalized the menu, specials, and drinks list and the tastes, looks, textures, ingredients, and their own preferences toward each individual item. The server knows every vegan and gluten-free item, and what ingredients can be removed or replaced in every menu item if asked. The server knows when food is coming out for table 8, the drink order from table 4 that needs to be placed with the bartender, and when it’s appropriate to come back to table 9 to take their order. He or she is coming back with your Splenda, is on her way to get the Sriracha for your husband, and is about to ask your sister-in-law if she wants her coffee freshened up. The hours tend to be long and servers are often on their feet for most of them. It’s helpful to have the best possible shoes for waitressing to avoid pain, blisters and other complications that come from working on your feet for such long hours. In addition, servers get burned by hot plates, yelled at, belittled, and made fun of. Being a server is not only stressful and demanding, it is not easy.`
4) Sexual harassment is part of the job.
In 2012, the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United released a study called “Tipped Over The Edge: Gender Inequity in the Restaurant Industry.” The study found that more than 1 in 10 of the more than 4,300 restaurant workers surveyed nationwide reported that they or a co-worker had experienced sexual harassment in their restaurant, but they believe this number is an undercount. They were led to this conclusion because of an MSNBC review of Equal Employment Opportunity Commission data which revealed that between January and November of 2011, just under 37 percent of all EEOC charges by women regarding sexual harassment came from the restaurant industry, even though less than 7 percent of employed women work in the restaurant industry. Waiters and waitresses have to wait on regular customers, customers who might come the same time every week or many times weekly or daily, who make them feel uncomfortable but are unable to refuse service because it is their job to take care of them. Waiters and waitress are subject to lewd or inappropriate comments, unwanted touch or groping, the soliciting of personal information, dates and off-shift meetings, or even sexual favors not just from deviant customers but often from coworkers and managers as well. According to the study, “focus groups with restaurant workers in New York and a review of EEOC verdicts, paint a picture of pervasive and inappropriate verbal and sexual harassment and assault, with unenforced or absent sexual harassment policies or training.” Now, imagine getting felt up at table 3 just moments before finding your check with a 10% tip.
5) Customers are annoying.
You absolutely cannot eat a Western Omelet without a glass of water, orange juice, and a cup of coffee because you like to have a lot of drinks at brunch. This lady at the four-top near the window needs to know all of the waitress’ favorite menu items before she informs the waitress that what she’ll have is not on the list of items the waitress just rifled off. Your grandfather needs to have a sandwich that was a special last week and is not ever available before noon. Children spill things. Customers move chairs and tables that they aren’t supposed to, and switch seats after ordering. You need the shades pulled down because the sun is setting right in your eyes and the gentleman in the Dave Matthews Band shirt in the far corner wants to see the sun set. Customers are obnoxious, and it’s the server’s job to see to it that each person’s individual needs are met to the best of their ability.
Good waiters and waitresses tend to have a rapport with customers. They know what types of customers like to chat about why they are out to dinner, why they are there together, and the crazy winter it’s been. They also know what customers want to be left alone with their coffee and their paper. Servers that try to converse with you are trying to make sure that you are comfortable and happy, maybe get you to crack a smile or bust out laughing, in the hopes that the money they take home won’t land them under the national poverty line. I’m sure many of them hate their jobs just like you and I do. I’m sure many of them would rather be home with their families or playing Candy Crush on their cell phones, but does that mean we should make their lives more difficult? No, it certainly does not.
Maybe in other countries, customers don’t leave tips for the staff that served them. Maybe, in those countries, restaurant workers are respected and well paid. Maybe, in those countries, restaurants provide benefits and set schedules that the employees can control, are allowed sick days off and are blessed with amazing cooks, bartenders, and support staff. Maybe, in those countries, servers are paid the same living wage regardless of their gender and are protected by rigorous sexual harassment guidelines and training programs. Maybe, in those countries, customers who harass employees are thrown out unceremoniously. Maybe, in those countries, it’s acceptable practice not to tip.
But in the United States, restaurants aren’t run that way. Waiters and waitresses have to work hard in order to earn the money that they get. In great, high-volume establishments servers can make hundreds of dollars in a day, but often, that amount varies by season, holiday, shift, day of the week, and number of customers at a table. Many times the tip on one bill can make or break a server’s entire shift yield. Keep all of this in mind when you’re paying your bill, and remember: don’t be a douchebag.