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The Waitress Life

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Waitresses: combining low wages and sexual harassment with the gendered pay gap for a very, very long time.

The low wages compounded by the gender wage gap breeds a system of living paycheck to paycheck, which means women cannot do anything to jeopardize receiving their next one – not even report the discrimination or harassment they are experiencing. Unlike workers in other professions, tipped workers depend on the consumer directly for their wages. A tipped worker’s bottomline depends on soliciting and earning good tips from customers, but at what cost?

We need to value women’s work and put our money where our mouths are. There are many ways to do this. We can support federal legislation like the Healthy Families Act or the Raise the Wage Act. Alternatively, you can also vote with your wallet. Apps like the Roc National Diners’ Guide, developed by Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, allow diners to find out if their favorite restaurants treat workers ethically. At a minimum, employers should pay their employees a livable wage for their area of residence, provide them with proper health insurance, offer them paid sick days, and give them opportunities for promotion. If you find out they don’t, why not speak up about it?

This is a group of workers that never receives enough attention, with the assumption by most that our tips are allowing them to live good lives. Meanwhile, waitresses struggle for basic survival, thanks to the absurd tipped minimum wage and structural sexism.

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  • KadeKo

    It is my (very casual) observation that waitressing is about the most “Shirtwaisted” job category out there.

    It narrowly beats out cleaning staff, as that is a segment who are supposed to barely be seen, never heard, and often work off-hours.

    • Ahuitzotl

      cleaners have the (theoretical) advantage of getting paid the actual minimum wage, rather than depending on the kindness of grumpy strangers.

  • A tipped worker’s bottom line depends on soliciting and earning good tips from customers, but at what cost?

    Before the totalitarian tightwads show up, I want to point out that once upon a time, in the not terribly distant past, it was understood that tipping a set percent was just what you did.

    You of course could tip more for extraordinary service. But if you thought the service was particularly crummy, you spoke to someone in charge or you just didn’t go back to that particular restaurant.

    Now it seems to be increasingly common that people brag about the fact they tip below the average or don’t tip at all if they aren’t 100% happy with their dining experience, including things that are outside of the waiter’s control, like the quality of the food. (But you never them trying to walk out of the restaurant without paying their bill, which is a big clue that self-righteous claims to the contrary, these people just get off on punching down.)

    It would be interesting to know if the practice of stiffing people on the tip has become more common as more women have become waiters, or if women have always been subjected to more of this sort of crappy behavior. I would guess both.

    • jim, some guy in iowa

      america: a nation of chiselers

    • CP

      This is a fight I regularly have with my (not American) mother when she comes to the States. Explaining that tipping is, no matter what the rules may be on the other side of the Atlantic, required in this country. It shouldn’t be, but the reality is that it is, given the lack of minimum wage for these people.

      • Matt McIrvin

        I have seen Americans push back against this by noting that restaurants are legally required to make up the difference if wages plus tips are less than minimum wage.

        Everyone who’s actually worked in a restaurant seems to say this law is never obeyed or enforced, except for restaurant owners, who insist that it’s always followed.

        • malraux

          It’s not as if minimum wage is actually decent pay, so being brought up to that level is still getting paid poorly at best.

          In practic, my understanding is that its not a low shift that needs to be made brought up, but looked at across the entire pay period. So a few bad shifts get offset by a decent night.

          Of course, I would also expect restaurant owners to skirt the law as much as possible.

          • CP

            It’s not as if minimum wage is actually decent pay, so being brought up to that level is still getting paid poorly at best.

            I mean, being working poor in America is just a whole pileup of different problems combining to make your life a living hell.

            You may not be making minimum wage; even if you are, minimum wage probably isn’t enough or if it is, it’s just enough to keep you afloat and an emergency would wipe you out; you don’t have a lot of protection because you’re probably not unionized; even if you are unionized, unions aren’t what they used to be; even if you are unionized and your union still makes a real difference, some Rethug coming into power and kneecapping your union is a real danger; you probably don’t get health or retirement benefits from your job; depending on where you live, there are often no government programs to make up for that; you probably have only a part-time job so you’ve got to get more than one and try to juggle the two so they don’t interfere with each other…

            (This is not counting the whole host of other problems that come into play if you’re not white, not male, or not either).

            One reform like enforcing the minimum wage for all jobs or raising it isn’t going to do it, we need about fifty different reforms targeting many different problems in order to complement each other. Given how well entrenched the economic aristocracy is in our political system, and how many voters are happy to lick their shoes, that’s unfortunately not likely at the moment.

        • ajp

          I have seen Americans push back against this by noting that restaurants are legally required to make up the difference if wages plus tips are less than minimum wage.

          And the reaction of everyone who’s ever worked in a restaurant: LMFAO!

      • There’s a federal minimum wage for tipped employees, although some states are moving to other (better?) models.

        But yes, the federal minimum for tipped workers is so far from a living wage that the “normal” federal minimum is a looxury.

        Not tipping is understandable if it isn’t your particular custom. Continued refusal to adjust to local custom is another matter, but I don’t think that’s an unusual trait. Just not a nice one (e.g. The Ugly American).

        For U.S.ians in the U.S. it’s just that more people are exploiting a loophole in the name of parsimony. And they’re proud of it. Wow.

        • Lee Rudolph

          For U.S.ians in the U.S. it’s just that more people are exploiting a loophole in the name of parsimony.

          I don’t think it’s even in the name of parsimony, for the most part; it’s in the name of “who do those people think they are?”, or worse. Mere parsimony would lead one (as it sometimes leads me) to choose between dishes at a given restaurant in favor of the less expensive ones, or to choose between two restaurants in favor of the one with lower prices on the menu, or to choose to cook for oneself in favor of going to a restaurant at all; choosing between contributing a bit to a worker’s subsistence wage or not doing so, in favor of not doing so, isn’t parsimonious, it’s assholistic.

          • CP

            Yeah, I agree with this. The prejudice against this entire class of people is huge, and plenty of people will be thrilled to display it because if you’re working that kind of job, you’re clearly either lazy or without useful skills or both. You should be very grateful to your betters to even have a job, and the very least you can do is bow and grovel for every penny they’re good enough to give you.

            • JL

              The prejudice against this entire class of people is huge, and plenty of people will be thrilled to display it because if you’re working that kind of job, you’re clearly either lazy or without useful skills or both.

              And yet, some servers are clearly, on some days/nights, doing a better job than others, which means that doing a good job as a server must by definition require at least one of skills or work ethic. That’s what I don’t get about people who think it’s a no-skill job. If it was, they wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between good service and bad service.

              • Origami Isopod

                It’s considered a “no-skill” job because “anyone” can do it. Same as any other field that’s overwhelmingly female.

                • Hogan

                  Barbara Ehrenreich in Nickle and Dimed makes a good argument that there is no such thing as a no-skill job.

                • Origami Isopod

                  Well, that’s true. There are skills that are valued highly and skills that are not, and how necessary they are to make the world run smoothly are only incidental to that evaluation.

          • OK. I view parsimony as a negative trait, more synonymous with miserliness/meanness – the assholistic component is built in. Being prudent about spending/frugal is a whole ‘nother thing.

            But apparently I overthought it, so:

            For U.S.ians in the U.S. it’s just that more people are exploiting a loophole in the name of parsimony being an asshole. And they’re proud of it. Wow.

            • Lee Rudolph

              For U.S.ians in the U.S. it’s just that more people are exploiting a loophole in the name of parsimony being an asshole. And they’re proud of it. Wow.

              This reformulation has the extra virtue of explaining many, many other social interactions in our country. You might even say that, explanationwise, it’s admirably parsimonious!!!

    • Vance Maverick

      Serious question: is this really a change? Was it not just ever thus?

      For personal anecdata, I didn’t learn much about tipping from my parents, because we didn’t eat out much and because they don’t like to talk about money. I’ll have to ask them when I see them next weekend.

      • I believe its a change. But if you’re accepting personal anecdata, my grandmother ate out regularly and I’m sure she inadvertently consumed a few gallons of bodily fluids during her lifetime because one of her joys in life was to harass and insult the waitstaff.

        But she always carefully calculated the tip and left the correct amount + one dollar.

        • nixnutz

          There’s definitely been a huge increase in people making arguments against tipping, I don’t know what the net impact of that is. I think the increased discussion may have pushed the standard tip towards 20 from 15% since that seems to be a popular consensus nowadays. I’m sure there are more assholes proudly under-tipping now but do they outnumber those who did it fervently or out of ignorance before, who knows?

          • ajp

            I almost always tip 20%, and have since I was in college, when I was not exactly flush with cash. My idea of “punishment” for shitty service is tipping 15% instead of 20. Except once at a Pizza Hut the waiter used an ethnic slur, but that is a long story.

            When I was in law school and the subject of tipping came up among my fellow 1Ls, one glibertarian dudebro sarcastically remarked “Wow, you must be rich.” And to that I said “Uh, no, asshole, I just factor in tip when I determine whether or not I can afford to eat out/eat at a certain restaurant.” Like, he was obviously the type of douche who would order the more expensive dish even if it meant he couldn’t afford to tip as much, since tipping is an afterthought. If you can’t afford to tip, you can’t afford to eat out. If I can’t afford to tip at least 15%, I’ll cook my own food. It’s really not that hard or unreasonable as far as personal codes of ethics go.

            Also, I would think that a glibertarian such as himself would understand rational self-interest. If I ever want to return to a restaurant, I want to be the “wow, it’s the great tipper who smiles politely and doesn’t aggressively hit on me” not the “ugh this asshole again” guy.

  • CP

    And I do believe one of the key people who lobbied successfully to exempt such people from minimum wage laws was failed presidential candidate Herman Cain.

    That guy really does deserve his own special fire in hell.

  • Tipping has been a way to teach math to my 11-year-old. He is now adept at looking at the bill, calculating 10% , and then doubling that amount it in his head to arrive at the tip.

    • zoomar

      Great real world math lesson for your child! Another way in is to just round UP (like a mensch) to the nearest zero, double your sum and move the decimal one to the left. (that’s one common core math standard down, umpteen to go)

      • ajp

        Yeah, I’ll often do something like that. If my omelette and coffee was 14.86, I’ll just round that up to 15 and calculate a 20% tip based on that. So $3 on top of that equals 17.86. If the bill is something like $46.39 I’ll round up to $50 and tip $10 (at least, I am only human and have gone higher if the server was of my preferred gender and had a nice smile, and I tipped 30% once due to a Pynchon reference and drew a muted posthorn on the receipt).

        But anyway, the point is I do all this and I am not rich. I don’t eat out unless I can afford to tip well. A very simple code of ethics to follow. If I’m broke and can’t really afford to tip, I should be empathizing with someone in a service position, not forcing them to wait on me for less than minimum wage/

        • But anyway, the point is I do all this and I am not rich. I don’t eat out unless I can afford to tip well. A very simple code of ethics to follow. If I’m broke and can’t really afford to tip, I should be empathizing with someone in a service position, not forcing them to wait on me for less than minimum wage/

          Exactly. Anytime someone gets a service where tips are the norm, that’s the math they’re supposed to do.

          So far as eating out is concerned, a place that doesn’t provide table service eliminates the tip dilemma. Or there’s carry out. My personal preference is to tip a buck or two, but that is by no means mandatory. Problem solved.

          But I’m not sure how someone could have JUST enough money to eat in a restaurant with table service, but not enough to tip. They can’t get the soup and salad instead of the steak?

          • ajp

            But I’m not sure how someone could have JUST enough money to eat in a restaurant with table service, but not enough to tip. They can’t get the soup and salad instead of the steak?

            I’m not sure either but it’s a justification I’ve heard. The logic is probably more akin to-“I can’t afford any of this, but I can rationalize spending money I don’t have on me, not someone else.”

          • Ahuitzotl

            The places that confuse me are the ones not providing table service, but seemingly expectant of a tip … I can’t work out if that means they’re paying the counterstaff as if they’re waitstaff, or just trying to up their income.

    • Coconinoite

      I’ve taught my kid to double the tax and then add a bit. I also tell her I waitressed my way through college, and that you are always gracious and courteous to the waitstaff.

  • zoomar

    The trend now is for non-table service shops of all kinds to put a tip jar by the cash register. I don’t view this as a required tipping situation such as when a trained skilled professional provides table service and a hospitable dining experience. I was a waiter and bartender for years and that 15/20% came from a lot more service and skill than just ringing up an item and giving change. Which we also had to do.

    • I’m not sure I’d call it a trend. I first started seeing these in I think 1990, at an ice cream stand. That’s a whole 25 years ago.

      • zoomar

        Yeah, you’re right. What I mean is that I’m even seeing them now in convenience stores, all kinds of small non-hospitality, non-F&B oriented shops. Even a hardware store recently. The point is, is do you think this is a required tipping situation such as with a professional waitperson who serves you as described in the post?

        • Lee Rudolph

          I’ve seen one in a hardware store.

          • It’s kind of hard to know what the crossover point was. At some point, cups marked “tips for tuition” appeared, and at some point the reference to tuition was removed, and at some point cups marked “need a penny, take a penny” lost the label, etc.

        • Matt McIrvin

          I think tipping is obligatory for: 1. full waiter service at a sit-down restaurant, and 2. delivery.

          Everything else (tip jars for counter service, tipping on takeout meals that you went to get yourself) is optional. I increasingly often tip for takeout, in the perhaps forlorn hope that it will go to the kitchen staff, but it doesn’t seem to be socially mandatory.

          • ajp

            Delivery-I always tip the pizza and chinese food guy very well, but you’re not supposed to tip the UPS guy right?

            • Matt McIrvin

              No, I’m talking about meals. There are lots of other situations where tipping is the done thing, and UPS is not one of them. Honestly, it’s a complex etiquette minefield.

              • Lee Rudolph

                Wait, you don’t get your meals delivered by UPS?

                Oh, I get it. You’re one of those “Fed by FedEx” snobs.

                • Ahuitzotl

                  dont worry, Appetized by Amazon is coming

          • Richard Gadsden

            Taxi drivers.

        • Katya

          No, you are not required to tip in an ordinary retail situation. For one, the assumption that you will tip is not baked into the employee’s wages. For two, the employee is not providing a service like a waiter/manicurist/barber is. If I am getting takeout from a place that has table service, I do tip (although not as much), because the order is almost certainly assembled by someone who works for tips.

          I generally don’t put money in tip jars, in part because I don’t know for sure that that money even goes to the employees. I’ve heard way too many stories about managers/owners appropriating that money.

    • Murc

      I usually don’t tip at those unless something truly extraordinarily good has happened, although I will often toss my pennies in because fuck it, keeping track of those things is annoying and those guys can put’em to better use than I.

      One exception: take-out from a place that also does table service. I’ll always tip there. The staff didn’t magically start making more just because I didn’t sit down and someone on the waitstaff had to take that order to the kitchen, keep track of it, and then claim it and box it up for me to take home. That’s labor, and it should be compensated.

      • nixnutz

        When I was in high school my sister and I worked in different branches of the same ice cream chain. Hers had table service, mine only counter service, and while they had a bigger menu we also served sandwiches and soup and a few other things, I took the orders, prepared all the food, rang up the orders, washed the dishes, mopped the floors, closed out the register and made about half what my sister made carrying plates 10 yards, I wish we had a tip jar and I don’t think the counter service/table service distinction makes a ton of sense.

        And my rule of thumb is if I think someone makes less money than I do I tip them generously. I make less than the average waiter or bartender in New York but I definitely make more than the staff at Dunkin’ Donuts.

      • zoomar

        One exception: take-out from a place that also does table service. I’ll always tip there.
        Agreed

      • nixnutz

        I gotta add, “I will often toss my pennies in because fuck it, keeping track of those things is annoying and those guys can put’em to better use than I.” Yeah, those people making $7 an hour probably could make better use of your pennies than you, and better use of a fair tip as well.

        Why you feel obligated to tip people only when they’re already relatively well-paid is a mystery to me. I mean, people serving food at tables are much more likely to be white than those serving it from behind a counter, but it couldn’t be that.

        • ajp

          I am not a civility troll, but from what I’ve seen Murc is a pretty thoughtful guy and engages in good faith. So while we all have our blind spots I don’t think it’s necessary to impute bad faith here. It’s a common enough viewpoint-I’ve seen a lot of shaming of bad tippers in restaurants on the internet in the past couple of years but almost nobody ever talks about tip jars at Subway or McDonald’s type places in those articles/blog posts.

          Anyway, now that I think of it, the distinction is pretty arbitrary. I probably should tip at Jimmy John’s and McDonald’s and Dunkin Donuts. Not because of hairsplitting over the amount of work they do versus waiters/bartenders but because even if they’ve been there a while they probably don’t make much more than minimum wage. But that requires facing the reality that this country sucks sometimes and rich employers offload responsibility for their people onto the generosity of patrons and governmental services (in the case of say WalMart) and some people don’t like thinking about that failure.

      • ajp

        Yeah, I feel like even if I’m not taking up a table, if the waiter/waitress has to take time away from his/her tables to take care of all that I should tip as though I sat down.

    • ajp

      I’ll tip at my neighborhood coffee shop because I always see the same people working there, and I don’t want to be seen as parsimonious when there’s a backlog of orders and I need to get to work. And because my male brain is a sucker for a good smile.

      That being said, I usually don’t tip if it’s not my regular coffee shop. I will if I’m getting something complicated, but I usually just get a drip coffee. I dunno, I never really thought deeply about this, but I suppose I should. I know restaurants routinely take advantage of the loophole that allows them to pay less than minimum wage and rarely make up the difference if their servers aren’t tipped enough, but assume this isn’t happening at a Starbucks or a sandwich shop. I probably should tip more often, since those jobs rarely pay a living wage and our social safety net is for shit.

  • zoomar

    Reagan, the big tax cut guy, got the IRS to start taxing cash tips.

    • postmodulator

      He pushed for taxing unemployment benefits too, an idea so facially absurd that it’s hard to believe we’ve been doing it for thirty years. Although he couldn’t have done it without a spineless Democratic-controlled Congress.

      • jamesepowell

        Were those Democratic congress-creatures spineless? Or were they just eagerly grabbing at campaign contributions? I don’t remember.

        • ajp

          What’s the difference? I don’t remember.

      • ajp

        Hey, gross income means all income from whatever source derived, amirite?

  • cpinva

    I resent the whole idea of tipping to begin with. don’t get me wrong, I think every working person should be paid a livable wage, it’s just not my job, as the consumer, to decide what the employees of any place of business should be paid, it’s the management’s job. what tipping does is foist a management responsibility (determining employee wages) on to me, the customer. sorry, not going to do it, that’s why managers get paid the big bucks.

    my wife likes delivery and carryout, and we do, on rare occasion, dine out. we always make sure to tip generously. we also tip in cash, to make sure the person doing the work is the one getting the tip, not the manager, who then decides how much each tipped employee will get for the shift.

    if a business is unable to survive, without tipped employees, then it shouldn’t be in business in the first place. a nickel more per menu item should cover the cost of minimum wage (which should be higher to begin with), or 1% across the board. most customers won’t even notice the difference, and it will eliminate all the extra administrative paperwork necessary with tipped employees.

    • ajp

      I can buy into the idea of tipping at a sit-down restaurant, even if I think waiters should just be paid a living wage to begin with. I’m getting individual attention and service throughout the duration of my meal, fine, easily justifiable. I’d probably feel compelled to tip even if I knew my waiter made a living wage.

      But then, the guy who bags my donuts and pours my coffee, I get that that’s labor, and the poor guy’s on his feet all day. But why can’t Dunkin Donuts pay the guy who mops the floors and pours the coffee and works the register a living wage? I don’t resent giving the employees a buck or two in the tip jar, I resent the fact that I know, in the back of my head, that there’s no way these employees are making more than minimum wage. And that there’s no way that minimum wage is enough for anyone to live on almost anywhere in this country.

      I don’t resent coughing up a buck to help rectify this, I resent the fact that this exists, that the fucking CEO of the company is doubtless making millions of dollars. But the company or franchisees can’t pay a decent wage, that cuts into their bottom line. It casts customers in the role of Renaissance arts patrons. If you like the work Ed does pouring your coffee, toss him a quarter so he can make rent and feed his kids!

      I’d rather just pay more for my donuts and coffee and whatever the fuck else.

      And in the case of restaurants I also resent knowing, in the back of my head, that there are some CHEAP ASSHOLES who take advantage of the lower prices due to wages being offloaded onto the customers. And I don’t begrudge tipping, but I know there’s some asshole who smirks and tips 5%. Or $1, no matter how large the bill. I want no tipping so that waiters are more secure. But also so cheap fucks have to pay for labor just like everybody else.

  • BleedingHeartOfTexas

    Back in the day I had a girlfriend that waitressed. I was surprised that she had regulars that never tipped. I guess they just didn’t believe in it, a la Mr. Pink. The cooks spit in their food.

    • Ahuitzotl

      … and dont order the soup, I’m sure.

      I cant imagine doing that to someone I expect to see regularly for service (well, I cant really imagine doing it at all, but this seems exceptionally shortsighted and coldhearted)

  • MacK

    People being mean to waitresses to me, establishes the fact that home-economus does not exist (especially because so many are people who reduce everything to an economic question Now I’m not saying stiffing the waitress on the tip (maybe you are never planning to go back), but just being mean, hostile, rude, abrupt or harassing her.

    I mean consider the question – what possible economic gain can there be in being nasty to the person who is handling your food?

    On the other hand, what possible loss could there be? Or how many ways can you lose?

    • Origami Isopod

      The thing is, the vast majority of “adulterations” to the food of people who were rude to the waitstaff don’t end up harming them. They certainly have the potential to, but if the average waitperson spits in your food, you won’t get ill from it. The more you up the bodily-excreta ante, the more likely the patron is to detect something wrong with the dish.

      OTOH, some patrons who get food poisoning from waitstaff-adulterated food probably just blame the overall quality of food at that establishment. But the result is the same: no connection made between the patron’s behavior and what happens to their food.

      • zoomar

        I won’t say it never happens, but in all my years in F&B service and all the shit I took, I never did that or saw it done. Most service people I worked with who on the rare occasion were pushed that far to the edge would just call the the customer out on their bullshit to their face and embarrass them in public. At that point, it’s more satisfying to do that than to silently spit in a douchebag’s soup. At least it was to me. At least in the years when I was young & handsome and could easily get another job.

  • Davis X. Machina

    My favorite kind of tightwad is the equally-working-class person who can’t push back at work, so they kick down at lunch.

    Solidarity forever…

    • Origami Isopod

      I knew someone on lifelong disability who was proud of never tipping more than 10%. “You don’t have to,” they told me, as if it were all just a big scam on diners and not, you know, an issue of fairness to the waitstaff.

  • Gareth

    Tipping is a hideous custom, bad for the employee and bad for the customer. I’m not sure how you could change it. Refusing to tip just hurts the employee, and boycotting restaurants with tipping is even worse. I suppose it has to come from the individual restaurants.

    • Murc

      I suppose it has to come from the individual restaurants.

      No, not really. If we had a minimum wage that was also a living wage, and no tipped minimum wage, I’d stop tipping in a red-hot second. Ditto if we had UBI.

      • Gareth

        I wouldn’t tip either, under that scenario. But I’d expect most customers to keep tipping.

      • Matt McIrvin

        I might keep tipping but reduce it to what I usually tip in Europe, maybe 5% for good service.

    • In some countries in Europe (France for instance), waitstaff are paid a relatively decent wage.

      In France you might tip a few coins for exception service but otherwise it’s not really necessary.

      • Ahuitzotl

        One of the things I really enjoyed, when trips to Paris were a monthly gig, was having a selection of restaurants that knew I always tipped well (10-20% usually), the difference in service was wonderful – tables are magically freed up so I didnt have to queue, food and drink arrived faster, and generally they were as pleased to see me as I was to see them.

    • ajp

      Most of the restaurants that seem to be “experimenting” with no-tipping are higher end establishments. I suspect that a lot of restaurants would either vanish or eliminate table service altogether. For the average restaurateur, owning a restaurant comes with razor-thin margins and enormous fixed costs. I don’t think it would “destroy” the restaurant industry. I think places like Le Bernardin would not be at all affected. Chains would probably be fine. Mom and pop places and less fancy, popular places might struggle, and I suspect there would be a fair amount of closures as the industry restructures around better labor laws, but it wouldn’t be catastrophic. Places without liquor licenses, where the highest margins are, would definitely be hit the hardest.

      That being said, if your business relies on labor exploitation, fuck you anyway.

      • Richard Gadsden

        Very high-end places have a problem with fixed-percentage tipping – if you charge $300 a head to your customers then a waiter covering three tables, with two couples and a four-top, and only one cover in the night would get $480 in tips at 20%. If you could make that four nights a week, 48 weeks a year, then that’s $90,000 annual. Which is very nice for that waiter, but probably not a particularly sensible allocation of the $360 the customer pays.

        They don’t have the option to shift a bigger fraction of the $360 the customer pays to the food, or the decor; they might be able to do some tip-out to get some to the junior kitchen staff (commis chefs, dishwashers and the like), but it’s more likely that they decide that if they’re going to be sticking so much money into service, they might as well spend it on providing really good service, which might mean lots of bussers, or cutting waiters back to just one or two tables.

        That’s why expensive restaurants seem to have excessive, often cloying service that won’t leave you alone – because they have all these people, because they can’t just spend less on service.

        That’s why it’s that end of the market that wants to scrap tips; if they can change $330 and mean it, then they can employ a reasonable number of waitstaff on decent wages, provide a perfectly good service, and save you $30 on the bill.

  • Henry Holland

    I was just out of high school, working as a busboy in a high-end steak house in Ventura, CA. I got next to nothing for a wage, I was utterly dependent on tips (and the free dinner I got) to survive.

    One night, four of the owners friends came in, the waitress and me were expected to give them what they wanted, when they wanted it. She and I worked our butts off, the check ended being something like $600 (= $2,000 now). They closed the place and left but I was cleaning up the disaster they had left behind when I hear this screaming and sobbing from the kitchen area.

    Turns out, they left a $20 tip for both of us. The bosses made up the difference and were sincere in their apologies, but to this day, unless the service is really bad, I tip 20%.

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