Friday, January 04, 2013

and how would you like that cooked?
I'm a server, more commonly known as a "waitress," and I think it's time I respond to questions and comments such as:
"I tip, but I don't think it should be expected." "Why should I have to leave more than the total amount on my bill?" "I start the tip at 15%, then lower it every time my server does something wrong." And this guy: "I'm basically a 'no tipper.' And I'm damn proud of it."

The concept of tipping in the restaurant industry is greatly misunderstood by anyone who has never actually worked in the restaurant industry. I can understand that, to be honest. If you've never worked on server's wage, how could you possibly understand why you're being asked to contribute more than what your bill comes out to? It's a ridiculous idea.

What you need to know is $8/hour (or whatever it is in your state) is not minimum wage for every industry. I think that's where people make the biggest mistake: assuming that they're tipping on top of an hourly wage. What you probably don't know is that servers in Massachusetts only make $2.63/hr (known as "tipped minimum wage"), most of which goes to taxes at the end of the day. That is the second lowest serving wage in the United States, the lowest being $2.13/hr. And while we continue to raise the standard minimum wage, tipped minimum wage hasn't changed in 20+ years. Can you imagine the uproar that would be set off in our country if $2.63/hr was the norm in any other industry in 2013?

When you walk into my restaurant, in exchange for me bringing you food (let alone keeping the restaurant clean and sanitary, making sure everything is fresh and up to date and keeping an ever running mental list of everything we provide to make your life easier), you throw in a few dollars for my grocery costs for the month. And let me tell you, I really appreciate it. We all do, I promise. It's a terrible system, but that's what it means to dine out. What I bring home after a shift is my "check," and it's the only money I have to spend. (My actual checks are biweekly and range from $0-20. Without tips, we still lose that money to income taxes.) And unfortunately, like most people with unpredictable schedules that don't have the ol' 8a-6p availability that many jobs require, it's the only job that allows me to make any money while I go to school full time.

Another thing you probably don't know is that a lot of restaurants require that servers "tip out" the bartender (if applicable) and the host(s) at the end of the night. That means that chunks of that wad o' cash (lol, if only) that we have stashed in our apron isn't even money we get to keep. I worked in a restaurant where 10% of my tips had to go to the hosts -- who make between $8-10/hr in chain restaurants -- and 10% of my alcohol sales went to the bartenders.

And side work. Side work is how the restaurant is set up at the start of the day, cleaned throughout the day, and broken down before close to insure that you have the clean, most well-prepped experience as possible while you enjoy a fresh dinner you don't have to cook. Depending on the shift we work, side work can take anywhere between 30 minutes and 2 hours. At $2.63/hr, that means we get paid $0.657 for every 15 minutes we spend scrubbing down the restaurant and sweeping crumbs out of carpeting. (Seriously, it's 2013... why are we still using brooms on carpeting? Someone buy us a Roomba, please.)

Running a restaurant is far from easy and most of us are just trying to eat, let alone feed our kids or put ourselves through school. I'm not saying every server deserves 20% just for showing up; as servers, we have to uphold a certain level of customer care as well. However, if your cash is too tight to consider 15-20% for good service, you're taking time away from a server that could have another table be able to help him/her reach their bill requirements for the month. You may want to consider, like I have to, making dinner at home.

For those that do come out to eat and tip the standard and above, please know that your server never takes this for granted. Sometimes, you really can't even imagine the effect a generous tip will have on your server. So, thank you, for anyone that may have left more than necessary and didn't get to see that server show all their coworkers how awesome their table was to them.

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  1. Em, I totally hear you! I waitressed for 2 years and got the full range of guests at my tables. I had a group of 27 guys one night, and as their only server, I made sure they had their beer pitchers full and chicken wings hot for hours as they sat at my tables. But they appreciated everything I did, and yes I busted my butt that night. But they left me over $300. Granted, their tab was nearing the $1000 mark, but still.
    I also had those who would come in and order a water and curly fries, and sit to watch a UFC fight on PPV for 3 hours. Then only tip based on their bill- a whopping $2.50 with the free, *endless* water I kept refilling for them. In this case, they need to understand that there is a "camping" fee- an appropriate tip to make up for the fact that you took up a table for 3 hours when I could have rotated it 4 times on tabs much larger than yours.

    People don't understand that a waitress's "paychecks" are usually $0. And to think that they don't need to tip their waitress for bringing them food, well that is just insane. You didn't want to cook your own dinner, so you paid someone else to cook it. You didn't go get take-out and do the work of serving and cleaning up yourself, you asked someone else to do that, and not to pay them for waiting on you hand and foot is crazy. If you had a butler, would you not pay them because your personal chef actually cooked the food?

    And takeout is another thing. When you order takeout, take note of the restaurant you order from. Is the bartender the one doing your take-out order? Because if so, she deserves a tip as well. Your order took her time away from her other customers- she took your call, made sure it came out correctly, and boxed it up nicely for you. She probably even tossed in some napkins and plastic forks. I'm not saying 20% for her, but something- even a buck or two, to show your appreciation.

    Since I've been a waitress, I ALWAYS tip a minimum of 20%, but I won't tip less than $5. Even if my bill was $3.00, whatever it was I ordered, she took the time to get it to me.

    Being a waitress has also made me critical of other waitresses however. The job is not rocket science. It's hard work and tiring, yes, but you don't need to be a brain surgeon to do it right. So it irks me when I get a waitress who can't handle 1 or 2 tables of small parties, when I sit for a half hour with no drink and you've walked by 6 times, or haven't walked by at all. In these cases, I might bring my tip down to 18%
    Love you Em! Great post! Anyone who's every waited tables will completely agree with you!

  2. Generally speaking, I agree with you, and, I prefer to tip and I tip well! But your rant (nice as it was!) falls a bit flat on a couple of fronts. The first being that federal law REQUIRES employers of wait staff to cover the difference between the wait staff min wage and regular minimum wage. So, unless your employeris breaking the law, you are getting the full min wage. Add'l employers are required to track and pay according to the work; kitchen prep is not serving! Those 2 hrs should be full min wage. Lastly, tip sharing or "tipping out" coworkers in most states is illegal; though it can make working with others smoother, you are not their employer.

    1. Kudos for tipping well :-) There should be way more people like you in the world! However, I just want to add that I live in Ohio, and it's definitely legal for them to make us tip out to hostesses, bussers, and the bar (even if they haven't had to make one drink for us all shift). It sucks, but it's legal :-( I've actually had to claim way more money at the end of the shift (for tax purposes) than I went home with on quite a few occasions.

  3. Now that I think about it, I wonder if that last part (about getting taxed on tip-out) is legal or not. Gonna have to do some research!