"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.
[This article is featured on Tip20.com!]