Last year I did a post on Labor Day that touched on the current cultural view on work. Now, I'd like to focus specifically on a business I hold close to my heart: Food Service. This post specifically will be on tipping, and how it impacts the life of servers around the country.
Before I begin I would like to note that I absolutely acknowledge that the tipping system is entirely voluntary. I will never be mean to a person simply because they're a poor tipper. I do however think it should be fair to make clear to the world how tipping genuinely effects a server's every day life(and overall standard of living).
The Department of Labor has rules on how a business should conduct a base minimum wage based on tipping. The simple answer is as long as your tips even out to the federal minimum wage, the business only has to pay you $2.13 base wage. This isn't much of an issue for high-volume restaurants and bars where even when tipping isn't great, the number of people you serve tends to even out your wages.
For people like me who work at a small town coffee shop/restaurant, the tipping can be abysmal and I rely on a base wage to make most of my income. Thankfully I work for a family coffee shop that does give me a decent base wage. Even still, the tipping tends to be a very small portion of my income(even though it really shouldn't be).
In all reality, my tips are less than half what they should be if tipping was a consistent part of our culture. For a 6 hour shift I'm lucky to make $15 after splitting the total tips with everyone working(including kitchen staff and yes they deserve it just as much as I do). We handle on an average shift around 75-85 customers. The average bill we tend to see is somewhere around $12, and we rarely get even 10% on those tabs.
Every week we prepare large orders(anywhere between 15-20 meals, sometimes more) on Thursdays and deliver it to the neighboring town's school. This is more of a kind gesture from the boss since he grew up in the area and genuinely cares about keeping the people in his community happy. Despite this large order, the tip average comes out to 10% at best, when that's easily $300 worth of orders it really shows. For that total order if 20% was the standard tipping amount, that should be upwards of $60 for that group alone. Yet as my boss has put it when handling those tips, we're lucky to get $20 for the whole order(which is generally split by 5 people instead of 4 since the workload requires an extra set of hands).
If the average bill is $12, with just 50 people served on an average day, I should be making $30 each shift if the total tips for that shift were split 4 ways. If I work five 6 hour shifts each week making that much, then for the year I should be making around $7200 in tips. What did I actually make in tips last year? $2300. That's a $4900 difference per year.
What could that $4900 do? It could help me not have to be on certain assistance programs in order to survive. Would it solve everything? Gosh no. That's not the point at all. However when you consider there are times when we can barely afford food when our food stamps run out, and a small burst in tips genuinely does mean the difference between us having healthy food and cheap instant food(or having to wait until tips the next day to get anything at all), it starts to really sink home how it effects the every day waiter.
I'm just one example, and not all servers are in that bad of a position in life. However, when you consider in 2015 52% of food workers were on some kind of government assistance to make ends meet, it makes you wonder how America really values this work. Restaurants and Coffee Shops have been huge parts of our culture and how it expands.
How many rousing conversations with friends are happening in a restaurant right now? How many important business discussions happen in coffee shops due to a quiet environment and an endless supply of stimulants? Coffee shops and Restaurants impact our culture in a big way, and I would absolutely argue we would not be the same country without them.
Moving forward, I simply hope this gives perspective to the plight of the every day server. Not all of us are living in poverty. But far too many of us are, and all the individual has to do to help is respect our work and tip well. You never really know how that can make a difference in people's lives.