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Monday
Mar262007

Over Tipped.

A few years back a character actress friend of mine confessed that she was finding it nearly impossible to survive on her wages earned as a waitress at her local Olive Garden in Texas. At the time I was perplexed because up here in Oregon waitresses can and do regularly earn a comfortable living on their wages and tips. I asked her to further clarify her problem. This is how she explained it to me.

At the time that she was employed the minimum wage in Texas was a paltry $3.35 per hour. She was working at least 40 hours a week which put her weekly wages at a mere $134 per week. This amount earned was of course before the deduction of federal and state withholding. This meant that she not only desired tips, her survival was dependent upon them. Fortunately she had some regulars who enjoyed her charismatic banter and prompt service enough to keep her head barely above water with their 15% -20% tips. Her cause was also helped a bit by the fact that she was fortunate enough to work at what is considered a premium restaurant and as such charges a fairly hefty price for meals which yielded her a fair amount in tips. The reason she was struggling it seemed was because there had been a subtle shift in tipping by the diners that had resulted in her receiving half of the tips than she was accustomed.

I bring this up because I was reminded this morning while listening to the second act in the  This American Life podcast, episode #245 that all servers have an expectation of receiving
a gratuity, that is they expect to receive a tip of 15%-20% for services rendered. At least that was the expectation of the servers featured in this episode.

I found myself aghast, because frankly tipping feels to me like bribery. Why should I have to bribe a servant to bring me food that I’ve paid for to my table within a reasonable time? Why should I have to bribe an employee to fill my cup of coffee? I’ll tell you right now, if they would let me fill my own cup whenever I wished by sauntering over to their station, or grab that bottle of green tabasco that I want to splash on my omelet, on my own, I would, but as it is food service regulations in most places will not allow such behavior, thus I am stuck with this scam known as tipping. When I heard that the polite amount
to tip for a food server is 15%  I was dumbstruck because frankly I think that amount is, particularly where I live, extremely high. Before you think I am a complete curmudgeon let me explain for a moment how I came to this conclusion.

Here in Oregon  the minimum wage is currently $7.80,  which is up 30 cents from the $7.50 that had been the minimum wage in 2006. That means that a server at my local restaurant working 40 hours a week should receive a minimum of  $312 per week or $1048 dollars per month in earnings solely from wages without including the hefty tips.

Now lets examine those tips. Some of my favorite haunts, which I can say confidently are jam packed with customers for a good 6 hours of each day often charge a minimum of $6.00 for a simple sandwich. A real meal, say a dinner meal, generally costs between  $9.00 and $12.00. Now if every server can handle a minimum of three tables per hour and work all of the 6 heavy hours, they’re 15% commission on each meal generates around $24-$26 in tip income for
each shift. And that is only on a slow day with one person at each table served, ordering only 1 meal. As well all know, generally people do not go to restaurants and order a meal by themselves, thus  lets at least double that amount to $48 to $ 52 with a potential for far more. That amounts to a bonus of $240 to $260 per week. After figuring out the resulting hourly compensation I’ve discovered that my servers, who are often no more than a high school graduate, or worse, a high school student, are earning around $13 to $14 per hour! I find that ridiculous when you take into account
that there are plenty of professionals in this area who cannot earn more than $10 to $12 per hour in their chosen field.

This has led to a justified stinginess on my part when it comes to tipping. No way am I going to tip someone enough that they are earning a higher wage than my professional friends who sank themselves into college loan debt and gave up a minimum  of four years of study to enhance and sharpen their skills. It also comes down to this, realistically they don’t deserve a tip.

 A tip is a gratuity. A gratuity is defined by Webster’s Dictionary as a “something given voluntarily or beyond obligation, usually for some service”. We’ve arrived at a point in this country’s societal evolution where tipping is no longer considered something beyond obligation. Tipping is now, for all intents and purposes, MANDATORY, and if you don’t believe me, try not tipping someone consistently and watch their mood sour and your service descend into behaviors that look like they came straight from Fight Club, or observe how your fellow dining companions will begin berating you ala Reservoir Dog style for not tipping at all.

Scrooge or not, I’ve decided that I’m not going to tip as much as I have been accustomed to tipping. In all honesty I would rid myself of tipping altogether but I recognize that is simply not going to be possible for the reasons outlined above.  Please, recognize that I do not have it out for the service industry! I just want to preserve some of those hard earned dollars for my own future for something as inane as say… healthcare. So in that vein,  I’ve decided that  5% sounds reasonable. If any service person needs more than that perhaps they should be investing any excess may receive, or perhaps they should lay off of the shopping sprees and try studying and training more in their off time to secure a higher paying career.

Or do what my actress friend did, move to California where the minimum wage was practically double that of Texas and secure a better paying job.

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