By Ryan Ahearn
I recently stumbled upon an article shared on Facebook by a “friend” (I should say “former friend”), from, of all places, Time magazine. To be fair, it was a commentary piece, as is this one, but a reputable magazine still gave this person the audience and soapbox to stand on and slapped their name all over it. The title of this little gem was “I Don’t Feel Guilty for Not Tipping My Waitstaff.” I angrily read through it; there’s plenty of these little articles out there, so it was not an argument I had never heard before, but Time magazine? I was ready to comment but, as we know, Facebook commenting on a national thread is a giant leap into a troll wormhole never to return. It was early, one of those got up to go to the bathroom and upon returning checked your phone and made a quick scroll through Facebook things. I decided it wasn’t worth my time, put my phone back on the nightstand and tried to go back to sleep. I lay there thinking about it, brooding. I only had a couple hours before I had to get up and go to my own “waitstaff” job, and I started thinking of all the reasons the article was so stupid. I battled the urge to pick my phone back up and write out a long comment to the article, but knew it wouldn’t be seen by anyone with an open mind. Then I remembered a very talented friend had been encouraging me to make a contribution to her blog site. If anyone could take my dribble and turn it into something readable, it would be she. So here I am at 6 a.m. pounding out my very first blog post.
The article by Sarah Bartlet (no relation to U.S. President Josiah I hope) begins by so eloquently stating that “The art of tipping is, for most people, really freaking annoying.” Ahh…so Shakespearean! She argues that trying to determine how much is too much, how much is not enough, what percentage of this is this, blah, blah, blah. She’s obviously rationalized being a cheap-ass into an art form and has now found the stage for her rationalization. I am not writing this to be an attack piece on her or the like-thinking populace, though, so I will move on (try).
The main argument against tipping that I have always seen is : Why should I have to tip to pay the server’s wage, instead of the restaurant? There are a number of things I could say in response to this, but I will try to narrow it down. It is pretty commonly known that most tipped employees throughout the country can be paid $2.13 an hour because it is “expected” (remember that word because we will come back to it) that they will be tipped up to a minimum hourly wage on average. Restaurants save money this way. It allows them to charge less for food, schedule more servers to make your dining experience better, have more people in the kitchen to prepare your food faster, have multiple managers in the building to help with any issues that might arise. They can schedule bussers to clean the tables so when you’re on a wait, the table is cleaned and reset as fast as possible so you, the patron, can sit down sooner. They can schedule multiple bartenders so that when you order a frozen margarita with seven different types of fruit, torn mint leaves, a piece of bacon (extra-crispy, of course), gummy bears, a rainbow-salted rim, and a bottle of Corona sticking out of it, you can get it in a timely manner.
So lets take out tipping. We can start paying servers eight dollars an hour. Beyond the obvious of it then being difficult to find good servers willing to do the job (it’s not easy if you’ve never tried it), there would be a number of other trickle-down repercussions. Restaurants will do everything they can to not raise the prices on the menu, especially corporate restaurants where they can cut expenses in other ways. Schedule a few less servers, you’re now waiting five minutes before the server can get to the table so you can order a drink, maybe another 5-10-15 minutes to order your entree, because they dropped off your water with five lemons, and said they would be right back, but they have eight other tables, one needs refills, another needs their check (six people split, one is separate, two are together, another two together, and another separate, they want the appetizer split on three of the checks, and it’s her birthday so I’ll buy her drink. You got all that?). Another wants to pay with a $100 bill for a $23 meal; another wants more ranch, another has food ready, another that got there before you is “ready” to order too but they have 20 questions about the menu. The server isn’t in a hurry though, they’re not working for a tip. Finally, they come back to take your order, but there are a few less cooks in the kitchen so what used to take ten minutes for your steak dinner is now at the bottom of 30 other orders. The ten-minute steak now takes 30 minutes. Your server was busy, maybe they rang in the wrong temperature, what do they care? They’re not getting tipped, there is no accountability, and if they get fired they can get an eight dollar an hour serving job at plenty of other places. Maybe the steak had the right temperature but the cook, because he was busy, left it on the grill too long and now it’s overcooked. You can’t eat it. If you are lucky to even get the server back to the table so you can say something to them, you’re going to wait another 20 minutes—maybe it goes back to the bottom of the order stream because there aren’t enough managers to make sure it gets done quickly and back to the table. Good luck getting that steak you don’t want taken off the bill without having to wait even longer. Meanwhile, there’s a lobby full of people waiting for a table to open up, a table that used to be sat and out the door in 40 minutes now takes 90 minutes; people are waiting. There’s no one to get the table cleaned right away; the server has no rush to clean it because they’re getting paid hourly. There’s only one host and she’s seating someone else, then trying to clean a table, so you can’t even put your name in, trickle down, trickle down, trickle down… I hope you see my point. Maybe it’s worth tipping 20% to avoid all of that? You can say, well, if that happened I just wouldn’t eat out anymore but, yes, you would— because it’s still easier than cooking.
Now, I cannot guarantee this would all happen as a result of a restaurant paying a server’s wage, but I can guarantee this: those who say “the restaurant, not I, should pay the employee,” do not actually want it to happen. No, they want someone to wait on them with the expectation (told you we’d come back to it) that they are going to leave a tip. They can get great service, they can ask for everything they want to ask for, get 50 refills, maybe the server gets them an extra side of something and doesn’t charge them: they know that server is working for a tip. They can take advantage of that expectation, then walk out the door without leaving a dime extra and, apparently for the woman who wrote this article (in Time magazine!), not feel guilty. That truly takes a special class of crappy human being. If you have this strong insistence that you are not going to tip, you want to beat that drum, fine. Let it be known to the hostess when you put your name in, tell the server when you sit down. Hell, you can wear a t-shirt or a button “Tipping is really freaking annoying, and I don’t do it.” Now, you are no longer taking advantage of the shared expectation, you are not going to tip, and the server knows it. I am sure your dining experience will be a great one.
My favorite argument against having to tip, however, is that the server isn’t forced to do the job, they chose to do it, deal with it. Yes, the server did choose the job, again with the expectation of being tipped, I’ve said enough on that, but they aren’t forced to work for tips. My personal basis for choosing to be a server is this: I can work 25-30 hours a week as a full-time college student, and make enough to live, pay my bills, and get by. So why am I complaining that people should tip? The amount of money the person makes or doesn’t make should not matter to you, it’s not your concern, leaving a gratuity is what is customarily done when you sit down, eat dinner, and are given good service. My landlord has plenty of money, I’m just not going to pay my rent. My landscaper’s business really seems to be taking off, today’s mow is gonna be free. There is more to it though. Sure a server can work a Friday night and average say $20 an hour, but a server can’t just work those busy shifts. They have to also work the shifts where they average maybe $10 an hour, or less, or even days where they go into work, it’s slow, and they leave with nothing. Being a server isn’t just bringing out your food, and filling your soda. They have to get there early and help open the restaurant. They stay after close, cleaning, putting everything away for the night. You think silverware gets polished and jumps in that nice roll by itself? They have to pay for a uniform —and when you’re on your feet constantly moving around, you wear out shoes pretty quickly, gotta buy those every few months. And pens… everybody steals the damn pens. So do servers make pretty good money? As with many jobs, they can, yes, but there is a little more to it than what Ms. Bartlet (oh, who am I kidding, it’s gotta be “Miss” right? With like 30 cats??) states in her article: “the 60 seconds you spent serving me doesn’t merit an extra dollar. I simply don’t believe in it. And I’m not apologizing for it.”
In the end, going out for dinner used to be a privilege, but it’s become much more of a standard for eating. An extra 15-20% for the ease and convenience isn’t all that bad of a trade-off. So you don’t need to walk in the door, and instantly begin trying to find something wrong or something to complain about. Just as a server isn’t forced into the job, you’re not forced to go out to dinner, but if you do, you know what is expected from you if you get good service. Otherwise, go to McDonald’s or stay home and have a microwaved meal with your cats.