Thanks to the internet, it’s become extremely easy for food service workers to share their tales of abuse and frustration with each other and with the world. Working in food service can be incredibly degrading and awful because customers often appear to be under the impression that their servers are robots, placed there to cater to their every whim, and to endure any and all abuse hurled at them. Rather than being treated as human beings, waiters, counter staff, bussers, and the like are subjected to despicable treatment from people who should really know better — I always say that I judge people by how they treat the people who are serving us our meals, and it’s proved an excellent litmus test thus far.
One trend that’s become increasingly common involves posting incidents where people have been stiffed on tips. We’re not talking here about photographs of a handful of change on a large bill, or of a measly tip written in on a credit card receipt, but very specifically cases in which people make a huge and dramatic point of either not tipping, or leaving barely anything at all. It comes in the form of snide notes written on receipts and napkins — and sometimes even using condiments on the table. It comes in the form of ‘jokes’ written in the tip line on receipts, or comments made to managers.
Tipping culture is complicated and frustrating. In the United States, most food service workers earn minimum wage or less and rely heavily on tips to make up their wages. They shouldn’t have to, because we should have a higher minimum wage and the wait wage — the subminimum wage that employers may pay as long as they can demonstrate that employees make minimum wage after tips are added in — should be abolished. The US should join many other nations in having a tipless culture where people make enough and earn enough benefits that they don’t feel pressured to eke more out of their work, and can instead focus on doing their jobs instead of having to bend over backwards to serve customers who make unreasonable demands and hold tips hostage.
In an ideal world, tipping might be banned altogether, as is starting to slowly be the case in restaurants and other settings across the US, and replaced by living wages. However, we’re not there yet, and when I go out to eat, I have no idea how much someone is earning, generally speaking, so I make sure to tip reasonably well — and to be conscientious about how my table is behaving and how what we’re doing affects our server. For example, I don’t order wine, which at a one or two top can significantly cut the bill, which can be tough on a server hoping to get more tips out of that section. I’m not required to tip any amount at all, let alone over my usual 20 percent, but I usually do bump my tip up a bit to compensate for the fact that I didn’t add a glass of wine or two to the bill. Likewise if I linger, because when waiters can’t turn tables, it eats into the restaurant’s bottom line as well as theirs.
The fact that some people seem to take a kind of perverse pride in leaving low tips, not tipping, or advertising their disdain for tips is both deeply puzzling and gross to me. I’ve encountered all kinds of defenses for not tipping, including people claiming that they shouldn’t have to pay people for doing their jobs, and frankly, it’s bullshit. No, employers shouldn’t be relying on customers to pay the wages of their staff — and we should talk about the tax implications of making workers bear the burden for tips while employers shuck responsibilities — but by the same token, I pay the wages of staff by doing business with any establishment. When I buy curtains, I’m not just paying for curtains, but for the services of the person who stocked the curtain store, the clerk who helped me and rang me up, the buyer who decided which curtains to carry in the first place.
Being a dick about tipping doesn’t make you look cool. It honestly just makes you look kind of pathetic, that you can’t respect another human being enough to acknowledge yourself in that person’s shoes. Sure, be a tightwad and don’t tip or tip minimally — I don’t need to be friends with you and I certainly don’t need to eat with you, though I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had to scrape to make up tips because I’ve been embarrassed by how much table mates leave and I can’t in good conscience walk away with such a pitiful amount on the table.
But this performative drama over not tipping needs to stop. It’s gross. It makes servers feel like crap, and not in a self-righteous way, filled with the fire of rage over not getting ‘entitlements,’ as people obsessed with tipping seem to think. It makes them feel awful in the way that anyone would feel awful when confronted with such naked contempt for their humanity. If it bothers you to be treated badly, don’t turn around and do it to an innocent food service worker who’s just trying to get work done — work that includes serving you tasty food.
If something has gone wrong during service, and that something is the responsibility of the server as opposed to factors out of control (like a slow kitchen), then by all means contact the host or manager and request that the situation be addressed. But still, there’s no need to be a jerk about it.
Image: shucker tips, Robert S. Donovan, Flickr