As I’ve said before, my day job is a server in a restaurant. It’s not my ideal job nor is it what I want to be doing forever, but I really enjoy it for right now. I’m young, I’m healthy, and since I can do it, why not? However lately, I’ve been seeing a meme go around that features a picture of a firefighter, EMT, and a police officer right above a picture of a bunch of servers. It was captioned “If you can’t tip them (the emergency responders), why would you tip these (the servers)?” Needless to say, there were plenty of people in the comments agreeing with this sentiment saying things like “my menu doesn’t say price + tip,” “take it up with your bosses if they can’t pay you a livable wage,” even going so far as to call servers “servants.”
It obviously made me feel some type of way.
My hourly rate, as a server, is less than the federal minimum wage. My paychecks are less than $150 per week. Without the tips that people give me for my service, I wouldn’t be making enough to live.
But here’s the thing: I and any good server out there bust our asses for the tips that we make. My job is not just writing down what a table orders and bringing it out to them. A lot of the time, I’m required to bus my own tables. I have to pay attention to how fast or slow my customers are eating to make sure that the appetizers don’t come out at the same time as the dinners. I have to make sure that unused dishes are cleared so that there is somewhere to put the new plates of food. I have to know what’s in every dish, not just to be able to recognize what it is when it comes up in the window, but to also let customers know if there are any allergens in it. Remembering that this table needs napkins, that table needs water refills, this other table needs two, no three sets of silverware, and that other table’s food is up, but this other table needs their check because they’re going to be late for an appointment, is challenging and stressful. Not to mention making sure that I’m doing a good enough job to earn my 15-20% tip. We are opening, and closing, cleaning the dining room and the server’s side of the kitchen.
A lot of people think serving is easy. They get impatient when we’re slow, they’re rude when they want something immediately and it’s not brought, and they sometimes ask ridiculous questions (“Are there nuts in this pecan-crusted chicken?”). Don’t get me wrong, there are fantastic customers sometimes. The other night I had a family come in with an absolutely adorable little girl. We talked, we joked around, we had a good rapport…and they left me $3 on a $40 check. My mentality most of the time is a small tip is better than no tip, but when it’s slow and every table counts, that stings a little. Especially when I take the time to build a connection with my tables.
I’m not asking for every table to put 20+% tip down on the table. I’m not demanding that anyone put anything down that they don’t think I deserved. However, I resent people assuming anything about me or about my profession. My job isn’t any easier or harder than anyone else’s. Part of the dining experience is to have someone serve you, and pay them for their service. If I sucked, okay, I don’t deserve a big tip. If I was amazing and you feel moved to do so, leave me a giant tip. If you think I did a ton of work or you felt that you were particularly specific that night, be generous. If I was inattentive or absent, leave me less. But realize that, no matter what, a service is being given and you have to pay for it. If you aren’t able to or don’t want to pay your server for their work, then go to a restaurant that doesn’t have servers.
Now, before anyone goes and starts and says “it should be the restaurant’s responsibility to pay their employees a livable wage,” imagine this scenario: you go into a run of the mill restaurant. Nothing fancy, nothing exotic. Just a regular restaurant. You get a nice meal, you get drinks and appetizers, and your server is okay. Your meal comes to a close and all of a sudden, your entree is $30. Your appetizers are each $15 and your dessert is $12. Because let me tell you, in order for a restaurant to pay each and every server a livable wage, that money is going to have to come from somewhere. It’ll either come from cutting down on the quality of food (which some restaurants do), or it will come from raising the prices paid by the patrons. As it currently stands, meal prices cover the business overhead, ingredients, chef salaries, hardware, flatware, and furniture. It pays for the POS software, the electrical bills for the coolers, freezers, and lights, the gas for the stoves and ovens.
If this is the poop-storm that comes up from tipping people and allowing the amount paid to be chosen yourself, imagine what would happen if the average dinner price was $30 a plate to pay for employee salaries.
And the final little complaint: servers don’t even claim 60% of their tips. Wrong. Every day, more than half of my tips are given to me on credit cards. I legally have to claim all of my credit card tips because there’s literally a record of them. I still have to claim my cash tips too. I count my tips for the night, then my boss counts them and we both record it. It’s not like we’re sitting there and purposely trying to avoid paying taxes. And although some restaurants do try to do that, the vast majority of them are doing things properly and according to the law.
So, long story short, if you didn’t have to get your own food and drinks, and didn’t have to clean up after yourselves, you need to tip your servers. Because they bust their hump every day to make your dining experiences good and pleasant. Maybe someday the economy will be such that servers won’t need to depend on the tips of their patrons to make a living. Until that day, we depend on your generosity and appreciation of our hard work.