I've noticed in the past couple of years that the subject of tipping can
be rather touchy. Most people feel very strongly about it. Most think
that they are “good” tippers. Some think that tipping is for chumps.
I've had some friends tell me that they “don't believe in” tipping,
although it's quite surely real and not a conspiracy theory
or unexplained phenomena (I think I've been watching too much X-Files
and channeling a past-life linguist). In any case, it seems to me that
the system of tipping (the system of customers paying their server's
wages) is imperfect at best.
I asked around and a lot of people (non-server people that is) say that
they would prefer to pay more for a meal and have the establishment be
responsible for paying an appropriate wage to its staff. This would take
the responsibility and the anxiety off of the shoulders of customers.
People tell me that they don't ever know what a good tip should be and
that they often feel awkward about the whole process. I think that
eliminating a need for tipping could be a splendid idea, theoretically.
But what are the specifics that would make it run smoothly?
The first issue is what an appropriate wage would be. The federal
minimum wage? I doubt a nice restaurant could find a skilled server that
would be willing to work a busy Friday night for $7.25 an hour without
the possibility of tips. I think proof of this is that the Austin Club
(a private club located in downtown Austin) is pretty much always
hiring. They boast a comparatively relaxed work atmosphere compared to
the average restaurant, where servers need not depend on tips for their
salaries. Kind of like most catering gigs, tipping at private clubs is
rare and most definitely not expected, mostly because clients don't pay
their servers directly; they are billed at a later time. I was told,
when I applied, that they start off an experienced bartender at $11 per
hour. I didn't even bother going to my interview because, honestly, it
didn't seem like very much money.
So, minimum wage is out for “appropriate.” At least in my book. What
about a living wage? On a lot of online forums where people discussed
the topic of tipping etiquette, people noted a desire for the waitstaff
to get paid “living wages” so that tipping would no longer be a social
requirement. The only problem I see with the idea of calculating a
living wage for servers is that the equation is completely dependent on
the assumption of a 40 hour work week. While in most professions this
would be a given, everyone that has ever waited tables knows that a
major drawback to the job is a consistently inconsistent schedule. But
let's just pretend for a minute that we all had 40 hour work weeks, and
that waiting tables was a 9 to 5 sort of gig. I went online and found a
site ([www.livingwage.geog.psu.edu/]) that calculates a living wage
based on region. The absolute minimum wage considered appropriate for a
single adult in Travis County, according to this site, would be $9.18
per hour. Now maybe I'm just expecting too much money for busting my
ass, but if I'm not going to take an “easy” bartending job for $11 per
hour, I don't think many of us would be creaming our pants for this
The site I used to calculate a living wage also gave “typical” wages for
different professions in the area. The “typical” wage for “food prep and
serving related” jobs was calculated at $7.75 per hour. That seems
incredibly low, but after some thought, it doesn't surprise me. If I
take into account all of the slow afternoons and bar prep time that I
waste at work each week, my average is probably even lower. So why am I
staying at a job where I average less than $8 per hour when there exists
an easily obtainable $11 per hour, and solid paycheck just minutes away
from my current job? Maybe it just feels like I make more because a good
night or even a lucky table gives the feeling of being instantly rich.
Would servers go for a higher hourly wage without the possibility of
tips? I think that the possibility of tips, for me anyway, is almost
like gambling. Would I work as hard if tips weren't in the picture? I'm
not sure. Would an insanely stressful Friday night feel like a success
without loads of cash in my pocket? I'll *bet*that it wouldn't. It seems
as though we would rather gamble with our time for the possibility of a
high income, than take an easy job that gives us a solid paycheck. I
guess that's why we're waiting tables and not folding shirts at JCPenny.
So let's just pretend that us service folk got to vote on our new wages.
Although I think the system in Washington, California, Oregon and Alaska
is working pretty well (unreduced minimum wages plus tips), for the sake
of argument we have to choose between the two ends of the spectrum: what
we have now (jack shit plus tips – *it's a gamble*) or, an hourly wage
with which we could realistically support ourselves (that includes
medical expenses, yeah!). What would that hourly wage have to be to make
a tip-free serving job worth it? Or would we rather gamble on the chance
that someday we'll make it big? From what I hear, the dealer usually
Do you want to be responsible for paying your server's wages? Or would
you rather pay more and not have to worry about tipping? Vote online!