Something annoying happened to me this month. It’s inescapable, especially in a city that is growing as quickly as Austin is. And, it’s probably happened to every single renter that has lived here long enough to re-sign a lease. My rent went up, but only by enough to make the extra cash a slightly lesser hassle than moving to another apartment altogether. Well, that’s life. But the thing is, I’m not making any more money than I was last year, or the year before that. Which obviously means that a slightly higher percentage of my income is now going directly to my apartment complex.
I’m lucky and have a pretty cheap apartment. It’s a studio (400 square feet) and I share it with my boyfriend. That means we only pay $325 each. We’re really getting a deal if you think about the fact that fair market rent on a two bedroom apartment in Austin is at $989. I know plenty of people that are paying way more than that.
Servers in Austin make an average of $8.82 per hour according to US Bureau of Labor Statistics. So, the average server has to work about 55 hours per month – just to make rent (assuming that one person’s rent is half of the fair market for a two bedroom apartment). If the average server also works full-time (160 hours per month), then they are paying about 30% of their total income on rent alone. That seems high to me. When I first started waiting tables in Washington State, I always paid for rent with my tips from one week’s worth of part time work. The other three weeks pay, and my $8.55 per hour paychecks, went directly into my savings account. I know I can’t compare a city with a completely different minimum wage than ours, so I decided to take a look at some other $2.13 cities to see how Austin stacked up.
I decided to look at average minimum wages and fair market rents for other Texas cities. First, I looked at our neighbors to the south: San Antonio. Servers in San Antonio make an average of $9.36 per hour – only slightly higher than Austin’s. But, the fair market rent on a two bedroom in San Antonio is only $760, meaning that servers down there only have to work for about 40 hours a month to make rent. That’s 15 hours less than us. Maybe San Antonio is just a super lucrative city to serve in.
Before I cut my losses and headed for San Antonio, I looked a little farther to Fort Worth. The average minimum wage for servers there is $10.08 per hour, close to $2 more than ours (they’re rollin’ in it!). Shockingly, fair market rent is quite a bit lower than ours. The going rate for a two bedroom is $863. That means that servers need to work roughly 42 hours to make rent. Slightly more than in San Antonio, but still way less than in Austin. Other Texas cities beat Austin by quite a bit too. In Dallas, servers need to work 45 hours to make rent (still 10 hours less than here), while in Houston they came the closest to us, at 51 hours to make rent.
Curious if Austin was just the butt-hole of Texas, I also looked at Memphis and Nashville (the “other” music capital). Both cities’ wait-people average more per hour and have substantially lower rents than Austin. The number of hours needed to make rent was almost exactly the same as in San Antonio – 41 hours in Memphis and 39 hours in Nashville. So, it would appear that Austin isn’t such a great place for servers compared to any major city in the South.
So why is Austin such a shitty city for waiting tables (generally)? I think it boils down to a couple of things.
First and foremost: rent here is getting out of control. In the last two years, my rent (well, my share of rent – I can’t afford to live alone) has gone from $225 to $325 while my square footage has gone from 750 to 400. Yet, I am making the same money, not a penny more than when I started working here two years ago. Of all the cities I looked at, Austin had the highest fair market rent rates. Rent here is going up fast and it’s not only people in the service industry but all minimum wage workers that are struggling to keep up.
But it’s not just rent; Austin’s waiters make less of an average hourly wage than any other city I looked at. Why? Well, the only real explanation for this is tips. All of the cities I looked at have a reduced, tipped minimum wage of $2.13 per hour. Sorry Austin, but I finally have the data to prove what I’ve suspected since I first started working here: You tip like shit. Apparently people in San Antonio and Memphis know that 10% isn’t a good tip (neither is 12%, 15% or 17% for that matter).
Try as I did to find data explaining why people here are such poor tippers, I couldn’t. I know from experience that upper middle class people (rich people) don’t tip well. I know too that college students don’t learn how to leave a proper tip until they’ve graduated with a degree in Gender Studies and are bussing a table for the first time. But, there aren’t any hard facts to prove my suspicions.
Next time I hear a coworker with a $500 rent telling me in a macho fashion that they “make good money,” maybe I’ll shove this article up their ass and prove to them that they don’t.