An Open Letter: Why You Should Always Tip Your Servers At Least 15 Percent

An Open Letter: Why You Should Always Tip Your Servers At Least 15 Percent

Answers to all the questions I've ever been asked about working in a restaurant.

I am currently 19 years old and have worked in a restaurant for three years now. Because of this fact, I am always the person who everyone looks at and goes, "How much should I leave as a tip?" in a hushed whisper immediately after opening their bill anytime I go out with friends. After I tell them an amount, their first response is usually, "That much?!" Yes. That much.

For anyone who doesn't know, or anyone who thinks they know but really doesn't, this is my method for tipping:

OK/poor service: 15 percent

Good service: 20 percent

Great service: 25 percent

Exceptional service: 30 percent

*Or: $2 per person at the table. Whichever is higher.

However, there are some people who do not think that you should leave a tip at all. I remember this summer scrolling down my Facebook feed and seeing articles like "5 reasons why I won't tip you if you're a waiter" and "Why You Should Stop Tipping - Reasons Not To Tip" and feeling disgusted. If these articles got out and people actually started reading things like this, it would really hurt not only me, but all of my lovely coworkers and everyone in the service industry. So here it is, my response to articles such as these and answers to the same five questions I always seem to get from people:

1. Servers make $2.13 an hour.

Everyone has heard this before. But what constantly surprises my friends whenever I tell them is despite the fact that I make $2.13 an hour, I have not had a single paycheck since I became a server. Most servers never actually receive a paycheck. The ones that do, their check is normally less than $20.

"But don't they make something an hour? And if they don't make minimum wage, isn't it the business' responsibility to pay them more so that they make $7.25 an hour? How do they never get a paycheck?" Taxes. The answer is taxes for anyone who has ever asked me this question.

Let me break this down for you. Say you work 10 shifts in a pay period. Each shift is eight hours long, so we have two 40-hour weeks in a two-week pay period. If they were making minimum wage, this would mean they would make $580 before taxes. The waiter had nine awful nights and only walked away with $40 so we're at $360 right now for nine shifts, plus the $170.04 they would make from their $2.13 an hour so they would have made $430.40 for those nine shifts, which is equaling out to around $6 an hour right now. Then, their last night, that 10th shift, they make $125 plus the $17.30 they would make working per hour, which totals them out to making $572.70 in that pay period. Following me?

You would expect the employer to raise their hourly pay to allow for the $7.30 dollars they're missing from this pay period, and they do. However, the IRS pulls taxes not only on the $2.13 they make per hour, but all of the tips they recorded, too. So of the approximately $180 they should be making in their paycheck, they will see only a fraction of it because instead of only pulling taxes on the $180 on their paycheck, the IRS is pulling taxes on all $572.70 they made during that pay period. This leaves servers with checks that are a small fraction of their hourly salary, and most don't receive any at all. So while they should have made $580 in their pay period, this server who worked eighty hours these two weeks instead only obtained $485 that they made in tips. This is why people always say, "Tips are how servers make their living." Because it really is.

So with this in mind, realize that if you are not tipping your server, you are basically saying to them, "I don't think you deserve to be paid for doing your job." Imagine going into your job and completing a full day of work and then all of a sudden your boss decides to pay you a lesser amount, or even worse, nothing at all because he decided that day that he doesn't agree with paying you, or that you didn't do a good enough job that day, so you shouldn't be paid at all.

By not tipping, you're preventing someone from being paid for the job they are doing. Point blank. There is no way around it.

2. Tip-out.

Tip-out or tip share is a concept that most restaurant-goers do not know about. At the end of the night, servers are expected to give a certain amount of their tips back to the restaurant in order to pay the bartenders and the hosts. At most restaurants, it is something like, "15 percent of your tips" or "10 percent of your bar sales," but from talking with multiple servers in multiple different restaurants the most common tip out I've heard is "2 percent of your sales" so if you are not tipping your waiter, they are basically paying for you to eat there.

Let me repeat this so everyone who has ever asked me "Well, why should I tip anyway?" knows. Because of tip-out, if you are not tipping your waiter, you are forcing your waiter to pay for you eating.

This might not make sense to some people. "If I don't tip you, then you don't have to tip out anything for me eating there. I mean, I already paid for my meal, shouldn't that cover everything?" The answer to this is, unfortunately, no.

Most of the time, our hostesses and bartenders don't make minimum wage either. In my restaurant, both the host and the bartender make $4.15 an hour with 7.5 percent of the servers tips from that night. This is with the expectation that every table will leave you 15 percent of their bill and you tip out the bartender and the host 15 percent of every check, so you are, in theory, tipping out approximately 2 percent of your total sales to both the bartender and the host. For each check, the servers are expected to tip out or tip share 2 percent of the check to other members of the restaurant. This is whether or not you tip. When you're not tipping or are tipping less than 15 percent, you're actually shortchanging your server.

3. The government kind of is expecting you to tip.

After reading reasons number one and two you might be thinking, "So what? It's my responsible to pay you because your employer doesn't?" Unfortunately, yes. Yes, it really is. But this doesn't just come from our employers; it comes from the federal government itself.

Because of the fact that the federal government is expecting the customers to always be tipping at least 15 percent whenever they eat out, the federal minimum wage for servers is $2.13 an hour (which we already covered in number one). So if you really have such a problem with tipping, not tipping is not the answer. Calling your local senator and lobbying for a bill to get passed to raise the minimum wage for servers is the answer. Because, by not tipping, all you're doing is hurting the server who's trying to put her kids through college, not advocating for societal change.

4. Tipping actually helps you, THE CUSTOMER.

I know this has been debated for years, but you can ask any server if tipping causes us to give better service. Every single server I have ever talked to agreed that they would love to have a steady income every hour whether they had one table or 10; however, it doesn't work like that.

"But does tipping actually mean the waiters will give me better service?" The answer is yes.

Because of tipping, when we're stressed to the nines, have eight different tables, three bar drinks that need to be run, two tables needing a check, one table needing drinks and one table to take the order for, we walk around like we are completely level-headed when, in all actuality, we're freaking out.

If we knew we were going to get paid no matter how polite we act to you, I can promise you that the dining experience would be quite a bit different. All of your servers would turn into Bon Qui Qui very quickly:

There would be a lot less stress on us to make sure that the bacon cheeseburger that you want cooked perfectly medium well with sauteed onions and mushrooms on the top with only pickles and onion rings instead of fries with barbecue sauce on the side comes out perfectly. We could look at you and say, "Give me a second please? Can you not see that I have five other tables that need something?" instead of simply smiling and saying, "Of course sir, I'll get that for you right away."

5. Serving is not a minimum wage job.

This is the one that is going to cause the most controversy with those who don't believe in tipping. To be perfectly honest, I don't think any job where you have to deal with the general public should be a minimum wage job. In the article "5 reasons why I won't tip you if you're a waiter," the number four reason given is because he considers waiting tables to be an unskilled profession. The author even says in his article, "Did you cook it? Did you invent it? No. You picked it up and brought it to me." I would love to know what restaurant you are at eating at, sir, because if the ONLY thing your waiter did was pick up your food and hand it to you, then how did you manage to order your food in the first place? How did a drink magically appear in your hands? And how did the six refills appear because you said that you could handle the spicy buffalo hot wings, but you're drinking water like a fish? How did this table get cleaned after the last person who was sitting here left? Who was it that spent the extra time and care (and yelled at the cooks) to make sure that the bacon cheeseburger mentioned in reason number four that you ordered comes out correctly and not as a plain hamburger with tomatoes on it, especially because you just told me you hated tomatoes? And how did this not only happen for you, but for six other tables in close proximity to you?

Easy. Your waiter. Being a waiter requires an insane amount of multitasking, memorizing, social skills and arm strength to carry plates. I'm not here to preach about how difficult serving is. There are hundreds of jobs out there that are more stressful and demanding. However, anyone who says that serving is a minimum wage job needs to serve tables for just one Friday night in a busy restaurant. Just one. Then come back and tell me you still think servers deserve only minimum wage.

Finally we reach the fifth question that I get asked so often, "Is waiting tables really that hard?" and this is a tricky one.

To be perfectly honest, sometimes it really isn't. You only have one table and it's super dead and you can sit back and enjoy the night. However, the majority of the time, it's hectic and insane and you want to kill almost every single one of your coworkers and it kicks your ass. You get assholes unpleasant customers who will cuss you out. You get rude people who, no matter how nice you are to them, will always be rude to you. You get cooks who, no matter how many times you ring in the order correctly, will always send your food out incorrectly, then you get blamed for it. It can definitely be extremely stressful some nights.

However, it isn't all bad. I've had great memories as a waitress, which is the reason it's my go-to every year for a summer job. I've heard stories from Vietnam War veterans, I've been given love advice from old married couples who have been together for 65 years, I've watched people get proposed to, and I've been there when a husband found out he was going to be a father. I once even watched seven different people fight to pay the bill of a man who lost his leg in Iraq. It's the only job I've ever had that made me love and despise people all at the same time.

So I hope that this article opened your eyes, and you'll remember it the next time you go to pay your bill at a restaurant. Just remember, if you're sitting there thinking, "That much?!" the answer will always be yes. That much. Just remember to budget your tip before you go out and don't be afraid to pull out that calculator on your iPhone if you can't do percentages in your head. It's OK.

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