Have you ever worked in a restaurant or bar? Many people work in the service industry starting in high school or college and tons of people turn it into a career. You normally work with laid back coworkers, enjoy the freedom of not having a 9-5 job, and get to walk with cash tips at the end of the night. However, tons of other people have never and will never work in a restaurant or will never be a tipped employee in the restaurant. I've met restaurant managers, dishwashers, and cooks who've never had to depend on their tips.
I've been working in restaurants and bars since I was 16. I work with moms, dads, grandparents, aunts, uncles, lawyers, musicians, artists, scholars, and many other people from different backgrounds. Tons of people end up working in the service industry for various reasons. Sometimes they're there for a few weeks, months, years, or the majority of their life. Every server and bartender I've ever met has experienced being stiffed by a customer. For the many who've never worked in restaurants and depended on their tips, I'm going to explain to you how that feels.
Mind you, federal minimum wage for tipped employees in America is $2.13 an hour. I live in Louisiana where they abide by the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour for normal employees and $2.13 an hour for tipped employees. Servers and bartenders alike normally start at $2.13 and don't get raises- why would a company pay them more if they don't have to? Also, the overtime for tipped employees is still under $4, so they have no problem keeping them late or asking them to pick up multiple doubles in a week. However, some people don't realize that this counts for all tipped employees.
I recently started working at a restaurant that's part of a restaurant group owned by a celebrity chef. At this restaurant, bartenders, servers, bussers, and foodrunners are all paid $2.13 an hour. The servers and bartenders are charged 2% of their credit card sales to cover the credit card fee, they tip out 10% of tips to their bussers/runners, and 10% of their tips to the bar. This means the restaurant is paying only the back of house and the management anything more than $2.13 an hour and is making tips the primary source of income for everyone there. I think the credit card fee is ludicrous and I think it's insane that servers tip out 22%. Other places I've worked tip the bar out 4-10% of liquor sales, tip bussers 10-20% of tips, and tip foodrunners 2% of sales. Either way, servers are tipping out alot. Some places pay bussers, barbacks, backwaiter, and runners close to minimum wage and they get their tip out on top of it. Some places pay their baristas $2.13 an hour or under $7.25 as well since they assume they'll be tipped.
However, I'm not here to explain to you how restaurants fuck over their employees by paying them the bare minimum, most people know that, I'm here to tell you what it feels like to be stiffed.
Often times, you either expect your table might stiff you or it's completely by surprise. I've had people say I normally don't tip but you did a great job and leave a $4 tip on a $150 bill. I've had people who tried to send every dish back after eating most of it, argue about the price of drinks, be verbally abusive, get a ton of stuff for free, and then ask for exact change back and not leave a cent.
I recently had a couple come in for one of their birthdays, they had a coupon for $50 off $100. I replaced their half eaten gumbo after they claimed the rice was hard, I brought them a free side of mashed potatoes when the wife said she wasn't crazy about the polenta, and I gave them a free birthday dessert. They left me $4 on a ticket that was originally $115 but was reduced to $65 and after I gave them free dessert, free potatoes, and a free gumbo. I was so upset because they got great service, enjoyed their food, and saved over $80 on their meal after the comped items.
Sometimes, I think bad tips or stiffs can be accidents. I had another table today where they asked if they could pay $20 in cash and the rest on the card. I said sure and their remaining balance was around $12 and that was charged on the card. The cardholder only gave me a $2 tip. This would be a 20% tip off a $10 bill but it didn't account for the $20 in cash that I wasn't tipped on. I have suggested gratuities on the bottom of the checks at my work, and it would have shown them that the proper tip should have been around $6 for their $32 meal. However, it's your responsibility if you're out to eat and maybe splitting a check, to make sure your server is paid. I asked specifically if they wanted to pay with the full $20 and put the rest on the card, and they said yes. So, I should have been tipped for the other $20 as well rather than just the leftover $12. It's totally cool and normal if someone else is handling the bill to ask if they tipped them, how much they left, or if you can throw in money for a tip.
My boyfriend's dad and girlfriend came to town recently and we ate out a few times. One time was at my work and she insisted on paying and tipping. We got 50% off with my discount and then I went and talked to the server and made her run my card for 1 cent so I could tip her on my card as well because I'm that anal about proper tipping, especially when the check is discounted. We went out to dinner at another restaurant during the trip and she insisted on paying and tipping again. I made sure to bring cash with me but she wouldn't let me use it to tip because she had some cash too. Our check was around $100 and I saw her put a $5 bill in the book. I had never met her before and didn't want to offend her at the table, so I called the restaurant the next day and asked to speak to our waiter and see what she had tipped total. He kindly told me she left an 18% tip on her card and left him a $5 in the book as well. Totally important to me to make sure my server was tipped off of my free meal.
I've also been left nothing on checks where people were super happy with their meals. I've been left nothing on checks where people have gotten huge discounts because of coupons or package deals. They passed a law in 2013 or 2014 saying that people don't have to pay an automatic gratuity unless the owner of the restaurant decides it's okay. This means that I've been stiffed off of large parties that have taken up all my tables for hours. I've had to wait on 16 tops by myself, split the check 16 times, and make nothing. I also made nothing because they took up my whole section and I couldn't take any other tables or because being sat depends on the cover count and I was skipped during multiple rotations because my coworkers had fewer covers than I did.
It feels like an insult every single time. It feels like a personal attack and it can ruin your night. It makes you hate people, hate your job, hate the entire restaurant industry. I will sometimes give people discounts for buying a ton of drinks or not charge for special requests or put something on my spill tab for them. Sometimes I'll tell them about a yelp deal or coupon available so they can save some money on their food order. When I do stuff like this and get stiffed, it puts me in a really bad mood. It makes me think I should charge the highest price for everything and assume I won't be tipped either way. I'm going above and beyond to make sure you're enjoying something and am giving you a discount, and you're not leaving me a tip? SO RUDE. You can and should tip extra on discounted stuff and tip on stuff you're getting for free. For example, my job charges $7 for Jack Daniels, so two Jack and Cokes would be $14. But, if you're really nice, unhappy about your meal, or have been ordering a ton, I might ring it as a double shot of Jack which would be $10 instead. When I do stuff like that and get stiffed or undertipped when people know they're getting a discount and I'm being nice, it really makes me not want to be kind to customers like that. I always say I'd rather reward the good customers than reward bad ones but sometimes people act good and then tip you bad. It's pretty insulting.
Sometimes being stiffed means I'm paying for them to eat there. If a bill is $300 and I'm stiffed on it, which has happened before, I lose money. Lets say $100 of that is in drinks, that mean I owe the bartenders $4. $200 of that was food, and I tip my runner 2% of food sales I'm owing my foodrunner $4. Some jobs automatically tip the bussers around 4% of sales, so that means at the end of the night, he'll make $12 off a table I was stiffed on if they had a $300 check. If i tip them out based on my tips, he's still getting 10-13% of what I make even If I was stiffed on a big ticket. If I'm working at my job where I pay credit card fees, I owe the house another $6. This means I'm tipping out $14-26, depending on how busser tips work, off of a $300 table I was stiffed on. So I made the restaurant $300 and made my support staff money, but made nothing off of that table and end up paying to serve them. Mind you, some restaurants make people claim at least 10-15% of cash sales so for example if this was a cash table, my accountant would assume I made $30 off that and I'd be taxed on a $30 I never made and at the end of the year, I'd have $30 on my earned income that I never earned.
Tip your servers! If your food is messed up, communicate nicely. If there's a problem, ask for it to be fixed. Don't stiff your servers. If you have terrible food or service, speak with someone who has the ability to fix that. Stiffing your servers doesn't teach them to be better servers, it's passive aggressive and rude. If your server is an asshole, tell a manager. Restaurants will comp food for unhappy guests to make sure you have a good experience in the end, but they'll never throw the server extra money when you stiff them. Especially when it's a problem with your food, let them know what the problem is and how it can be fixed. If you only have $60 in your account or $40 with you, ask about prices after tax and what you can get and be able to afford to tip. If you have a coupon or are getting a discount, you're saving money already- so don't be cheap and stiff the servers.
When tipped employees are stiffed, it feels like as if your boss just decided you wouldn't be getting paid for the last few hours or days of work that you worked after you already worked them. If you don't believe in tipping, I'd tell your server early on.