Filed under: Money makes the world go 'round, Such a quandry, Would you like fries with that?
Over the weekend I heard a rumor that I, personally, cannot confirm or deny. However, I’ve decided that my comments on it are almost necessary.
Not once, but twice in the past three days – and from separate parties who do not know each other, I might add – I was told that Oprah Winfrey said it was “okay” to only tip servers 10 percent due to the recession. The way this topic was approached by both individuals made it seem as if this woman – one who regularly sits high if not at the forefront of the Forbes list of yearly top money-makers – was encouraging others to cut their spending by giving less to waiters and waitresses when dining out.
Now, while I would love to discuss my feelings specifically toward this statement, the majority of what I find online notes that Oprah didn’t actually say this. And seeing as I can’t find anything – a TV clip, a news article, etc. – to prove she either did or did not say it, I kind of have to look past this one comment and hope that a woman as influential as her truly never spoke those words.
However, the rumor itself leads into an interesting yet controversial subject: The tipping of waiters and waitresses.
Although journalism is my primary source of income, I serve tables every Friday and Saturday for a few extra dollars to pay my bills and have some semblance of a social life. Thus, I am somewhat dependent on the generosity of others when making my money. So if dozens of people come in to dine and leave me a meager 10 percent each time, my wages are rather shallow for the weekend and I’m often left eating PB&J or Ramen all week. However, if I’m banking 20 percent or more per check, my wallet becomes a little more padded than I anticipated and I can sometimes treat myself to a night out with friends. But all of this depends on the guests who walk in that door.
Today’s standard for tipping is 18 percent – yep, 18. Only a few years ago, that figure was 15 percent, but times have changed and despite the current economic struggles, inflation has forced that percentage to increase. Sure, a number of people – especially older folks – are accustomed to that 15 percent as the standard and have, unfortunately, not yet wavered upward. But many people also tip more, typically 20 percent, evening out the playing field a bit.
But 10 percent? I’m sorry, but that’s practically a slap in the face to a server. It’s almost like saying, “You did a decent job, but not good enough to earn my money.” And as a waitress, my personal opinion is that if you are going to tip any less than 15 percent*, then you probably should have chosen your local McDonald’s for your meal rather than wasting the time of someone who is lucky if he/she makes $3 per hour and relies on your tip.
Recession or not, people need to not only realize but acknowledge that servers make their entire living based upon the openhandedness of others. If someone is unwilling to factor that into what they spend at a restaurant, then my opinion is that those individuals have zero right to dine out. Buy some groceries and make your own supper. Hit up a drive-thru. I don’t much care. But leave my section tables open for those people who know I’m busting my ass to do a good job and reward me for such efforts**.
It really does irk me and others in this particular field when people come in, act like everything is completely peachy keen, perhaps even express their happiness with us as a server, and yet don’t tip or leave very little cash behind. I, for one, would repeatedly ask myself, “What did I do wrong? Why couldn’t they tip me?” In 2009, do some individuals seriously not know that tipped employees earn very little money per hour and pay immense taxes on those lackluster wages? Are people actually that oblivious, or do they just believe our time and efforts are insignificant?
Either way, people cannot tip less simply because we are in a recession. Imagine the trickle-down effect that could potentially emerge as a result? Look at the number of servers across this country who would fall well below poverty levels – if they don’t already – trying to raise a family or just pay household bills with decreased wages. It’s truly unacceptable behavior to dive into the luxury (yes, it’s a luxury, not a necessity) of dining out yet punish your waiter or waitress because you didn’t really have the funds for your steak dinner. Bottom line is: Those feeling the effects of the economy should be conserving money by avoiding such lavish expenditures such as restaurant visits. If you don’t have the money for both your meal and your server’s tip, stay home.
I believe this is common sense, as many of you likely will as well. However, whether or not Oprah said the aforementioned statement, the rumor is swirling. And as a weekend waitress, I do fear that the repercussions on my wages could be felt in time.
The economic hardship this country faces has hit everyone, in one way or another, but there’s absolutely no need for it to perpetuate by penalizing wait staff simply because people still want to maintain the lifestyle they had before financial difficulties emerged. When someone tips less, it affects not just my budget, but my entire life, little by little. I only wish more people could see the results of their penny-pinching at restaurants. Perhaps then they’d truly understand.
Unfortunately, perhaps only those who have served in this occupation – or another reliant on tips – can ever really grasp the importance of the gratuity percentage.
* If you truly have a HORRIBLE experience as a result of the wait staff, then that exception needs to be considered and tipping less than 15 percent is completely understandable at this point. But if he or she didn’t spill your drink on you, ignore you entirely, speak to you rudely or something as equally dire, then your lack of tip is truly unacceptable.
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