A MinD in MoTown

McDonald’s is always an option.

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.

16 Comments so far
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I love Australia. Hospitality staff get a proper wage and tips are just a nice bonus.
I think that everyone deserves to get paid more in the industry. It’s tough work!
I get that tips are used as an incentive to make people do a good job, but that only works if people aren’t tight with their cash and unappreciative!
In saying that, customer service in Australia can be pretty sucky at times and I have sometimes wished they had some kind of incentive.
When visiting overseas I get so excited about good service that I don’t get at home, that I will happily tip anyone who does a good job 🙂

I think it works the same way in Canada, too. But here, clearly we don’t make enough hourly to get by so tips are necessary, so we have to be nice, ha. I’m just naturally happy-go-lucky, so for me, that part is easy. But if there’s sucky service, then a sucky tip should follow. If I do something wrong at a table, whatever money they do leave me I’m extra appreciative for.

Comment by Kez


That’s my philosophy, plus it’s easy math.

If you’ve ever worked for tips, then you know the deal! 🙂 And ladies, if you suggest tipping less than 10%, nay 15%, we’re probably not gonna be dating much longer. I don’t care how good yo booty be!

You are more than welcome at my restaurant any time! I always tip at least 20 percent, sometimes more. But if it’s less than 18 percent, you must’ve done something WRETCHED at the table.

Comment by [F]oxymoron

I just consider my tip part of the bill, so if I can’t afford to tip the appropriate amount, then I don’t eat out.

I wish more people thought that way!

Comment by Ashley

I’m not sure if that story is true but if so, it’s really horrifying from Oprah. But I have to say, I am NOT the best tipper and I do feel bad about it. But I am trying to be better.

At least you are trying, right? I hope it’s not true also. I would be shocked if Oprah would say something like that, especially when she outwardly seems like a very giving woman, not to mention she certainly has enough money to tip 20 percent or more…

Comment by Jessica

I always tip at 18.5% minimum, but lately I’ve been averaging 20%. If the waiter/waitress was amazing, then 30%. I never tip less than that unless the server was a complete asshole (has happened only a handful of times).

Good to know and you are always welcome where I work. I’ve had people tip ZERO before. Yep, zero. Completely ridiculous.

Comment by phampants

I’ve never worked for tips, but growing up with a sister who constantly worked for tips, I feel I can speak on the subject. Some nights she made out extremely well and praised the heavens, other nights her tips were meager and she damned her customers to the lowest depths of hell.

I understand inflation and the need for salaries, tips, and wages to go up to AT LEAST meet the national inflation rate. Of course we all know that our nation’s wages and salaries don’t always keep up with the inflation rate, which is why congress passed a minimum wage reform that would increase minimum wage every year from 2007 to 2009.

That said, a slight increase in tipping rate from 15%-18% (a 3% raise) can be justified in 2008 because our national avg inflation was +3.8%. Salaried professionals used to consider a 3% raise slightly insulting.

On the flip side, an inflation rate of +3.8% means prices are going up, which included the prices at your dining establishments. A price rate increase of 3.8% for food and beverages already translates into an increase in your tip. So in reality a 3% increase in tipping rates plus an inflation rate of 3.8% means wait staff averages an almost 7% increase. If your establishment didn’t raise prices to keep up, then that’s on the business owner.

However, with the avg rate of inflation in 2009 at -1.3% coupled with the recent nation wide paycuts averaging 10-20% in some industries, should tipping rates be adjusted accordingly? OR are wait staff positions immune to our reccesion?

On top of that, that decision by Congress in 2006 to reform minimum wage had it increased by another 10% in July of 2009.

So lets review

in 2009:

Avg Inflation was -1.3%
AVG Salaries -10 to 20%
Min wage + 10.00%

Something is very wrong here.

I can’t exactly speak for places other than North Carolina, but our state decreased the hourly wage for tipped employees. Minimum wage for tipped employees, including servers, went from $3.13 to $2.80(ish). I’d never thought that minimum wage could decrease, but it surely did here.

That being said, I do understand your justification. And I get that people need to cut back. But my stance is that rather than cutting back and punishing those who they tip, they shouldn’t eat out. Otherwise, it trickles down and then servers can’t afford things either.

I’ve also heard the comments before – from a table of guests, no less – that with the increase in food prices, we are, in turn, getting tipped more. But that’s only if people purchase those items. Our tip is dependent on what they choose. You pick the $9.99 meal and even at 20 percent, I make $2. But if you’re spending $80 on a meal for two, even at 10 percent, I can walk with $8, which is four times as much as the person who picked a cheaper option. Personal decisions factor in too much, if you ask me, for the increase in prices to make much of a difference.

Comment by OmegaRadium

So what you’re saying is that eating out should be reserved for the elite only?

During a recession, its often the entertainment industry and industries associated with “movie nights” that prosper the most.

People, even us common broke folks, just can’t give up our movie nights. Dinner and a movie, it’s an old tradition in the US and one that isn’t likely to end anytime soon, no matter how broke we are.

Instead of trying to exclusively serve the elite in hopes of better tips, FYI the elites is an extremely narrow market with very little growth, I would be focusing more on expanding my target market where there is actual growth…the common poor folks. Also, its been my experience that the elites tip worse than common folks, GASP!

I get it. You want more money, so do I! Unfortunately our paychecks/tips aren’t decided based on our entitlement complex or calculated in a vaccum/bubble.
We’re all suffering in this economic climate, and if my waitress is going to complain over my 15-18% tip to her, then I’ll tell him/her to find a job where they’ll get paid what you think they’re worth.

I tip, even for lousy service, but this “I DESERVE more” attitude really irks me.

I never said for the “elite” nor is that what I meant. I get that people want to still see movies, eat out, etc. etc. despite possibly not having the money to do so. But tip should be factored in when deciding to eat at a restaurant. If you can’t afford the meal and the proper tip percentage (though yes, that is based on the experience), then don’t go. That’s what I mean.

Look, I don’t have much money. That is why I work two jobs. However, if my wallet was crunched enough where I’d only be able to pay for my meal and not the tip, then clearly I should choose somewhere else to eat. That’s what I’m saying. Otherwise, you are punishing someone else – your server – because you only had enough money to eat the meal, but not tip.

I certainly didn’t mean only rich people should get to have a restaurant dinner. I just meant that tipping less because the economy has affected you is pushing the hardship onto servers, and that’s not exactly fair. If you tip less because he or she did a shitty job, then the little tip left is probably all that person deserves.

Comment by OmegaRadium

When I worked as a waitress (see: Beer Wench) at Cedar Point for a summer, the tips were pathetic. A lot of people didn’t know you could tip us, so they didn’t… or the ever fun jackass of a kid stealing our money. (I had a friend chase some kid down for me when he saw him steal my tip — friend was off duty… and unfortunately, they couldn’t get my money back.)

I was making $2.13 an hour there. Seriously. I paid $16/week for rent, in a terrible dorm, had no access to a kitchen, only a microwave so we dined out all the time. And thanks to CP’s stupid methods/rules, all waitstaff are/were required to pay for the meal first, then get reimbursed by the customer. So I had to have $200 of my own money before I could serve just so I could pay for some guests’ meals and then hope they’d pay me back with tip. Some days, I didn’t break even.

I try to leave 18% when I can… a lot of times I do the math in my head, so I figure out what 10% is and just add more… but yeah… after that experience, I don’t want people to go through that frustration either.

Oy, what a crappy job. =(

I just wonder if people assume servers make more than they do, or if they just assume it’s a second job for most people or we’re students or what. I don’t get it.

Comment by Erini CS

provided the server hasn’t really offended me or done such a horrible job that my food was on fire when i ate it or something, I always tip at least 15% and often much more than that. I think it’s rude not to.

Ditto. 15 percent is still a good tip. It’s what most people are used to giving or what their parents taught them to leave, so on.

Comment by Kimwithak

I tip based on the service I get. I would like my drink to be refreshed BEFORE it’s been sitting there empty for 5 minutes. I would like you to ASK if I’m finished, not just take my plate. (Has happened to me before.) I would like to be acknowledged that exist within a few minutes after I sit down, even if it’s just “I’ll be right with you.”

Maybe I expect more than some people but if I don’t get good service, they’re not getting a good tip. And I don’t feel badly about it at all. If you give me good service, I usually tip 15%. More, if I get excellent service. And that’s how I roll! 🙂

If someone isn’t doing their job, then it makes complete and total sense to tip as such. I work in the industry and if those things are happening to me, then my tip is likely to go down a bit, too. So very understandable.

Comment by Stephany

my first boyfriend was the guy who ‘taught’ me the importance of tipping properly as my parents unfortunately tip less than average… and i just didn’t ever ‘learn’ how to tip. he gave me the compelling arguments you pose here and i realized that tipping is essential. i now tip 20% every time. it’s easier math than 15% anyway 😛

Easier math is right. Though my boyfriend nearly always asks me to do the math for him! Ha.

Comment by floreta

I always tip AT LEAST 20% because, like everyone has said, it’s easy math 🙂

and I didn’t know that NC lowered the minimum wage for tipped employees! that’s ridic, but I’m glad you shared that because I will surely pass that info along whenever I’m eating out with friends or my parents so they’ll think twice about their tip.

They did it about two years ago, shortly after I started working at the restaurant. I couldn’t believe anywhere would lower minimum wage for anyone! It was absurd, and really unfortunate for so many people.

Comment by thatShortChick

That’s wrong! I’ve never waitered but I understand how it is to be on your feet and cater to someone’s every whim. I am the constant overtipper…if something is delivered, they usually get 15% tip..I can’t help myself….but if someone is rude to me or is inexperienced, I usually give a shitty tip which would be 10%. My usual tip is around the 20% mark.

Some people, because they know we don’t make the food, think the job isn’t hard or doesn’t take much. But it’s constantly running back and forth, trying to decipher their needs before they have to ask, doing side work on the line, so much more than just carrying a plate from one point to another. It’s so annoying when guests don’t realize that.

Comment by Felicia

Hmmm, I’m quite torn about this issue. You have brought up some valid points that I’ll have to look into. I always assumed servers made minimum wage, same as everybody else. I’ll have to see the laws for CA.

If they DO make minimum wage (same as everyone esle), then I say that pays for the basic service. you bringing me my food on time and being a basic good waiter is what you are paid you wage for. Other minimum wage jobs don’t even get tips, so why would a waiter/waitress have the right to extra money?

I tip based on service beyond the basics. I believe people need to earn tips. I earn my money the same as servers do, and I don’t feel that I am obligated to pay extra for my meal if you didn’t do anything beyond what is required in your profession.

I love to tip for excellent service. If you did horribly, you don’t get a tip at all. I’m not the best tipper yet, just because my money is tight, but I don’t think that I shouldn’t eat out because I can’t give someone extra money in addition to their hourly wage.

But like I said, that based on minimum wage being the same across the board. If servers are making less than minimum wage, then I would tip for basic service. But if you are horrible, I don’t care, I won’t tip at all.

Thanks for the insight!

There’s minimum wage, and then there’s a minimum wage for servers. Obviously states can make their own regulations about this, but the U.S. government does have two different figures. Now, if a server’s tips added to their server minimum wage (between $2 and $3) doesn’t equal what minimum wage is, the $7+ figure or the state’s specific min., then the employer is required to pay the difference to ensure that each worker is at least making minimum wage.

Does that make sense?

Comment by Nellyn

You’d like me, I usually tip 20-25%. If I like a server, maybe even more. I’ve just heard too many times that Christians make bad tippers, so I try to be a good example. But, to be honest, most servers I’ve had ACT like they’re only making $2/hour (there’s plenty of exceptions of course, but I’d say that I get a good server only about 1/5 of the time).

Though, I wish we didn’t really have a tip system, or at least it wasn’t required, but you could. I’d rather my meal be 15% more or whatever than have to tip. Just seems like it’d be more fair that way all around.

I wish it was just factored in as well, both as a server and a patron. Automatic gratuity added to the bill would work so much better.

Comment by Ronnica

I always, always tip 20%. Sure, I don’t make a lot of money, but I know what it’s like to live with hardly anything, so I go out of my way whenever I go out and try to tip well. It pisses me off when I know people who make significantly more money than me and they don’t tip well. Or at all.

… It’s just wrong.

Agreed. I hate when I know people can afford to tip and they choose not to or to do so very frugily. Bothers me to no end! I think those of us who have very little money are more likely to understand how hard someone is working for what they need to earn.

Comment by E.P.

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