We Asked a Bunch of Servers if They Think Tipping is Fair. Here's What They Said

March 1st 2015

Did you know that most servers and waiters may not even make minimum wage? There is a lower minimum wage set for people who also earn tips; currently, the federal tipping minimum wage is $2.13 an hour.

At one point, the tipped minimum wage was permanently pegged to 50 percent of the federal minimum wage, so whenever the minimum wage increased, the tipped wage would, too. But, thanks to Herman Cain, the Clinton administration divorced the federal and tipping minimum wages in 1996. The tipping minimum wage has stayed the same, while the minimum wage for everyone else has slowly gotten better. (But not enough). 

Most customers act as though a tip is a favor done for a server as a reward for good service, when actually the customers' tips are paying the server's entire salary. And as it turns out, people don't tip based on service, anyway. Cornell professor Michael Lynn told the Daily Dot that "female servers make more than men do, blondes earn more than brunettes, and well-endowed women out-earn their more modestly sized counterparts." Over at Slate, Brian Palmer mentioned a survey that said a waiter’s job performance “only accounts for between 1 and 5 percent of the variation in tips at a restaurant.”

Imagine if we allowed customers to pay employees' entire salaries in other industries. What if your doctor's salary was based on whether or not you gave her the "suggested co-pay" based on your opinion of her bedside manner? What if your bank teller had a little jar outside his window and that was the only money he was going to make that day? What would it be like to pay your mechanic not based on a pre-agreed, specified amount, but instead based on how he smiled at you while he fixed your car? It seems a little crazy for someone's salary to be dependent on the mood of the customer. 

I asked some servers if they thought we should abolish tipping so that servers could all be paid at least minimum wage by their employers. I also asked them to share some of their craziest tipping stories. Here are some of their responses:

Fifteen pieces of flair.

"I waited tables for three years at TGI Friday's, back when you still had to wear 15 pieces of flair and carry bowls on your head and memorize 200 uncopyrighted birthday songs. In Kalamazoo, there weren't a lot of jobs going around, and this one was better than selling knives door-to-door. (I only lasted a day doing that.) There were days I would walk out with $200 after a really hard night, but there were some I'd come back with $20. I guess it all evened out." - April

Waitress turned owner.

"I was 22. I was waiting tables at Ed Debevic's (so we were told to deliver sassy but not rude table talk). This women asked me what she should tip me on about a $25 tab. I blurted back $32.50. She asked why? I blurted back, 'Cause I'm worth it.' She wrote that exact amount in the tip line and under it she wrote 'You should always get paid what you're worth.' In my case, I think I would have made less hourly without tips. I definitely think (now being a business owner who has tip-based employees behind our bar) my bartender would make less if it was straight hourly. I just did a quick look at our weekend. My bartenders work 5-hour shifts they made a combined $120 just in credit card tips (so more with cash tips) plus their base hourly...that just really covers taxes. So, if I only paid them $10 per hour (the new Chicago minimum wage starting July 1), they would have made about 25 percent less - Angie

Yes, there are nice people in the world.

"A few tipping stories: one time I was working at this very fancy resort in Arizona...A man came in for his birthday with about 10 people. He ordered the most expensive bottle of wine. When presenting it, I dropped it on his lap right in his groin area. I was mortified. He was fine with it and laughed it off and tipped me 30 percent, regardless of the situation. The next time he came in, I apologized again, and he left me $100 on a $100 [bill]. It made me realize that there were good people in the world. I also had another table ask me how I wanted to be tipped. I started small and they responded, 'Come on you can do better than that.' So I threw out 200 bucks because I was going to be short on rent which due that day. Nice people. Derrick Rose left me $175 on $125. I'm a fan...This week I waited on teenagers and got $3 on a $60 check." - Stephanie

Working for tips at a deli.

"My situation is little bit unique because I work as a cashier at a deli so tips aren't necessarily expected the way they would be at a restaurant, but nevertheless we actually make pretty good tips. Usually, I walk away with $100 in tips at the end of a shift. However, some people are very upset that a deli would DARE have a tipping option on our iPad register. I once had a fellow server lecture me at length that mere cashiers shouldn't receive tips, that it was, in fact, a slap in the face to 'real' waiters like him and that he was being very generous by giving me a dollar when I didn't actually deserve anything. I thanked him and told him that we don't require tipping, but if people are feeling generous, we gladly accept it. I mean, seriously, no we don't go to individual tables, but we do take orders, make drinks, serve food, prep food, clean, and check on the customers that are sitting at the counters, amongst other duties. So, while we don't go table to table, we do serve people -- just in a much smaller space. Also, if you don't want to tip us... don't tip us! Easy as that." - Brittany

Dealing with sexual harassment and not being able to buy a house.

"My first job was at a sports bar in DC. My first year, a regular took a big handful of my ass on his way to the restroom as I was talking to another table and then did it again on his way back to the bar. I didn’t do a thing because I knew I’d see him again, and I didn’t want it to affect my tip. My most recent serving job was for a great company -- I had health insurance, they did a lot to keep morale up, and gave us great discounts at other restaurants in the group. That being said, like any serving job, the money was horrendously inconsistent. Some days in January, you’d get cut without having a single table or after one or two tables. You’d walk with less than $12 in your pocket. But at Christmas and in the summer, the money was consistent and very good, so that’s why I stayed for three years…But now I have consistency, and I now know that consistency is nice. I was trying to get a mortgage loan last year, and with my horrible paystubs, I couldn’t get one. That’s another reason it would be nice to have a check instead of tips. Ultimately, one of the reasons I quit was I was tired of having people’s moods dictate my income. I could get everything perfect, I could smile and give free dessert and get extra crayons for the kids, and I would get the same money as I made off the table that I barely got to because I was so busy. I really think that tips are more about people’s moods than their opinion of the service. At the end of the day, I think it will be a rocky transition from tips to livable wages. But, wow, [would] it be nice to just be able to do the job you were hired for and not have to flirt, or worse, tolerate sexual harassment in hopes that someone will give you the money you need to pay your rent— yes, rent, because you don’t have enough demonstrable income to own your own place. Tipped wages keep us down in the long run, I really believe that." - Tempe

An argument to keep tips.

"I've worked in a lot of restaurants. I chose it since it's flexible and allows me to make more money on less hours and have time and money to spend on improv classes, voice lessons, and other fun things I'd rather be doing. There's no way I could live the life I do if not for tips. Tips make up two-thirds of my wage, and I know my employers couldn't match that. I also only work three days a week and that's normal for all the servers at my restaurant. Because of tips, I'm able to work about 19 hours a week and still have money for all those improv classes! Sometimes it seems preposterous that I get paid a rate that's so [disproportionate] to the work I feel I do -- but then I remember all the crap I have to put up with. This is where tips SHOULD come in. If I help you through the menu and modify a bunch of items (that aren't supposed to be modified in the first place), then run around to get you a straw and help clean up the spill your kid made and then grab you a side of sauce, I feel like I've earned a generous tip. However, it seems that the people who tip well are the easygoing ones who barely need any extra assistance. When someone's a particular pain, it's almost a guarantee that they'll leave a tip that doesn't express appreciation." - Clare

As you can see, even servers don't agree on whether or not we should abolish tipping, mostly because the amount of money you make in tips really depends on the type of restaurant. In the right restaurant, you can make quite a bit more in tips than you would on the salary your boss would probably pay you. Even though tips are unpredictable, and there are bad days, the risk is worth the reward. That said, why are restaurant owners getting a break that other business owners aren't? Why do they get to rely on customer to pay their employees?

There was however, one thing on which every server agreed...

"Also, Christians. Leaving their Jesus phone cards instead of tips. Just, sigh, no," Kenzie said.

Nobody wants to get religion as a tip. Come on, leaving a good tip for the person who brought you food is the decent -- dare I say, the Christian -- thing to do! Or, if you're feeling really generous...

"Here's a good one. When I worked at Bennigan's, I once got tipped a dime bag of weed," Mary Catherine said.

Share your opinion

Would you support eliminating tips?

No 42%Yes 58%