Students return to this sleepy college town, coffee shops begin to bustle, bars advertising “help wanted.” The restaurant industry is a funny thing in these United States of different minimum wages but one federal one too low to live on in 1970, nevermind 2014. Debate today, reminding me of This Article I read a few days ago began with tipping and ended in a tip to me to take a walk. It is an interesting phenomenon, tipping of food-service workers and few others; not bad, not good. In Europe where wages are higher and taxes more uniform (generalizations, each) tipping is designed to show respect or appreciation. In America it is a confusing mixture of guilt, necessity, and generosity. As One who has worked in the business, in one way or another, I don’t expect tips but certainly enjoy when a customer gives one, however small. Tipping to me is a sign that I or the product I delivered gave someone satisfaction which is, to me, the purpose of service. Call me an idealist because there are those who would posit all labor is done for the extrinsic value alone. Yes, income is a wonderful thing, but so is satisfaction and maybe just a sense of benefaction, if serving a coffee or meal can be such.
I believe the minimum wage should be higher. I also believe that tips should make up the base of most service-sector workers’ income but so is the world. The opening scene of Reservoir Dogs tackles the question as only script can and makes two conclusions: tipping isn’t the basis for a living but sadly is. Systems control the use of tips and ensure a “living wage” regardless of gratuity but can’t function as designed for the scale of the food industry. Even as wages rise, so does the cost of living and inflation meaning tips remain a necessity in America.
Yes, I’m a tipper but so do I leave the penny-of-shame in the face of a truly indifferent server. In Europe, tips are expected but smaller and generally only reflective of service provided: 2% to 20% and the difference in meal cost makes up the 18% range? Perhaps. Doing some simple math, the poverty line rests at about 15 thousand US dollars per year, 125% of that according to the Department of Homeland Security is about 19,000 US dollars - these for a household of 2, so a single parent and child. at wages even above minimum wage, so lets say $8.50 per hour, at 40 hours per week and working 52 weeks per year, the earned income of a “full-time worker” without holidays is only about $17,000 annually. Don’t tip those being paid minimum or above minimum wage you say? Those wages still account for a significant bump in living. I don’t suspect most of those who would speak against tipping anyone except waitstaff technically “paid by wages” would wish such an annual income for themselves.
All I can say is don’t forget to tip your waitress, barista, bartender, or miserly diner: a living is a living, no matter how you work it.