Posts Tagged ‘Tips in Restaurants’

How much is an adequate tip?

July 19, 2014

Double click to enlarge

I found this interesting and useful chart in an interesting and useful article entitled Everything You Don’t Know About Tipping on the Wait But Why web log.

Behind the Kitchen Door

October 12, 2013

Many Americans who dine out in restaurants ask questions about the food they eat—whether it is wholesome, whether it is locally-grown, whether it is organic, even whether the meat animals have been raised in humane conditions.

beyond-kitchen-doorSaru Jayaraman, in her book, Behind the Kitchen Door, which I just got finished reading, argued that we diners should be equally concerned about the people though whose hands our food passes.  It is short and highly readable, and told mainly through personal stories.

The most shocking chapter was the one entitled “Serving While Sick.”  Most restaurant workers do not receive paid sick leave, and cannot afford to skip work because they depend on tips for most of their income.  Employers expect them to come to work even if they have ‘flu or other infectious diseases.  Jayaraman told the story of Nikki, who was forced to continue serving food in a Washington, D.C., restaurant after coming down with conjuntivitis, and Woong, a Korean-American who served food in an upscale French bistro even after contracting swine ‘flu (H1N1).

A 2011 survey by the Centers for Disease Control indicated that one in eight restaurant workers continued to work on two or more shifts during the previous year while suffering from ‘flu symptoms, vomiting or diarrhea.  In summer 2011, thousands of people had to be vaccinated after being exposed to hepatitis by an Olive Garden worker who couldn’t take a day off without losing his job.

Jayaraman said that restaurants who require employees to work while sick are the same ones that cheat employees on wages and tips, demand they work in unsafe conditions and discriminate against dark-skinned and women employees.

The federal minimum wage is $2.13 an hour for restaurant workers, which has been unchanged for 20 years.  Workers are expected to make up the rest in tips.  In the United States, a tip is not a gratuity—something extra on top of the wage.  It is what workers are expected to live on.  A tip does not go just to the server.  It is supposed to be divided up among all the workers, including the kitchen workers.

Some states do have higher minimum wages than the federal minimum, and California and six other states set the same minimum wage for all workers.  But the median wage in 2010 for restaurant workers nationwide was $9.02 an hour, including tips.  Restaurant workers’ annual income is about a third of that for all U.S. workers.

In many restaurants, according to Jayaraman, the managers don’t pay them for all the hours worked, and they take a share of the tips, even though both practices are illegal.  Racial discrimination and sexual harassment are rampant in restaurants, she wrote.  Typically the wait staff are white, the bussers are brown-skinned Latinos and the kitchen staff are black.

We Americans sometimes speak of racism in the past tense, but many restaurants treat employees as they did in the Jim Crow era, and with the same rationale—that white customers wouldn’t like to be waited on by black servers.

Reading this book made me realize what a sheltered life I have led.  During my career, I had bosses I didn’t like, but I never had a one who threw things at me, cursed me out in public or refused to pay my wages, let alone one who demanded sexual favors or denied me the possibility of promotion because of my race.

Not all restaurants abuse their employees.  I eat out a lot, and I would hate to think my favorite neighborhood diner treats its employees like the ones described in the book.  Jayaraman gives examples of restaurant owners who treat their employees fairly, and still make a profit.  Her organization, the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, which she co-founded with Fekkak Mamdouh, helped found worker-owned restaurants in New York City and Detroit which eventually made a profit.

Nor is a sub-minimum wage necessary for a thriving restaurant industry.  Restaurants are prospering in California and especially in San Francisco and Los Angeles, which have strong minimum wage laws.

Jayaraman said restaurant diners can help by being as concerned about the conditions under which their food is prepared as they are about the conditions under which it is produced.  And they can help by supporting legislation to give restaurant workers the same protections as other workers.


Observations from a tipless restaurant

October 11, 2013

Jay Porter successfully operated a restaurant in San Diego with a policy of no tips for the waiters and waitresses.   He wrote a series of articles telling how this policy resulted in better service and improved efficiency.

His farm-to-table restaurant, the Linkery, operated under the no-tips policy from 2008 to 2013, closing earlier this year.  Customers paid an 18 percent service charge, and were forbidden to tip extra.  At the same time Porter operated another restaurant, El Take It Easy, with a traditional tipping policy.

Jay Porter

Jay Porter

He wrote that elimination of tips resulted in better service rather than the other way around.  His best waiters and waitresses always had concentrated on giving good service rather than thinking about how much they were going to get in tips.  Eliminating tips meant an end to competition between waiters and waitresses and to less conflict between the wait staff and the kitchen staff.   This improved teamwork, which improved service.

While customers regarded a big tip as a reward for good service and a small tip as punishment for bad service, the wait staff saw the size of the tip as a measure of whether the customer was generous or cheap.   They used the code word “Canadians” for categories of customers considered to be bad tippers—Asian-Americans, African-Americans, elderly people and others, including Canadians—and tried to minimize time they spent with these customers.

Porter said the only effective thing a customer can do about bad service is to complain to the manager, because only the manager has authority to take corrective action.  Whenever anybody complained to him, he always refunded the service charge.

His series of articles is interesting throughout.  Click on the links below to read it.


Why are waiters and waitresses treated so badly?

April 4, 2013


I lead a good life, and that life is made possible by the hard work of many people—many of whom earn less than I do.  As I get older, I eat more meals in restaurants, and it makes a difference to me whether the waiters and waitresses know their business (they usually do) or not.  They’re on their feet almost all the time, they have to keep track of orders and notice when customers need their attention, and they maintain a cheerful, friendly appearance, even at the end of a long day when they may not feel like it.

Nearly one in 10 American workers, a total of 13.1 million people, are employed in the restaurant industry, and they’re among the worst-treated of American workers.  According to an article by Matt Frassica for Salon:

  • Restaurant employees receive the lowest wages of all employment categories tracked by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  In 12 states, the minimum wage for workers who receive tips, such as waiters, waitresses and bartenders, is $2.13 an hour, the lowest allowed by minimum law.  Many other states (but not all) set a sub-standard minimum wage for tipped workers.
  • One survey indicates that nearly 90  percent of restaurant workers are without paid sick days, vacation days or health insurance.
  • Employers commonly violate federal and state labor laws, by engaging in wage theft (not paying for all hours worked) or requiring tip pooling.
  • Only about 1 percent of restaurant workers belong to labor unions.  Most of those work for hotels and casinos in Nevada, which are able to earn a decent profit while paying decent wages.

Many people have the mistaken idea that waiters and waitresses earn federal minimum wage, and that a tip is something extra that a customer gives out of benevolence or as gratitude for extra-good service.  The fact is that tips are regarded as part of their base compensation, which is why laws so often allow sub-minimum wage pay.

I suppose the ultimate answer is a stronger labor union movement and better federal and state labor laws, but I’m not going to hold my breath until these come about.  The least I can do is to leave an adequate tip (20 percent) and treat waiters and waitresses with normal human courtesy.

Click on Restaurant horror show: How waitstaffs are mistreated for Matt Frassica’s full Salon article.

Click on BIG SHOT and read the post and comment thread for blow-by-blow descriptions of encounters between restaurant servers and obnoxious customers.  Servers sometimes have ways of striking back.