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Tipping when waitstaff get paid minimum wage
February 28, 2010 5:09 PM   Subscribe

As a result of my family, I've been a fairly mindful tipper for restaurants/bars/etc. involving service and have adjusted the percentage I tip based on what's considered the norm irrespective of quality of service (now, doubling tax which is close to 10% in CA and rounding up). I ran across minimum wages for tipped employees as a result of an argument with a cheap tipper and discovered that in CA waitstaff is paid at least minimum wage ($8, and higher in SF) without tip credit. I've looked at previous AskMes about dealing with bad tippers, contextual tipping, and others. Knowing that tipping in CA no longer goes toward maintaining basic wages, (based on size/# of staff, i.e. tip out), would it be socially acceptable to move toward a quality-based criteria for the value of the tip, and what would you consider an appropriate minimum assuming a properly run restaurant where employees are getting paid on-time and full salaries? Feel free to correct me if I've misunderstood anything.
posted by palionex to Society & Culture (43 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
Minimum wage does not equal a living wage. I would say to continue tipping whatever your baseline may be (20% for me too), and pretty much only deviate when the service was either exceptional or sub par.
posted by Think_Long at 5:14 PM on February 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


with the cost of living in most of california - 8/hour doesn't really stretch far.

i tip 10% for adequate service, 15% for good, and 20% for exceptional. if service is truly lousy, tip between 5-10% (depending on how awful) and don't go back. if the food is terrible/cooked improperly, etc, i give the waitstaff a chance to make it right. if they comp my meal due to an issue like that, i raise their tip.
posted by nadawi at 5:15 PM on February 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


oh, and i've had what i consider truly lousy service less than 10 times my entire life.
posted by nadawi at 5:16 PM on February 28, 2010


$8/hour means 40 hours of work (rare in waiting jobs, in my experience) = $320 a week. Before taxes. Maybe $280/week. Could you seriously try to live on that?

But my argument for continuing generous tipping is that it's good for you. When we share what we have -- by choice -- we reinforce feelings of abundance and safety in ourselves. So give 20%, for sure. And then try a little experiment: throw in a couple of extra dollars. What you'd pay for a latte if the mood hit you, or a magazine that caught your eye. Just that little extra (and don't get caught in the "what's the percent of that" dead end). it's easy, and I GUARANTEE you that it will make your waitperson feel a little better. A small random act of kindness that you can afford to share.

And personally, I always add a lot extra when I've had lousy service. Lousy service means a person is tired, or upset, or hates their job or themselves or their family -- and they've been getting stiffed on their tips because their service is lousy, and people glare at them. An extra $5 from me won't make them happy, but it makes me happy to give it to them, with sympathy.

I recommend the Shirley Jackson story "A Perfect Day, with Peanuts" for further discussion of this.
posted by kestralwing at 5:26 PM on February 28, 2010 [23 favorites]


First, knock it off with the 20% -- you make the rest of us look cheap. 15% is the usual, for waitstaff who both take your order and bring you your meal. Way less (in my case, zero) at buffets. And yes, I've worked at restaurants, and for minimum wage.
posted by Rash at 5:26 PM on February 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


The Internet doesn't do tipping discussions well.

You were happy with what you were tipping before you found this out -- why not just keep doing the same thing? If it doesn't make you unhappier, it's making some other people happier.
posted by mendel at 5:29 PM on February 28, 2010


Watched the movie Mystery Train last night. The negotiation of gratuities was a sub-theme.
posted by ovvl at 5:31 PM on February 28, 2010


Knowing that tipping in CA no longer goes toward maintaining basic wages...

Let me point out two misconceptions...

* Servers in California have been paid the same state minimum wage as everyone else since at least the 1980s, which is when I did my time in various L.A. restaurants. Nothing has changed.

* Even when they are paid the state minimum, certain classes of employees (servers and hairdressers among them) are taxed at a higher rate than minimum wage employees, under the theory that there is a large amount of unreported income that comes to these employees in the form of tips. Servers are taxed based on a percentage of their sales, which are reported to the federal government (e.g. "Timmy made $100 this week in salary and he sold $100 this week, so that means we can assume he made $100 + an unknown percentage of those sales in tips. We will therefore tax him at the rate for people making ($100 + tips), instead of $100.")

The government assumes a blanket tip rate -- when I was serving, it was 8 percent (so the calculation above for Timmy would be $100 in salary and $8 in tips -- Timmy is taxed as if he made $108, regardless of whether he actually made that $8). This blanket rate has likely changed since then; it probably went up.

Therefore, whenever you tip someone below the going rate (i.e. you stiff them), you're actually punishing them in a far greater way than you presume. It's not just the opportunity cost you're hitting them with. You're actually taking money out of their pockets.

Tip the going rate. You don't have to be extravagant about it. But if you didn't like the service, tell the manager you're not coming back. You'll probably get more out of that than any internal sense of satisfaction from stiffing some poor schlub.

Moreover, it was shocking how many servers I saw get audited by the IRS for precisely this reason. The IRS figures that servers are 1) people that are likely hiding their true income, and 2) unlikely to have the means to defend themselves effectively.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:38 PM on February 28, 2010 [8 favorites]


My vote: yes, it is socially acceptable to base tipping on quality of service, as long as A. your "average" tip is still a good one, and B. your criteria for quality of service aren't insane. An appropriate average would be somewhere from 15-20%; an appropriate minimum would be no lower than 10%, and that only in truly extreme cases. If more than 1% of your tips are ending up outside the 15-25% range, then your criteria are probably insane.

Although I personally just do the same thing as Think_Long. 20% in almost all cases, less if the service is really really bad (which practically never happens), more if I feel bad for the server because there are assholes at another table.

(I am also in CA.)
posted by equalpants at 5:44 PM on February 28, 2010


I'm sorry Rash, but you are cheap. The norm is twenty percent for all of the reasons stated above.

I tip based upon service. Please look at that word carefully. If the meal is poorly cooked, that is not the fault of the server and requires no penalty. It only requires a word to the manager. If the meal is cold, look and see if the wait staff has been standing around doing nothing or was really slammed. Adjust appropriately and tip accordingly. If, as was the case at a restaurant I no longer frequent, the wait staff was cleaning tables, dusting the light fixture over my table and gossiping loudly to each other instead of making my meal experience appropriate, this knocks bucks off of the tip.

Start at 20% for good service and a cheerful smile. I know that some people have had a lousy day before I got there, but there is no need to share the pain. If you enjoyed the meal and it was a fantastic experience, go up form there on occasion. If you expect to come back, make the staff know you appreciated their attention. If the service was lousy, tip accordingly, but do so based upon your observance of the factors that made it lousy.
posted by Old Geezer at 5:44 PM on February 28, 2010 [4 favorites]


would it be socially acceptable to move toward a quality-based criteria for the value of the tip, and what would you consider an appropriate minimum assuming a properly run restaurant where employees are getting paid on-time and full salaries?

I think that most people I know tip based on quality of service which corresponds to a percent of the total. I feel that mean tipping rates have gone up over the past 20 years or so. I know that when I was growing up, 10% was not considered a bad tip. Among people I know, no one puts down 10% and feels it's an okay tip. Everyone I know tips around 20% for decent restaurant service, which would account for about 90% of all the restaurant tips they leave.
posted by 23skidoo at 5:50 PM on February 28, 2010


nthing everybody. Even if servers are making $8/hr, that's not a full salary-- it's hourly pay. If they're sick or have an emergency that prevents them from going to work, they don't get paid. Restaurant jobs often don't include health insurance. Don't go below 15% unless your server was rude.
posted by oinopaponton at 5:55 PM on February 28, 2010


It's an interesting question. As someone who has worked in restaurants for less than minimum wage, done other things for minimum wage, and no matter how blah the service was would either tip 15% or 0 (say if the person was overtly nasty to me or served me food from off the floor) ... I think if servers are now making minimum wage statewide, it's better to move in the direction of doing away with tipping.

For one thing, there seems to be a totally arbitrary distinction between the workers we tip and the ones we don't tip. We don't usually tip the vast majority of minimum wage workers, even when we directly interact with them or they directly make our lives better (janitors, bus drivers, etc.).

But mainly, I totally agree with the sociologist Dalton Conley that a system where workers rely on tips for a decent wage is so much worse for them than a normal salary.

One of his pieces on the topic is here
. One point he makes that I think is really key is that dependence of the worker on the largesse of the customer is dehumanizing. I don't know if I'd go so far as "dehumanizing," but I think it is a lot less fair than a salary.
posted by Ashley801 at 5:58 PM on February 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


I adore all you 20% & up tippers, but I've waited tables in four California restaurants, from downscale to upscale, and 15% was always the "norm". 20% was common, but I promise you're not insulting a server by tipping 15% (a really glammy place being the exception). I'd call 15% a neutral tip. 20% makes you smile. 25% or more makes you grin.

And Cool Papa Bell brings up the most important point out of all of this -- in CA servers are taxed on their alleged tips, even if they don't make any. Typically, the 2-week paychecks I brought home were around $50 or $100. That's more than the $0 paychecks my sister received when she waited tables in Chicago, but it sure ain't a living.
posted by changeling at 5:59 PM on February 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


In Canada, all servers receive provincial minimum wage--which, in BC is $8 an hour. Totally not enough to live on. I tip %15 for good service, 20% for great, 10% for not good.
posted by stray at 6:04 PM on February 28, 2010


I don't know why your tipping practices would change. You're getting the same service, but now you know that your server is making a few cents more per hour. If you were normally tipping 20%, I'm not sure that it makes a huge difference to maintain that.

(Stray -- that hasn't been my experience. Working in BC a few years ago,, I made "server's minimum", which was, IIRC, 50 cents less than provincial minimum. It's the same way in Quebec.)
posted by OLechat at 6:07 PM on February 28, 2010


If you can afford it, tip 20%. It's one of the simplest things you can do to put a smile on someone's face and make someone else's life a little easier. As others have pointed out, $320/week before taxes is not a lot of money for spending forty hours on your feet taking orders, carrying things around, and cleaning up after people. Most importantly, it's not a lot to live on in California.

Back before I was self-employed and before I had a family to support, I made it a custom to give someone a surprise $100 tip whenever I got a raise at work. At the time I was working at Apple, making a fine wage for a single guy, and could afford it. So once a year for about six or seven years I'd go into a restaurant, eat my $20 meal, add a tip of $80 or $100, and leave before it was discovered. I only did it in restaurants I didn't frequent, so I never got any direct feedback about it. But it just felt so great to do. How often do we get to play Amelie? Just based on personal value I've gotten out of spending $100, those tips rank very high.
posted by alms at 6:10 PM on February 28, 2010 [5 favorites]


Just saw this on the front page of the New York Times. Might add some flavor to the discussion.

Personally, I look at tips as part of the salary for doing the job. If you do the job well, then you get compensated for it. If the server does nothing to take away from my enjoyment of a meal, then they get 15%. If they detract from the meal, or make the experience an unpleasant one (if I have to flag down other waiters because I haven't seen mine in fifteen or twenty minutes, if they're rude, if they make a mistake and act put out that I'd actually like what I ordered), their tip goes down a hell of a lot. It's their job. If they aren't up to the basic standards of providing decent service, why should I pay them like I pay someone who is?

On the other hand, if they go out of their way to make the meal better, if my experience at the restaurant is markedly improved due to the server, more than 20% is not a problem. Just for example, a waitress at a busy restaurant in Hawaii noticed that we weren't eating the soup (mistake 1, P.F. Chang"s. mistake 2 P.F. Chang's hot and sour soup), she took it off our bill, and was, in general, a very pleasant person who made a clear effort to make sure we had a good meal. She was also as busy as hell. In addition to the higher tip, I made sure to add in the cost of the soup, because I woudn't be surprised if they deducted it from her pay.

The other thing, I always tip higher at greasy spoons/Denny's like places. The food is pretty inexpensive, so 15-20% isn't going to come to that much, and usually the waiters are in general pretty nice.
posted by Ghidorah at 6:27 PM on February 28, 2010


I tip well because it supplements an income below minimum wage, not because of good service. Why those salaries are allowed anywhere I'll never know, but they are. If some waitstaff make minimum wage plus tips then their wages don't need supplementing any more than non-tipped minimum wage employees who work just as hard and get paid just as poorly. I would certainly tip, but wouldn't feel obligated to tip as much as I do elsewhere.

Do waitstaff in CA know how badly their peers in other states are paid?
posted by monkeymadness at 6:45 PM on February 28, 2010


15% is not cheap, it's the norm for adequate service. Source: my father, who worked 20+ years in the restaurant industry.
posted by SpacemanStix at 6:54 PM on February 28, 2010


A couple of incongruous points- I believe that tips are counted against the minimum wage. So if you work an hour and clear four tables with an average bill of $30, your 15% tip is $18. Since you made more than minimum wage, all you get is that $18, since it is higher than the $8 you are guaranteed. Still, $18 an hour ain't bad.

Second, this whole tipping thing has turned into an excuse for restaurant owners to not have to pay their people what they are really worth. In a macro sense, you aren't tipping the worker, you are giving the restaurant owner his profit.
posted by gjc at 7:10 PM on February 28, 2010


In Canada, all servers receive provincial minimum wage

Not true, I'm afraid. In Ontario, for example, liquor servers earn more than a $1 less per hour than the minimum wage.
posted by modernnomad at 7:24 PM on February 28, 2010


(and I should add, 'liquor server' means anyone who serves liquor as a regular part of their work -- so, any waiter in a regular restaurant would count as one, not just bartenders).
posted by modernnomad at 7:26 PM on February 28, 2010


Minimum wage in NYC (and the rest of NY I think) is $7.15 an hour. The minimum wage for waiters and the like is $4.60 per hour. This is why you need to tip decently, because the person bringing your food over makes a little more than half the guy at the drive through or half the guy at the register in the drug store or any other entry level job that teenagers work. I'd love to see someone in CA wait tables in NY and try and find an apartment in an outer borough, let alone Manhattan.
posted by Brian Puccio at 7:28 PM on February 28, 2010


The government assumes a blanket tip rate -- when I was serving, it was 8 percent (so the calculation above for Timmy would be $100 in salary and $8 in tips -- Timmy is taxed as if he made $108, regardless of whether he actually made that $8).

The tax may be withheld from his paycheck, but he doesn't actually owe the tax on money he never received. That's what tax refunds are for.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 7:41 PM on February 28, 2010


What is considered appropriate tipping where you're ordering less than a full meal and you're confronted with a tip jar? (For example, ordering espresso/made-to-order beverages/made-to-order sandwich/bagels/etc...)

I never quite know how to handle this situation. On the one hand, part of me feels it's inappropriate to have a tip jar because I'm not receiving any additional service above the price of the product purchased; on the other hand, I feel cheap if I plunk in a couple of quarters instead of a dollar bill, which then in turn kind of gets me because now I've guilted myself into giving a 30-50% tip for no extra reason except the presence of the jar.
posted by webhund at 7:46 PM on February 28, 2010


15% is the usual, for waitstaff who both take your order and bring you your meal.

Tipping less because someone else brought you your food doesn't make any sense. In restaurants where a food-runner brings you your order instead of your server, you can bet your ass that the food-runner is paid a percentage of the server's tips -- servers are often obligated to tip out bussers, runners, or bartenders up to 20% of their haul.

Good service is good service, no matter who brings what to your table. But if you insist on being cheap, you could leave your regular (bare-minimum) tip and at least make sure you comment to the manager about the service you received. Compliments don't cost you anything.
posted by hermitosis at 7:54 PM on February 28, 2010


For the record, tipping something at least in the neighborhood of 20% sends the message, "I recognize that you did just fine at what is surely not an easy job."

15% says, "If you put any extra effort into helping me, I didn't notice it. Or maybe I am bad at math, or don't really understand what it is you do for a living."

Anything less for adequate service says "I think I know how much it costs to go out to eat, but actually I don't."
posted by hermitosis at 8:03 PM on February 28, 2010 [5 favorites]


The tax may be withheld from his paycheck, but he doesn't actually owe the tax on money he never received. That's what tax refunds are for.

Nope, it doesn't (or rather, it didn't; it may have changed) work that way. If you sold $100 worth of booze, the government assumed you were tipped $8, whether or not you made $8 or zero dollars or a million dollars.

This is why, in California at least, a waiter's actual paycheck is usually a trivial amount -- the salary is mostly subsumed by the taxes on the reported tip income.

Technically, you have to report *everything.* But since tips are cash transactions with no effective record-keeping possible, the government has to assume something, otherwise everyone would just report zero ("Yessir, every single customer stiffed me every day. Try to prove otherwise") or some other inaccurate number below the real one. You either assume some figure or risk turning every single tipped employee in the U.S. into a tax cheat.

Smart servers would report only those tips that were recorded on credit-card receipts, as those had a built-in paper trail. So, the calculation went like this:

Tips reported = (credit card tips + cash tips), where cash tips = (sales * 8% - credit card tips). And if the cash tip formula equaled a negative number, report only credit and hope for the best.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:03 PM on February 28, 2010


Tipping well has its benefits. There are several hard-to-get-into places nearby where considerable effort is expended to get me into the restaurant. If you go into your favorite place tired and frazzled, and emerge fit for a full night of fun, then you have not only been well served, you have been -restored- and that is the real function and root of the word restaurant. It is valuable, remember the staff accordingly.
posted by jet_silver at 8:47 PM on February 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


I tip at least 20%, every single time, and think the whole "tip better for better service" thing is weird and controlling. I don't tip because I enjoy the act of being served (I don't1), I tip because service industry pay in this country, especially for restaurant workers, is ridiculously low.


[1]: Although I do enjoy being cooked for...
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:54 PM on February 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


what would you consider an appropriate minimum assuming a properly run restaurant where employees are getting paid on-time and full salaries?

And you know this how? I don't mean theoretically, I mean practically. How does this work? I'm trying to picture it in my head. You walk into a restaurant, then… what? Ask the host if they're getting a salary? Find the closest waiter and pull them aside? Go straight to the manager or owner?

Seriously, how would you ever actually know that employees are "getting paid on-time and full salaries?" Unless you were already friends with one of the employees of the place, I just don't see this working. Presumably you'd base it on some kind of "gut feeling," then, perhaps based on the quality of the restaurant, or the food, or the price of the average meal? None of those things matter. One of the nicest places I ever waited was at an Italian place in Boston's North End that will go nameless. Big wine menu, expensive dishes… and no salary. This place wasn't out of the ordinary. Nearly every Italian-owned restaurant in the N. End was run the same way: waitstaff get no salary. Don't know if that's still the case, but I wouldn't be surprised to hear it.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 11:18 PM on February 28, 2010


Thanks for all the insightful replies! I wasn't planning on changing my practice of normal tipping but rather seeded the question to get more input from the Hivemind. I often end up covering friends' tips when I feel like they're too low, and for those who'd actually want to know out of curiosity why they should tip more, I wanted some well thought out responses.

@civil_disobedient, I just threw that in to simplify the question, but I definitely hear you. I don't change my tipping habits, i.e. lower the tip, even if I feel like it's a nicer restaurant, and I know for a fact that some of the Asian restaurants that I frequent don't even pay their servers a salary (even though it's illegal).

And I'd love to one day be able to throw down a hundred as tip at a random restaurant without looking back and feeling too pinched.

As an ancillary question for myself, I've had mixed feelings whenever I leave 10% for those places where you order the food at the counter, someone brings it to you, but you're the one who gets the utensils and drinks and clean your own table at the end. Usually my meal ends up around ~$5-8, and I leave $1 on the table as I walk out or add it to the charge at the counter. E.g. anywhere from a Mediterranean restaurant to Johnny Rockets. Thoughts as to whether I should be going up to 20% for these places, or is 10% reasonable? In the grand scheme of things, I don't eat out too often and usually try to throw down extra when in question, knowing that it won't break the bank for me.
posted by palionex at 12:54 AM on March 1, 2010


If you sold $100 worth of booze, the government assumed you were tipped $8, whether or not you made $8 or zero dollars or a million dollars.

And then it would withhold accordingly. But the amount you enter on your 1040 (and thus the amount you pay tax on) is the actual amount you receive.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 1:20 AM on March 1, 2010


If anything, this thread should teach you that people judge you by how you tip, and have elaborate justifications for doing so.
posted by electroboy at 6:28 AM on March 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


I never understood why customers are held to account for the cheapness of restaurant owners. Surely I would like waitstaff to be paid a living wage, but why is it my responsibility to make up the difference between that and their actual pay?

It seems like tipping 15% or 20% as a "baseline," with no correlation to quality of service, is just perpetuating this situation. As long as tipping 20% is considered "mandatory," it will be built into service employees' low pay.

Disclaimer: I tip tax*2 on 95% of meals. If service is particularly crappy, I will shave off a bit and make it somewhere between 10% and 15%.
posted by jckll at 7:39 AM on March 1, 2010


I never understood why customers are held to account for the cheapness of restaurant owners. Surely I would like waitstaff to be paid a living wage, but why is it my responsibility to make up the difference between that and their actual pay?

The prices on the menu would be proportionally higher; you'd be paying more anyway.

Ironclad rule: in the U.S., tip at least 15% or don't eat out.
posted by kittyprecious at 7:57 AM on March 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


When I eat at home I usually do most of the cooking. That means time that I spent shopping, prep time, cooking time, washing dishes, and putting them away. My husband usually sets the table and helps serve the food and it's true that I rarely get as much joy from waitstaff as I do from his smiling face, but I think a 20% tip is worth having other people do that for us from time to time regardless of whether they were exceptional servers or not. I consider it the price of having everything done for me and I include it as part of the expense of eating out.

Also, I make more than a living wage and sometimes I slack off or have a bad day. Thank god random strangers don't have the power to decrease how much money I make when that happens.
posted by Kimberly at 9:04 AM on March 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


I used to wait tables. Many of my friends have or do wait tables. In Texas where there is no unions for this.

15% is the absolute minimum. I've had bad service before, but I've never had bad enough service to tip below this. 15% was the norm 20 years ago.

If there was nothing particularly wrong I go 20%. Most of the time, I do 20% and round up, resulting in 25 or 30%.

If I hang around for a while not ordering, or anything like that I'll go even higher.

If you're unsure of how to tip, work as a waiter for a while, then you'll find that you haven't been tipping enough.
posted by cmoj at 10:33 AM on March 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


I never understood why customers are held to account for the cheapness of restaurant owners.

It goes both ways. A lot of people wait tables or bartend because of the tips. You can make a crapload of mostly unreported cash if you're at a reasonably busy establishment and get prime shifts.
posted by electroboy at 11:03 AM on March 1, 2010


You can make a crapload of mostly unreported cash if you're at a reasonably busy establishment and get prime shifts.

I've never met anyone who had this kind of job who didn't spend those hours working harder than you would think humanly possible. Being a good server at a busy restaurant is like being on a treadmill with your arms full for eight hours, in front of an audience.
posted by hermitosis at 3:32 PM on March 1, 2010


Oh sure, no one said it was easy. I've worked as a restaurant/room service waiter at a pretty busy hotel. It's dirty, tiring and you go home smelling like all the food that's been cooked and thrown away that night. People can be jerks, and you get a lot of unwanted advances from both men and women, especially when you're on room service duty. If you get a brunch shift you make crap money. But on an average weekend night, I'd go home with $150 cash. By comparison, I was paid $12/hr to inspect sewers in my first engineering job.
posted by electroboy at 4:36 PM on March 1, 2010


I've never met anyone who had this kind of job who didn't spend those hours working harder than you would think humanly possible. Being a good server at a busy restaurant is like being on a treadmill with your arms full for eight hours, in front of an audience.

And, on those days, are quite well compensated for it.

The trouble is on the bad days.
posted by gjc at 6:24 PM on March 1, 2010


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