Hey Salty, I live in Oregon, where restaurant servers, by law, are paid minimum wage. In Oregon, minimum wage is $10.25 per hour. Do customers in Oregon need to tip? I totally get it in states where it’s legal to pay servers less than minimum wage (which I think is freaking outrageous, by the way). But what’s up with tipping in places where it’s not needed to make a server’s pay meet the minimum wage? I mean, a clerk at 7-Eleven is also on her feet all day, but she doesn’t get tips. Is her job easier than a server’s job?
Please don’t get me wrong. I will always tip servers. But this is also something I’ll always wonder about.
A Good But Curious Tipper
Dear Good But Curious,
Your question is thornier than my leg hair in February. But I’ve been asked this question before, from folks in Oregon, Washington, D.C., and other places where servers earn a minimum wage instead of the reduced tipped wage, so I guess it’s time to answer it.
Before I do—I hear you loud and clear about about the 7-Eleven worker. That is a physically tough, thankless job. As is working at the laundromat or the clothing store at the mall or other minimum-wage gigs. I don’t want to poo-poo their hard work. But I’m a waitress, and have been for 15 years. So I’m coming at this from my perspective of someone in the hospitality industry, and my angle is: Yeah, you should still tip if you want to feel good about yourself at the end of the night. Here’s why.
Even in places where servers earn minimum wage, 11 percent live in poverty, compared to 6 percent of non-tipped people. In D.C., where servers made the same minimum wage as other workers, their average pay was just 36 cents above minimum wage in 2017. It’s not like we’re rolling in it, is what I’m saying.
Tips, even with a minimum wage, take some people from just-scraping-by to making-an-okay-living. That means better service for you. How? Because if you want the best service, in my opinion, you want to be waited on by a gal like me who’s been doing this for a while. You want serving to be a job that people stick with for a while, not a low-wage revolving door of dingbats and losers. Tipping helps us afford health care and other basics that are close to impossible on just a minimum wage.
Think about who your server might be: a single mom, a part-time college kid, an artist working multiple jobs trying to catch a break. They’re not heading home to eat caviar and champagne. Shit, they’re heading home to soak their sore feet, pop generic Advil for their aching back, and maybe have a beer to forget about the asshole table that gave them trouble all night.
Our jobs aren’t easy. Lots of people’s jobs aren’t easy, I know. But servers have to act like our jobs are just a walk in the park, no matter how much crap we take. I have to smile at your kid even as he’s smearing snot on the table that I have to clean up. I have to laugh at your husband’s terrible joke. I have to look chipper-but-not-annoying at 8 in the goddamn morning. I think all of that is worth a few extra bucks out of your wallet.
So yeah, please continue to tip. Help us catch a break. I swear it’ll make you feel all warm and fuzzy.
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