Tipping 10 percent does not properly service servers’ income

Restaurant patrons choosing to dine out should be mindful of their tipping amounts, as servers depend on more than a small hourly rate to support themselves.

Restaurant patrons choosing to dine out should be mindful of their tipping amounts, as servers depend on more than a small hourly rate to support themselves.

Last December, the blogosphere exploded with angry posts blasting talk show host Oprah Winfrey for allegedly suggesting to her national audience that tipping 10 percent during the recession is adequate.Tom-Rowan

Coming from someone who has struggled along with two older sisters to pay car insurance, cell phone bills, loan payments and basic necessities over the course of our college careers with a tip cup, 10 percent is not acceptable.

“If you can afford to go out, then you can afford to leave at least a 20 percent tip or more,” said my 29-year-old sister, Monica Rowan, who has supported herself through college by bartending. “If you want to save money, then just go out less often.”

My middle sister, Katie Rowan, 26, who has waitressed since she was 18, said she considers it an insult “if the bill’s $100 [to] $200 and you leave 10 percent.”

“It’s a waste of my time,” she said. “Just like the people eating out have a job where they earn money to go out, this is where I earn my money for school, and most people don’t know that I’m on the books for $2.45 an hour and that the tips are my bread and butter.”

Waiter Rant, a book published by HarperCollins in 2008, was written by a blogger who chronicled his experiences over the course of four years working at a lavish restaurant based in an affluent New York suburb.

“The Waiter,” disguising his real name to protect himself from lawsuits, wrote that society’s standard tip is between 15 and 20 percent.

“When you stiff servers on the tip, you’re really screwing them over,” the Waiter wrote. “Waiters in the United States, with few exceptions, are not paid a salary. We don’t even make minimum wage.”

The Waiter contends that tips, combined with the small hourly wages of waiters and waitresses that differs from state to state, is expected to raise their pay to the state minimum wage level.

“Waiters need tips to survive,” he added. “If your boss arbitrarily pulled money out of your paycheck, money you need to feed your family, then you might get a sense of the rage involved.”

My income relies solely on country club members’ moods after 18 holes of golf.

I’ve been working for tips since I was 14 by caddying at a local country club. There, a “looper” is considered an independent contractor. This past summer, I found more golfers either paying less for a caddy or opting to take a golf cart instead.

According to Zagat Survey’s 2007 America’s Top Restaurants guide, the average tip Americans gave in 2006 was 18.9 percent. The generally accepted value is still considered between 15 and 20 percent for waiters and waitresses, which, if anything, should rise over time.

“I know it’s bad everywhere,” Monica said. “I know you can’t hide from the recession, so any job’s going to have a drop-off, but [service jobs] are good college jobs because of the flexible hours and schedule, but if people aren’t tipping, it sucks.”

Some offer the rationalization that they should not have to tip since the server is simply doing his or her job.

Winfrey and those who believe in frugalness need to recognize that in corner bars and small restaurants scattered across the country, somewhere a family or college student is relying on the respect from others and the payment they deserve.

Tom Rowan Jr. can be reached at thomas.rowan@temple.edu.


  1. I will probably be abused for this comment as the mob tries to lynch me.

    Lets start off by remembering that the argument that the price of going to a restaurant is “bill +20%”, is a non-starter. The minimum that I have to pay is what is on the bill. If I try to leave paying less than that, then the police should get involved as this would be theft.

    The servers would disagree, and say that the bill does not include their pay (or most of it, anyway), and they would be right, most of their pay is mysteriously not included on the bill, but is (legally speaking) an optional extra payment made by the customer.

    So it appears that the real fault here, is with the system, and the current debate is merely a symptom of the faulty system. Why is the “servers pay” (aka tip) paid separately and as an optional extra?

    I can see why the servers are upset and emotional about this issue, but my understanding of economics and business (not to mention just plain logic) makes me wonder whether the “don’t come to eat at my restaurant unless you pay 20%” emotional response makes sound economical sense.

    What would happen if people really did stay at home if they could not afford to tip 20%? The supermarkets would be happy, the cable companies would be happy, the pizza delivery companies would be happy.

    Restaurant owners would not be happy, as their business turnover would suffer, and many would have to cut costs to survive, such as closing on one or more days per week or closing off an area of a restaurant, “letting staff go”, etcetera.

    So how exactly would that help the servers?

    Isn’t 10% of something better than 20% of nothing? Isn’t a poor wage better than no wage?

    I would say to those servers who ask people not to eat in their restaurant “be careful what you wish for”…

    In the end, a seller of a product or service can charge whatever he or she likes. But there are consequences…. such as pricing him/herself out of the market or even a job…

  2. The solution (in my humble opinion) is to change the inherent fault in the system – and do as is done in every other business, and include the pay of the servers in the bill. If the customer wanted to pay more because of exceptional service, that would be gratefully received!

    This would bring the industry into line with the hundreds of other areas of business where we spend our money (department stores, gyms, dentists, grocery stores, language schools, computer repair shops, taxis, airlines, etcetera) which all have servers too….

  3. Although I would like to start of with a few choice words for Mr. Oliver, I will suppress my abject outrage, for now, in regard to this despicable behavior. However, sir, you should be ashamed of yourself.

    Firstly, I find your opinion and practice of tipping to be an excuse, surmounted to somehow explain away your poor judgment and behavior.

    Today, the minimum wage for servers is $2.83/hr. The reason that servers earn such a low wage is that gratuity is paid upon each table. It is payment for services rendered. Standard gratuity is 15 percent, however 20 percent is becoming more and more commonplace. This is hardly the only business that has employees earning in gratuity much more than the hourly wage.

    When people do not tip their server, someone who survives on tips, you are not only a. making yourself look like a fool and hopefully unleashing a reign of karma on your ass b. doing your server the injustice of waiting on you for free but c. breaking the law.

    Theft of services is a crime.

    What you are doing is wrong, and your pitiful blame on “the system” is like an alcoholic blaming his DUI on the bartender. Take responsibility for your lack of courtesy and respect. If I ever was to go out with someone who didn’t tip, I’d never date them again. It’s quite telling.

    If you cannot afford to tip, you cannot afford to go out to eat, and this is a belief not only shared among servers, but by every single boss or manager in the business I have ever encountered. You obviously have no experience in the business whatsoever. Owners rely on servers and therefore the practices thereof. If I (servers) don’t make money, I (servers) don’t work at that restaurant and the owners are screwed.

    Ten percent tip is a waste of my time, not courtesy because you are cheap and ill-mannered. And in fact, I have worked at several locations that will automatically charge the credit card of a poor tipper the dollars in which their tip lacked. Gratuity is 15 percent, just get over it or don’t go out to eat. Really, server and owner alike, we don’t want your business.

    But, if I ever encountered you, in the end, I would say as polite as ever, in front of everyone you’re with and around you, that this here money is your change, not my tip, and that it is evident to me that you need the money more than I do. I’d proclaim loudly that I hope you resolve your economic issues soon, and that I know you wouldn’t be such a coward, and man of poor taste and belligerent belief to purposely disregard me, my job and my livelihood.

    But do know sir, that one day you could meet a server who takes down your plate number and calls the cops, or better yet the server that remembers your face…eat up, asshole.

  4. Oliver, you are an insensitive jerk. How dare you blame the system for your poor behavior. It is the system and the servers are playing by the rules, you dont seem to feel you have to, so please dont eat out. I am not even a waiter, and I find your comments incredibly arrogant. I went back and added a tip when out with my father in law who left an embarrasing amount after good service at a nice restaurant. I was ashamed and you should be as well. Stick with Mcd’s which I am gusessing is much more your style anyway.

  5. I do believe that servers should be tipped but how much is the argument I would make. I think that if everyone were to tip 20%, then the server would expect that and not do a good job. I like the idea of putting the tip on the table and taking it away as the server does a poor job. I don’t deserve to have to pay 20% extra for lousy service such as watching them stand around and talk to other servers and ignore the customer. On the other hand, if the server is doing their job, not over the top, just taking care of their customer then they deserve the tip.

  6. Hey Laura,
    Hello? Anybody in there? Not leaving a tip is not breaking the law. Get a clue.. better yet, educate yourself about the nature of the profession you chose. I do leave a tip when I go out to eat but due to the sour economy, I have become a cheap skate so I order food to go . That way, I can still get a great meal without having to tip. Works great in my favor. So, you see, I cannot afford to tip these days but I can still afford take out.
    So, ten percent is a waste of your time? Giving you even 10% is a waste of my money you ingrate.
    If my card was ever charged for more than I tipped, you bet your ass I would file charges for fraud.How can you even think that is okay? Also, How many restaurant owners would be happy to turn away a customer because that customer was not going to leave a 20% or more tip? As long as the customer pays for what he/she ate/drank… there is no theft of service.

  7. I work for DELL, I went to college, I paid for my college by serving in IRAQ for 4 years. I DO NOT TIP 20% or 15% or 10%, because I dont have to. Cry more please? Get a better job if you do not like your pay. I knew that I wanted to make lots of money so I set myself up for a good career. There have been times that ive ate at places and left a fifty dollar bill on the table for a waiter who I knew was busting ass and doing the best he/she could do on a packed night. Or who made sure my glass never reached the bottom. However there have been times in my life where I wasnt as well off as I am now, and leaving any tip what so ever might have cut into my gas money for the week. Nobody grows up saying “I want to wait tables when I grow up”, So all of you server staff out there crying about tips. Move on in life, mabye you should have worked a little harder in school and made the grade instead of being to focused on partying. I see no reason to fill your pockets with my hard earned money because you bring me my food.

  8. Wow! I have worked as a server/bartender now for 10 years. So here is an opinion of someone who has relied on tips to pay her bills. The paycheck doesn’t amount to much, at $3.20 an hour it doesn’t amount to much. For the person who says get a better job, at one time I could work 20 hours a week and make just as much money as a state worker in my area who put in 40, and what did I do with my extra time? I spend it with my daughter and am working on a college degree. I was not ready for college right after high school even with the grades and serving allowed me the flexibility I needed at the time. Do I want to do this the rest of my life? No, but I work with people in their 40’s that this is all they will do. It’s their personnal choice.
    Now for the serving job. We come to work and work for the first hour making only our $3.20 preparing the things for our shift. Cutting fruit, making tea, wiping down tables, refilling and cleaning things on our tables, setting up for large parties, etc. Then we open and we wait on the tables in our assigned sections. The only tables that we are allowed to put gratuity on is parties of 8 or more. What many people don’t know is that now servers are starting to have to pay tip share on their total sales for the day. Where I work this is 3% that goes to the hostess, bartender, and busboys who already make minimum wage or more. So when you work hard to take care of a table and their total comes to $100 an they leave $5, as a server I only get $2.00 of that to keep and the people who didn’t talk to them, or go above normal service gets to keep the $3.00.
    There is the exception of the person who would have left $20 and that is great but it seems that the people who want the servers undivided attention is the one to leave the smallest tip. They are the ones who take the server away from their other tables and then you have a trickle effect and no one is tipping well. People don’t understand and those that are going out to eat now want more than just good service. If you are splurging on a nice meal I understand that, but a tip should be included in the splurging. Even a standard 15% is nice, it shouldn’t be expected by the server but should be included in the budget by the customer.
    A personal note for Ryan: If you were having that much trouble coming up with gas money then you should have been eating at McDonalds. Most family style restaurants including some large chains like Applebees, Chilis, and Ruby Tuesday have curb side service. When you eat in a place with a server you should pay for your service.

  9. I agree with Oliver. Servers are becoming greedy trying to move the line from 15% to 20%, so why not move it to 10%. Besides tipping is un-American. You are paid to do your job. Re-negotiate with your employer if the arrangement is unsatisfactory. The entitlement mentality is ruining our country.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.