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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.