The Truth About Tipping

Before I became a server, I was always very good about tipping, but when friends and family members had conversations about tipping waitstaff that were less than favorable, I never chimed in. I figured that tipping was subjective, and if someone chose not to tip, they were rude, but not much more than that. Being a server now, I understand a tip’s place in the serving industry and how important it really is.

The element of tipping that has changed the most in recent years is the ‘acceptable percentage’ that a guest should tip a server. From the time a I was preteen to a young adult the acceptable percentage jumped from 15% to 20%. Why? Because of tip share. Your individual tip isn’t just going to your server. It’s split between the bussers, hosts and bartenders that all made your experience at the restaurant worthwhile. The tip you leave is going to the server that took care of your table and multiple others: a bartender that made your drinks and served an entire bar by themselves and a busser that cleaned up your dirty dishes, pick up the fries you dropped all over the ground, and wiped down the table that was covered in ketchup and crumbs. It’s also very likely that all of these employees are paid federal minimum wage or in some states, even less than federal minimum wage. There are so many people that work hard to make your experience at a restaurant great, and a tip helps those minimum wage (or less) workers survive while doing work that’s worthy of much more than what they’re paid.

Like I just mentioned, there is a severe lack of awareness about how much servers get paid. Those who serve in Minnesota are lucky, since Minnesota has a higher minimum wage than other states. Minnesota’s minimum wage is $9.50/hr for employers that have an annual gross volume of business done at half a million or more, and at least 7.75/hr for smaller employers, who annually make less than half a million. However, minimum wage is still just that, the minimum. Especially for a job that usually requires 12 hour shifts with no breaks, sometimes no meals and no chance to sit. A server also may only work once or twice a week, and they depend on their tips to pay bills, buy groceries or buy necessities for their family. So, if you want to end the practice of tipping, you have to then demand higher wages for servers.

There are many states that don’t have minimum wage laws like Minnesota does. For example, in Wisconsin a server has a base wage of $2.33 an hour.  Kentucky and Alabama have a base wage of $2.13 an hour. In fact, out of 50 states, only seven require that employers pay their servers state minimum wage. Why can an employer do this? Something called “tip credit.” Tip credit is the practice of employers claiming tips as part of their minimum wage requirement. They assume that a server would make minimum wage after tips.

So, if you have been taking up a server’s table for an hour or more in any of those states and you don’t tip them, they have only made around two dollars that hour. While a server can report that they didn’t make what amounted to minimum wage in a certain hour, employers are sometimes hesitant to pay out their servers.

While tipping might be seen as a normal practice in the serving industry, tipping also seems to be declining. As a server myself, I have experienced more and more instances of tables leaving me with nothing or near nothing after I spent an hour or more serving them. At the end of the night, I have less and less to share with my co-workers who helped make those guests’ experience at our restaurant great. I can’t imagine the stress that would come with working in a state that didn’t pay employees as well as Minnesota does. An important thing to remember as college students is that if you feel you can’t afford to leave a tip, you shouldn’t be eating out at a restaraunt anyways.

Tip all of your servers, and if they did great, tip them even better than you would’ve normally. They could be on their eleventh hour, running on no food, and they possibly haven’t sat down since they got to work. Let them know you appreciate them and the other staff that are trying to make your experience great.