Tipping Point

By Leah Blewett
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Oct. 11, 2006

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What can you buy with $2.83? A cup of coffee at Dunkin' Donuts, but not Starbucks. Sometimes, a gallon of gas. And not much else. Hell, $2.83 isn't even enough to get you back across the bridge from Jersey, which I'm pretty sure is how some poor bastards end up stuck over there.

But it can buy you a waiter or waitress. Because in Pennsylvania legal minimum wage for us lowly restaurant types is just $2.83 an hour.

Sure, it's a pittance. Sure, my paycheck every two weeks boldly reads "This Is Not a Check" because 80 hours at $2.83 an hour isn't even enough to cover the taxes I owe. But biweekly insult aside, working as a server can be reasonably lucrative, and that's where you dear patrons come in. You know the word. Let's all say it together: tips.

I know. We're not supposed to talk about money. But the reality of working as a server, bartender, food runner or busser is that your income isn't just mostly but totally dependent on tips.

Here's the breakdown: You, as a diner, finish a fantastic meal. The food was ambrosia, the wine sweet nectar and the service so efficient you'd happily nibble your dessert right off the spotless surface of the table. And then the check arrives.

You suddenly find yourself in a mathematical vortex of currency and custom. What's an appropriate percentage? Was the service really that good? Couldn't I save myself a lot of money by skipping the little step of tipping the server?

Of course you could. But there's a trickle-down effect. A server's tips aren't just their own--they owe percentages of their earnings to the bussers, food runners and bartenders. So the tip you leave isn't just a congratulatory little pile of pocket change. It's the major source of income for everyone working in the front of house.

Now I'm not one to tell you how much to tip. It's discretionary, and there's a reason for that. Not all service is excellent. Not all restaurants offer the same experience. It would be just as silly to tip every server 25 percent as it would to pay the same amount for a Milky Way at Wawa and a tarte aux fruits at Le Bec-Fin. But servers count on earning a certain amount of money each shift, the same way you count on your hourly wage. And nothing feels worse than knowing you did a good job and having the guest tell you so, then finding 10 percent scratched onto the credit card receipt.

I ask you to think of the bussers, food runners, bartenders and servers out there night after night, trying to feed their families and to provide a better life for generations to come. Think of the way they sacrifice their Friday and Saturday nights to the cause of keeping you well fed and liquored. Think of the endless blisters suffered in uncomfortable footwear, the forearms scalded by spilled coffee, the long hours, the children starving in Africa--oops, wrong rant.

Or if that doesn't work, think of all of us stranded in Jersey because our $2.83 an hour wasn't enough to get us back over the bridge, and please be generous enough to help us get home.

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