Gentle Readers . . . and Maxwell,
Rachel of When A Lion Sleeps, Let It Sleep has started a "Tough Topics" series on Mondays. I asked if she, as a long-time server, would please write a post for us about what servers experience with their pay--and I lose the term "pay" loosely. I don't know how anyone can read this post and insist that servers don't deserve to earn a living wage.
I hope you'll visit Rachel at her blog to comment on this post and to follow her. Here's Rachel:
Hey everyone. It's Rachel, Janie's bloggy daughter, from When A Lion Sleeps, Let It Sleep.
I worked in a family-owned Italian restaurant for just over a year, about half of which was spent as a server. When I moved to Arizona, I worked in a big, corporate steakhouse with asshole managers for five months until I quit, because said asshole managers were in fact, assholes. (Also, I got a promotion at my other job, so I didn't need to keep the server job.) I'm sure that you've guessed what the subject of my guest post is.
Serving. More importantly, tipping.
Servers in America live on tips.
Most servers don't even get paychecks anymore, because the government assumes that each server makes at least 15% in tips every single shift, so the government collects taxes on that assumed 15%. The percentage is based on sales. If a server sells $100, then the government is going to assume that they made $15, so they will collect taxes on that $15 that the server may not have even made.
Let's use a 10% tax because from what I saw online, that's fairly average. That comes up to $1.50. So, regardless of what the tip was, you would already owe the government $1.50. That's not very much, when you think about it, but that's not all.
All of taxes collected come out of the server's paycheck. In nearly every city of nearly every state, servers make between $2.13 to $3.00 per hour. Taxes vary from state to state, so we'll just stick with my example, but keep in mind that when you add in state tax as well as the regular tax, you can owe even more money. With all of the taxes being taken out and the paychecks being next to nothing to begin with, most servers don't even get a paycheck. None of the servers I know ever gets a paycheck for more than $15. Usually, it's closer to $5 or less.
Then, to top it all off, the server also owes other restaurant employees a percentage of the money. It's called "tip out." It's different in every restaurant, but in the Italian one I worked in, it was 2.5% of the total sales and the steakhouse was 1.75% of the total sales. The tip out is split between the hostesses, the food runners, the bussers, and the bartenders. There might be more people on that list depending on the restaurant also. Whether or not the server makes the amount, they still have to tip out. In some restaurants, I've been told that the tip out is up to 50% of the tips earned. Let's stick with the 2.5% of the total sales because that's the example I'm using, from my own personal experience.
So now you know how the money is divided up. Assuming that the server got the $15 tip on the $100 tab, we can take away the tax, leaving the server with $13.50. Then we have to take away the $2.50 that goes to the tip out. So that would leave the server with $11 that they would actually get to keep from it, since the taxes are taken from a paycheck that they probably won't ever see.
The customary tip in America is to leave at least 20% for good service. So minus the tax it would be $18.50 and then minus the tip out, the server would then walk with the $16 remaining. That's pretty decent to leave with.
But the problem is, a lot of people are assholes, so let me tell you the story where all this math becomes relevant.
It was a Friday night, so the restaurant was slammed. I wanted to turn tables, because the more tables you can have in your section, the more money that you can make. I was only given a four table section, but two of the tables were not ideal so it was very hard to get people to sit there. A table of two was in my section at table 93. It was an older man in a wheelchair and his grandson, who was a little older than me.
I introduced myself and told them about our specials. They were new to the restaurant so I offered them some suggestions. They each got their own appetizer and a glass of wine. It came out as quickly as possible on a busy Friday night. I ran everything out to them myself, because I knew how busy the food runners were. My other good table, booth number 102, was a party of four, whom I greeted and got drinks for. They had a lot of questions for me, but table 92 kept calling me over just to chat.
In order to get to the booth, I had to walk by the table, but I couldn't do so without them stopping me for something. They never needed anything, though, which meant that I was wasting time when I could be helping the booth of people who actually did need my services.
Table 92 ordered two entrees and two more glasses of wine. There were special instructions involved, which meant that it took me twice as long to ring in, because I had to make sure that it all went onto the computer correctly. Even so, they had their meals within fifteen minutes. I was finally able to get over to table 102, to give them much-needed refills and get their full order. They were annoyed, understandably, but very nice about it.
Everyone got their food and was eating, all six people. I was very happy. It gave me time to help out the other servers who had a more ideal section, so were much busier with larger parties.
Table 92 called me over. The old man wanted the bill, which I handed to him right away, and asked me to wheel him to the bathroom. He must have weighed well over 100 pounds more than me, but I got him to the bathroom and he went inside alone, because I am not that nice. The bill stayed on the table for ten minutes before he came back. I was fine with it, because their bill had come up to $99.61. They had been there for about two hours at that point, but I was hoping for the 20% tip because that would roughly even out to making $10 per hour that they were there.
The old man came back, handed me a hundred dollar bill, and I went to the back to close out the check. I wasn't gone more than two minutes, but when I got back, they were gone. I was hoping that they left some extra cash on the table, since I saw quite a bit in his wallet when he opened it to give me the $100. I didn't find it. I called the bus boy over. We tore the table apart but we never found anything. My tip after two hours of constant service was 39 cents.
But no, I didn't even get to keep it, because I owed $2.50 in tip out alone, plus taxes. I literally paid about $4 to work. I didn't get paid. I paid money to do the job that I was supposed to be paid for. Can you name one other job that has to do that?
Not only did I have to pay to serve them, but I could have seated at least two other tables where they were sitting, if they had not sat there for so long. Then to top it all off, my service suffered at booth 102 because they were so needy-chatty. I lost more than just $4 because of all of that. On a Friday night, I walked with a minimum of $70 every week, but that night I walked with about $30.
Even if there is bad service, I will never leave less than 10% because I know they have to pay tip out and taxes on it. For good service, I will never leave less than 20% because I know that somebody else will walk without leaving anything at all and that my tip will at least help pay for tip out and taxes. Because why the fuck should you have to pay to go to work?
Thank you, Rachel, for explaining this injustice to us. Maybe some readers will leave larger tips as a result of Rachel's post. And if you can't afford the tip, then don't eat out.
Infinities of love,
If you can't afford to tip, then you need to be at home eating ramen noodles and drinking water from the facet. It's not the servers' fault if you spend too much on appetizers or drinks. Don't spend more than you can afford, but act like a 20% tip is part of the bill. Minimum.ReplyDelete
I didn't include that the large party gratuity system is actually no longer in effect in most restaurants. Now, restaurants have to pay to keep it, so I know people who have worked parties of 20 and made $20 on the entire table because everyone left $1 or $2. Do you wanna take 20 orders, keep 20-40 drinks full (if they're drinking alcohol, they should always have a water also), keep 5 bread baskets flowing with butter, deal with special requests, carry 20 hot plates and then pre-bus, then split the check 20 ways, and clean up after 16 adults and 4 toddlers who trashed the restaurant so bad the health department might fail you on the spot? No? Nobody does. That's why you leave a good tip, stay respectful, never touch the server, and correct anybody who is being an ass.
This is what happens when I start talking about something I'm passionate about. I can't stop and then I get all worked up and ranty.
Thank you for letting me write this post. I'm just gonna try to calm myself down now because I'll never sleep when I get this angry at inconsiderate people. I don't write as many angry server blog posts as I have in my mind because I just can't seem to stop once I get started. Ahhhh. People are assholes...
Did I thank you yet? I don't remember and I'm too lazy to scroll up. It's always amazing to be allowed on somebody else's blog. It makes me feel special. Also, your blog is the only one I've ever guest posted on, so I feel extra special because I was allowed back.
I didn't know they'd gotten rid of the large party gratuity at most places. I know it made a lot of customers angry. How dare anyone tell them how much to tip?Delete
They're the ones who want extra lemon in their water so they can add sugar to make lemonade, want bread so nobody orders appetizers, and will only get dessert if it's free. But all the while, snap their fingers when a server is carrying a tray of hot plates for another server, because they want to remind them that their food needs to be hot or they'll send it back.Delete
Awesome to see Rachel over here.ReplyDelete
I always give 20% or more unless it's just truly crappy service. And by that I mean REALLY bad. Like, if you're blatantly rude to me, flirting with the other server while my food spends 15 minutes on the counter getting cold (happened before), then that tells me they obviously don't want their job enough to want that money. BUT ... for the record, that's only happened twice in all the times I've dined out. Ever. I think way too many people justify stupid excuses like, "Well, they took 5 extra minutes to bring me water, so no tip," or "they didn't smile a ton and laugh when I cracked a joke so they were obviously being rude to me, no tip."
I may not know many things, but I do know that a server isn't a trained jester who's supposed to bend whimsically (and instantly) to your every need just to earn his or her paycheck. Because if I had to do that at the office, I'd just never get paid. "Well, your work on the Thompson account was good, but you didn't smile during the presentation and you forgot to bring me my stapler, so NO PAY."
My meal at the neighborhood restaurant usually costs less than $10. I almost always leave $20, unless I'm really hard up for money and can only tip $5. I know how hard the servers work, and they treat me like gold.Delete
Servers remember the great customers who treated them like people and the horrible customers who treated them like dirt. If you go eat out to eat all the time and NEVER have good service, the problem has to be some correlating factor. Only having it happen twice simply means that they were probably too comfortable in the job or brand new and had no idea that they have to work their asses off to get a tip.Delete
If thinks take a while, the server is swamped 99% of the time, even if they never look stressed. I went out to eat and my waiter had 3 six-tops, 4 two-tops, a 10 top, and was given a table of around 14. He greeted them with an apology right away because that is too much for ANYONE to handle. I left him extra because I know at least half of the tables weren't going to realize that.
Great post, Rachel! I really didn't know that the governement taxes on estimated tips, I thought they taxed on what you declare. This was definitely eye opening. I always tip 20% and often more than that at cheaper places, because I feel bad leaving on $2 for the server. But now I'm going to give even more, especially when the service is great.ReplyDelete
That's because you're already a good person.Delete
They do it based on the credit card tips, but because people can still leave in cash, they'll bump it up to 15% if it's not already there. A lot of restaurants are making it so that the tips actually make a paycheck so that servers can show what they actually earned, but even still, that wouldn't show the cash so I'm not sure it's going to work as well as they hope.Delete
I agree completely with Rachel. Having worked with a number of folks who are waiters/waitresses and seen their paychecks with the tips deducted from their pay, I can definitely see the problems. We usually tip between 15 and 20%ReplyDelete
Most of my friends get paychecks for a nickel or less. They would either throw them out or go straight to the owner (at the Italian restaurant) and ask if he would just give them the change. He always did because otherwise it was a waste of has to go all the way to the bank for a few pennies.Delete
I didn't know about the tip out. I ALWAYS leave 20-25%!!ReplyDelete
You're a good person.Delete
Tip out is because the servers' help staff are also considered "tipped employees" so they usually make around $5 an hour. At least, that's how it was for the hosts, bussers, and runners. I'm unsure about bartenders. I feel like they shouldn't be tipped out though. They should get a regular paycheck because they may be helping the server, but half the time, they'll help their friends first and leave everyone else to suffer.Delete
Hi, Rachel (and Janie)! After reading your guest post and your follow-up comment about the post, I share your anger. I am also angry at myself for not realizing how little servers are paid for all their hard work and how heavily they are taxed. However, I was keenly aware of the poor tipping habits and rude behavior of many people who eat in restaurants. Mrs. Shady and I dine out at least a dozen times a year and are conscientious tippers. Unless the meal is a complete disaster or the server seems deliberately negligent, we always calculate 20% of the bill and then round it up a couple more dollars so that the tip comes to more than 20%. If the restaurant is especially busy I take that into account. I don't punish my server for having a lot to do. Many, perhaps most customers don't see it that way. They believe the universe revolves around them. They feel entitled or they might have personal problems going on and are in a nasty, demanding mood. They take it out on their server by complaining about every little thing, running the server ragged bringing them extra items and finish their performance by stiffing the server on the tip. Some people I have seen in restaurants (and I know you have, too) should wear a sign around their neck that says "Instant asshole - just add alcohol."ReplyDelete
Thank you for enlightening us, dear Rachel. I will never again go into a restaurant without bearing in mind all that you revealed to us here.
What a great comment, as always, Sir Shady.Delete
Sir Shady, I would like to be your friend. Everything that you said is correct. In a restaurant, people seem to forget that they are not the Sun and that, while they should be taken care of the best way possible, they are no better than anyone else and should not act as such.Delete
My wife makes more money than I do and she always insists on leaving tips. She even asks for the manager so she can compliment our server and inform him of the excellent service we've received.ReplyDelete
Mrs. C. and I could become close friends. She might even decide she prefers my company to yours.Delete
Compliments for servers are a huge deal. If there are ever surveys online, you should totally check them out, because in big corporate restaurants that's how the big bosses can see it too.Delete
We rarely eat out, though we did today. We generally leave around a 20% tip, which I know is not enough. There is a book - Behind The Kitchen Door - that I will be reading very soon that really tackles this situation well.ReplyDelete
I hope you'll write a post about what you learn from the book.Delete
Sounds like my kind of book. I think I'll check it out. I agree with Janie though- it would be great if you shared what you learn from it.Delete
I agree, if you can't afford to tip, don't eat out.ReplyDelete
Why should people serve someone as if she's The Queen of Grammar if she doesn't tip properly?Delete
T I P SDelete
Or basically, make it worth showing up for with that day.
Dear Rachel, I never realized that serving could be this complicated. Or that it could be so compromised by some patrons. I began leaving 20% back in 1987 when I had a student who was a server in a Minneapolis restaurant. She explained to me then and 20% was a good tip. But now I see that I need to be leaving 25% at least. Thanks for bringing me up to date. All of us deserve a living wage. And a paycheck. Peace.ReplyDelete
What a lovely comment, Dee.Delete
20% is still considered good but if you leave 25%, you're guaranteed to make the server happy.Delete
My dad was a waiter, and he taught me to tip well.ReplyDelete
I think the worst part is when somebody knows what it's like and still refuses to tip. I'm glad he taught you well.Delete
You are the kind of person who would tip well no matter what.Delete
I leave 20% minimum. Someone has to really tick me off for me to leave less, but it has happened a time or two. Great post. I hope a lot of people read it.ReplyDelete
If I'm ticked off to the point of wanting to leave less, it's usually the point I feel a manager should be involved. That only happened once. My server disappeared for 20 minutes at a time and when we located him, he was sitting down eating and playing on his phone. Now, it's not easy for servers to get regular breaks, but considering the fact that he had several tables, he should have spent his time more wisely. We still left him between 10 and 15% though, however way it rounded, because of taxes and tipout.Delete
Thanks so much for this enlightening post, Rachel. I knew, of course, that servers make next to nothing and need their tips to survive. But I had no idea of the assumptions made by the government as far as taxes go.ReplyDelete
It's the shocking part of how the math actually ends up. I always knew that too but I never fully understood it until I was doing that for a living.Delete
Yikes! Very enlightening.ReplyDelete
Thank you for being enlightened!Delete
I've been a waitress, so I almost always tip 20% minimum unless the server is just downright rude.ReplyDelete
If the server is down right rude, I wonder what's going on in their life. Servers- typically- understand that they make a living by being nice to people. I've had off days and I knew I didn't deserve the 20% tips for service, but I certainly didn't try to be rude or anything like that either.Delete
I worked as a server in the 80s, when it was more reasonable for servers to make the hourly wage they make now. It's incomprehensible to me that it hasn't gone up but someone explained to me that every time there's a bill to increase it, the restaurant industry lobbies (i.e., passes some money under the table to politicians) and it gets shot down. Restaurants CLAIM they wouldn't be able to stay in business if they had to pay servers what they deserve. Ridiculous. My mom always accuses me of overtipping, but I would rather give them a little extra money and save money elsewhere. Besides, we eat at the same restaurants all the time and I have noticed when you tip well, people tend to remember you and give you really good service!ReplyDelete
So very true. The best tippers and the worst tippers make the most impressions. If you want to leave a bad tip, I can't suggest going back to that same restaurant again because you will likely be remembered and the good tippers will be the priority customers.Delete
"Even if there is bad service, I will never leave less than 10% because I know they have to pay tip out and taxes on it."ReplyDelete
That's not a reason. They aren't ABOVE ANYONE ELSE. You OBVIOUSLY have NEVER had TRULY BAD, RUDE service before, have you?
If they have to tip out, SO WHAT? I mean they should KNOW BETTER to TREAT YOU LIKE A HUMAN BEING WITH FEELINGS. You can still mess up, it's HOW YOU *****HANDLE****** IT that makes a HUGE DIFFERENCE. Saying you are sorry, asking the manager to comp something, etc. Those are ways to rectify a situation. Some servers can't admit fault, they just can't and even LIE about who is at fault even, not EVER ONCE saying they are sorry.
They knew when they took the job that they'd have to tip out. Everybody pays taxes, so mentioning that is just stupid.
Actually, many new servers don't know about tip out before being hired. The managers don't always tell them until after the fact.Delete
Servers can never offer to comp for food because they are not managers. The most that they are able to do is say, "I am so sorry about that. Please, let me take this to be fixed and get a manager for you." If they offer to comp food, they'll likely be written up or fired for stealing from the restaurant.
If you screw up at work and a customer is unhappy, you still get a paycheck. Your boss gets a paycheck. Your buddy gets a paycheck. Nobody is suffering for payment when they get a real paycheck, by the hour. But when a server screws up, they end up paying money for it.
I think the ironic part of this entire post is your key point is that servers are not above anyone else- which is completely true. But also the fact, that you say that it's how you handle the situation that makes all of the difference.
For instance, I'm quite annoyed with you at the moment, but I believe I am being fairly nice and polite. You, however, basically bitched me out on my personal choice to spend my hard-earned money on something that does not, in any way, directly involve you. It's all about how you handle the situation, correct?
Then next time you're out to eat, when I bet the server is just so horribly rude and nothing ever comes out right, ask to speak with the manager instead of complaining to the server. Why? They didn't cook the food. They have other tables they need to serve. They can't comp anything for you whether you want them to or not, because it has to be approved by management on the computers anyways. It would save time and energy on everyone.
Servers are not perfect and they are not mind readers. If you want a manager or to comp the food, ask for it. If you don't want to tip, that's your choice, but I would suggest hitting up McDonald's or never eating in the same place twice or you'll get a bad reputation with the kitchen staff.
I wasn't anything so classy as a "server", just a truck stop waitress. Worked graveyard--just myself and a cook. I bused my own tables, washed dishes, hand dried silverware, hauled clean dishes back out, filled all the condiments and napkins, washed windows, while waiting on everybody from 10pm to 6am by myself...which was sometimes eight booths and all 12 stools of the after the bar closed crowd. It was back around 1970. I got less than half of minimum wage and people tend to not tip at truck stops so I could work a whole shift and only average $3-5.00...all in nickels dimes and quarters. (And the cook told me I made more than any other waitress she'd worked with.) The best tippers were the actual truck drivers...my regulars gave me quarters and they even defended me against obnoxious drunks. Was like having big brothers to watch out for me when they were around. ;)ReplyDelete
Needless to say, I always tip well. Has to be really bad service for me to leave a small tip. I see times have not changed. In fact, they have gotten worse with having to share with all these other employees. From what I heard it's because they don't want to pay those positions a higher wage like they used to because they couldn't earn tips. It's a rough job. I did like it, though. Because I liked waiting on people and making them laugh or smile. I learned how to handle most drunks, bullies, and demanding folk so that they'd leave contented. Not 100% of the time, but almost always. They still didn't tip for shit, though--LOL! ;)
You are hilarious. I bet the truckers loved you.Delete
I had heard these rumors before I started there about fights and somebody dying and how scary truckers were...but I needed a job, so off I went. I loved the truckers! They called me Legs and Blondie and Cutie Pie--LOL! I heard the Waitress to Go and the Pine Float jokes so many times, but I'd laugh because they needed to smile in the middle of the night. They were like big brothers--except for the wanting the malts thing--ROFL! (Do you remember that one on my stories blog?) I was so trusting a naive, I think that's why they were so protective of me. Plus I got to know certain driver's trucks and when I'd see them pull up I'd put in their favorite breakfast order and have a cup of hot coffee waiting for them by the time they walked in the door with breakfast on the grill. That would make them smile, I tell you. ;) Ah! I have always loved service jobs.Delete
I don't know what those jokes are and I don't remember the malts. Lately I've felt as if I'm in a fog. I'm so forgetful.Delete
I feel like you should tell me some of your stories. It sounds like you have a good time at that job, even if you weren't making much money in tips.Delete
Poor as a church mouse, my one good meal a day was my free meal at work, learned to drink coffee because it was free & helped keep me awake all night, couldn't afford to run a nylon, and had to wash my clothes in the sink...but I honestly love people, enjoyed the multi-tasking so the night flew by, and truly believe in pouring myself into doing my best in whatever job I have ever had. I was truly born to live in the time of the first pure hippies...even if I never met one in Minnesota--LOL! ;) They were into saving the earth and living simply and loving everyone (and that was before the whole movement changed to the free love concept--which was a whole other thing--but there's nothing wrong with that, as Seinfeld would have said). ;)Delete
I love the concept of living simply. I have come close to it at times. I like to keep my life here in Florida as simple as possible.Delete
Simple is good, but I was reduced to too simple one summer when I was eighteen and I lived out of a big tapestry shoulder bag on the streets of Anoka. Not eating for three days at a time and sleeping in the park hiding under pine trees is a little too simple for me. ROFL! I'll take my kind of poverty simple right now, thank you very much. ;) You really learn what luxury is when you haven't had a bed, shower, or regular meals for a few months. It was a good experience. (I was known as Sunshine and The Mad Hugger. Hung around with the drunks and dopers because they were the only people awake all night (too scary to sleep in the park at night so I slept there during the day). I learned a lot. :) Probably why I appreciated my $1.50 an hour waitress job. LOL! Gosh! You guys triggered a wistful trip down memory lane.Delete
Thanks for the ..... TipsReplyDelete
Thanks for visiting to get the . . . Tips.Delete
Puns. I love puns. Thank you.Delete
No, you wheeled him to the bathroom and they still didn't tip!?! Knowing how awful humanity can be, I feel obligated to tip 20%. I don't understand how people can brazenly ignore a general societal contract to be good to one another. That story is infuriating.ReplyDelete
"Societal contract" is the perfect phrase, Pickleope. You are a genius.Delete
It's like saying "You're welcome" (or "My pleasure", for a server) after somebody says "Thank you". It's not required but it makes a hell of a difference.Delete
As someone who waitressed her way through nursing school, I've always had a heart for servers. It is a hard, sweaty, demanding job - or a slow, unrewarding ($$) job and you never know for sure how much you are going to make. I can't imagine having to live that way (obviously...I'm not still doing it).ReplyDelete
As a result, I always do 20%, if not more. You can give me crappy service, and you'll still get the 20% because of the vocation.
Which leads to the second, more upbeat comment: in all of our favorite haunts, we have favorite waitresses. If they see us standing in line to be seated, they will grab us and sit us in their section. Good tipping has its perks for the customer, too.
Servers are so nice to us. It's totally worth giving them a few extra $ to get the premium service.Delete
My mom was one of the favorite customers where I worked. I taught her to tip and along with her personality, my friends and I fought over who would be able to serve her whenever she stayed to eat.Delete
I never knew a lot of this! Good to know. I always tip at least 15%, and often 20%.ReplyDelete
i was shocked by the tip-out information. I've seen a lot of "rants" recently saying servers shouldn't be paid minimum wage. I'm glad I had the opportunity to ask Rachel to explain the true situation of a server to us.Delete
I would honestly like to believe that servers don't get paid what they deserve because people just don't know better. Otherwise, I would lose faith in humanity.Delete
I wish I had read this before I went to Hawaii, not that it would have changed anything because each time we ate out if the bill was say $20 including a 18% tip we would round it up to $25 as I told Tim that I didn't think the servers made much money per hour and their tips were important but he didn't get how important if I had read this I could have explained it better to him in Australia waiters make between $15-20 per hour but we don't tip here eitherReplyDelete
American servers desperately need a living wage and health insurance benefits.Delete
Most people visiting from other countries don't even get the best service because they are stereotyped into not tipping, because they usually don't tip in their countries. I certainly never tried to do that but after being given a few shiny coins, I came to expect it. I'm still angry at myself for that because I stereotyped people to begin with.Delete
GREAT post! My daughter has been serving since she was 16 (she's 22 now and putting herself through school...with tips!). I've always been a decent tipper, but I understand even better now that my baby girl has to live on tips. I'm a much better tipper now. :)ReplyDelete
Thank you! It's amazing how much it can change your perspective when you know somebody who is living on tips.Delete