Tuesday, September 29, 2009

In regards to ....

In the homecoming post, Suzanne posted the following comment:

Okay, I'm going to go completely out on a limb here, and being anonymous, I gonna really not hold back. What the heck, call me a coward, I'll get over it.
To give you an idea of how often I eat out, here are some facts. I have never gone out for dinner with my parents in my life. I have been married 17 years to my hubby, and having 4 kids has seriously affected our finances, in that we go out for fast food maybe once every couple of months, and for a 'nicer' meal, like Swiss Chalet, once or twice a year.
I have to tell you that my jaw is dropping when I read your and other blogs like this. I thought you all were paid minimum wage, which as far as I know here in Canada is getting close to a very respectable $10per hour. I know that the polite thing is to tip, and we do, generally not more than 15 %, but here's my point. I thought that getting a tip was exactly what the word sounds like, an extra little something something for a job well done. From what I read here, it is tantamount to giving your waitress the finger, if you don't tip at least that regardless of service or quality of food. We work hard for our money, AS DO YOU, but is it really the case that when you don't tip (enough) you are really the lowest scum out there?

I wanted to address this fully, hence the post. First, being anonymous doesn't make you a coward--that only applies to the asshat who likes to anonymously troll my blog every few weeks! Nothing wrong with it otherwise.

I did a quick search, and it seems that servers in Canada do get minimum wage. In that case, a tip is absolutely an extra. If I got minimum wage for my job, I wouldn't bitch nearly as much as I do! Of course, if I got minimum wage I'd find some other minimum wage job instead--serving is worth it because of the potential to make more, and also because you get the cash in hand, now, and taxes are taken out of the wage you do get.

In my state, that's $4 an hour. It used to be $2.13; it still is in most states. I went years without getting a physical paycheck that was for more than $2 total. I think California is the only state where servers receive a true minimum wage. Everywhere else, servers get the shaft, and tips really do make up the vast bulk of our income. It's a sort of social contract; customers get lower food costs in exchange for the inconvenience of tipping. If that were eliminated, the price of menu items would go up. I wrote a blog post about it last year, but it's pretty long so I'll just summarize it.

At my particular restaurant, increasing server wage to minimum would cost the restaurant an extra $300 per day, a 42% increase. There are two ways to compensate for that: cut portion sizes, or raise prices. Either way is less hard goods for your dollar amount, and most likely the cost would just be tacked on to menu prices (as it was when the increase to $4 happened). If server wage were increased to minimum wage, a four person tab of $77 now would become $109--whereas with a 15% tip it's only $88.50.

Essentially, with the current system in the U.S., customers are paying for the foodstuffs, the cook's labor, and the operating costs such as electricity. When they don't tip, they're getting service labor for free--it's not included in the base cost of their food, after all. Furthermore, servers get taxed on the imaginary percentage they "should" be getting. A lot of people think that servers either get a fuckton of tips they don't claim on a good day, or on a bad day that they'll just claim what they get and that's that.

(This is about to get long, but I'm trying to be thorough.)

While I'm sure there are a few places that still happens, they're very few. Owners and managers of private restaurants have to make certain that their staff is claiming a certain percentage of the restaurant's total sales (I think it's 8%?) or risk getting audited. That may not sound like much, but if you factor in a bar, to go service, the regular dining area, and at some places banquet halls where. Bartenders may or may not get tips depending on the situation; to-go servers may or may not; banquet halls may have a self-service line and not have to pay a gratuity. There are a lot of sales with often only the dining area workers getting tips they have to claim. So even if the restaurant doesn't have a computer system that regulates what servers claim, the people in charge will monitor it.

If they have a computer system, as corporate restaurants do, it's even worse. Say I have $500 in sales. If it was all in cash, the system is going to require me to claim at least $50 in tips. If I got less, I can have a manager approve it--but again, they have to watch the overall percentage. I couldn't get away with consistently claiming less as it would trigger alarms in the computer system and I'd be questioned. So sometimes, because of that, I have to claim more than I made.

If that $500 was all on credit cards, it's even worse. At the end of the night, I go through each credit slip and enter the tip into the computer before running my checkout. When I clock out, the computer again wants me to claim 10% of that $500 even if every sale was on a credit card and the system knows I only have $40. Again, I can get the manager swipe, and it's less of an audit danger there as there's documentation .... but for a lot of reasons, sometimes I won't get that manager approval. Maybe I'm in a hurry and the GM is on the phone with her sister and ignoring her job or Lapdog is pissed off and not answering when he's spoken to.

The worst case scenario, though, is when every last sale is a credit card, and every last tip is on a credit card. If I get all my tips on credit cards, and they add up to $86, there is no way to claim less--even if I had to tip out $20. Or maybe I got $80 in credit cards and $6 in cash, then had to tip out $20--I still have to claim at least the $80. And then whoever I give those tips to has to claim them, and so the goverment basically gets to tax that cash twice.

Imagine this situation. I have three or four tables or two, and maybe I make $20 off of them in credit card tips. Then a table of twenty comes in an takes up my entire section for the rest of the evening. Their bill comes to $250, and despite them having a great experience, the old granny who pays doesn't leave a tip--and our system doesn't even have auto-gratuity capability.

My checkout slip reads $350 in sales, and when I check out I have to claim the $20 in credit tips. The manager saw me throwing things and/or crying in the kitchen, so he knows I got stiffed by the big party and swipes his card so I don't have to claim the extra $25 (minimum) I should have gotten from them. However, I still have to tip the bartender who made me twenty drinks during the course of the evening, and sometimes I have to tip a bus kid or two, too. So I get taxed on $20, and I only take home maybe $14 for six hours of work, plus I'm pissed off, plus the bartender and bus kids are pissed too because they got shorted.

Yes, it's an extreme example, but this has happened to me. In that case, those twenty people got my time, effort, and service for free, and they cost me money. Because I have to pay taxes on that $6 I had to claim, but also had to tip out. The same thing applies if it's a table of two who don't leave me 10% of a $20 bill. Is it a lot of money? No, but it adds up, and I don't go to work to pay to serve people their goddamn fried chicken! And certainly there are days when I make well above the 10% the computer requires me to pay ... but if the extra is on credit cards, I'm still claiming it. And if I don't, it's really only compensating for times when I lost out because of situations like the above.

So are people who don't tip the lowest scum on the face of the earth? No. They rank about pedophiles, rapists, and murders. But they are low-grade thieves, I think. And if your server provides good service, and if you're in a place with the social contract regarding tipping and low food cost, then not tipping at all is a huge finger to your server.

As far as not tipping "enough" ... well, that's subjective. If I get 10% off a couple of people who were low maintenance and polite, then I'm not thrilled but I'm not pissed. If somebody runs me like I'm doing a goddamn Jane Fonda workout video and then leaves me ten percent or less? I start having thoughts of stabbing.

On the other hand, if I screw up majorly, like I did with the steak guys, I expect nothing. If I'm mediocre and I know it (clap your hands), I don't get cranky about a mediocre tip. But if you're nice to my face and telling me what a great job I did, and if everything was perfect with your meal, and you tip my 5%? I'm going to remember you, and not fondly.

Similarly, if something is wrong with your food that is completely out of my control--say, a steak with a large vein of gristle through the center--and I fix it promptly and with an apology, and then you stiff me or short me? You will be remembered. Especially if because of that "error" you got your food for free! Now you've cost the restaurant money, you've gotten free food and labor, and you've cost your server some money too. Unless the server caused the error or was a bitch about it, there is no earthly reason to punish them! Why should I pay taxes on money I didn't get because a cow in Wisconsin grew connective tissue in an inopportune place?

Also, please keep in mind that blogs like this naturally highlight the best and the worst--there's a hell of a lot of in-between. Probably 50% of my customers don't tip me "enough" since the economy went tits-up, but unless it's under 10% or they were jerks, I'm probably not going to mention it here other than as part of an overview.

This may be a lot more info than you were looking for, especially since you're in a place where servers do get that minimum wage; but I'm wordy.


Anonymous said...

Yah, you're not ticked at me!!!Thanks so much for taking the time to explain in great detail how things work in your neck of the woods. I had ab-so-lutely no idea at all that the wait staff in America was getting stiffed like that. What the heck is the minimum wage for if not for people like yourselves? I don't understand what sort of loophole they use for this, but I assure you that I have a whole new view on what I read from y'all out there! No wonder you write about the tips so much! LoL! Thank you tons for taking the time to educate this Canadian!

K.H. said...

This is a great post. May I cross post it to my blog? I'll link back!

R.A. said...

I agree with KH. Awesome post!
I wish people understood the minimum wage thing- where I am it's $2.13 for serving and JUST went up to $6.55 for regular minimum wage.

pixienighingale said...

to Anon:
The way they get around this is the forcing their staff to claim that certain percentage; where my granddad lives (South Carolina), 2$ or 3$ is the norm, because they AUTOMATICALLY count that you MUST receive tips.


But my view on tips? Unless I am trying to pay all in cash (for my husband more than I, really) or you give really shitty service, you're getting 20%.

Because you do a service for me.

And my husband asks for "just water".

And sometimes I dine with shitty people.

But you're attentive (as in, you might try to casually stop by when you're making rounds) - and don't completely disappear after we get our food, you're getting a tip. :D

JumpIt said...

This is a great post!

I currently make $2.83 an hour and I have to claim at least 8%. The tips I bring home go toward everything that someone working a normal 9-5 job puts their money toward. I wish more people realized that servers in the united states are not paid minimum wage. I'm lucky in that my current job does not have any bussers and we do not tip out the host. It annoys me to no end to have to tip out and give money to other people who are already making minimum wage. I've worked other places where I've had to do that and it stinks.

purplegirl said...

@KH - feel free, I'm flattered!

@Suzanne - I'm glad you came back to read my very lengthly post! It's crazy how things work here, huh? The way the employers get around it is because the labor law states that if our tips don't add up to minimum wage, then the company has to make up the difference. On the face of it, it seems fair enough; but it's averaged over the entire pay period, so in 9.5 years of serving I've never once had a restaurant have to make up the difference.

@RA - Thank you! I bet you never get an actual paycheck, right? Now that it's $4/hour here, I do occasionally, but I remember all those checks with a zero balance--or I got one for one cent once!

@Maryann - you sound like you'd be a pleasure to wait on, even with the 'just water' ;)

@JumpIt - Thank you! It is pretty galling when you have to tip somebody making a decent hourly wage; I didn't usually mind at my first restaurant, as the bus kids did a whole lot of extra stuff. But the whole idea of tipping the host just seems ridiculous--it's like bribery.

Steven Nicolle said...

Like Suzanne I am from Canada as you probably know by now. I make $8.25 an hour where the minimum wage is I think now $10.25 an hour. Anyway it is a bit lower but not a lot like you guys. You know I think the waiters in the States are getting screwed royally by this system of declaring your tips in this fashion. In Canada when we claim our tips we do it at income tax time. On my gross wages each cheque I have to actually ask my employer to have tax taken off my cheque cause my hourly earnings are too low to take any off. Then at tax time I claim my gratuities. I couldn't work under your conditions or my wife and I who are both waiters wouldn't have any kids or nothing. I feel for you down there. I almost am feeling bad just talking about some of the good nights I have cause at the end of the night when I pay the tip pool the rest is mine. On another note don't believe that a higher price on an entree is going to stop people from going to your place to eat. If it is good which I am sure it is people will pay and leave a bigger tip with it. Also what a higher price does is weed out the cheap people. They will stop coming and wasting your time and you should get some bigger average cheques. All of you waiters down there should start complaining about that puny minimum wage you get.I mean it is not like you get health care like up here or a years' maternity leave when you have a baby. The States honestly has to catch up with the times. Don't get me wrong I love the States and always dreamed about working in some swanky restaurant in Fort Lauderdale or on a beach in Hawaii but what you go through is ridiculous. You are a victim of this stupid system. A good way to stimulate the economy is letting people who make less keep more. Right! Sorry for the long comment.Love your blog and if you decide to move up here someday and make some money...my wife and I will help you find a good paying waiter position. Okay I know really you are happy where you live but that is how strongly I feel about this injustice.

eternalcarryoutgirl said...

Suzanne-- min wage is for support people like me, I guess. In carryout, a tip is purely a reward for a job well done.

purplegirl said...

@Waiter Extraordinaire - if I get wanderlust and end up on Canada, I'll be taking you up on that! :) I'm glad servers are treated better there; I've signed many a petition about the situation here but as long as the businesses can get away with it, of course they will!

Pademelon said...

I'm now living in Australia and it's way different. But then servers here make a living wage, $14-20 an hour! So tips here are a rare thing.

But I used to live in California and I worked as a server in a major chain restaurant. Now, granted, I made minimum wage, which was $6.75 at the time, but it wasn't that much better. At the end of the night, I had to claim at least 11% of my total sales in tips, regardless of what I made, or face audit and investigation. Once in a while, I could have a manager swipe authorization for a lower total but not often. Plus, as mentioned, I had to claim the full amount of any credit card tips. The tax for those tips was taken out of my paycheck. So I was make minimum wage + tips - taxes on those tips. In addition, we were required to tip out a minimum of 4% of our tips to the bar, host, bussers and kitchen staff. However, due to the competitive nature of serving, tipping out less that 10% meant those staff members would favor those who tipped better and give them better help, food and tables.

So the system in the US isn't like other places in the world. It's been allowed to stay this way sort of as a grandfather-law kind of thing. This is the way it's been for decades. I knew serving would be that way because of stories my Dad told me about making $0.75 an hour!

Feel free to come out here too. Servers with a good work ethic are hard to find. The work would be easier and as a server you could make $15 an hour easy. If you got your responsible service of alcohol card, you could get upwards of $30 an hour, which, where I am, double if you work on Sunday!

Steven Nicolle said...

Australia has the best system like Europe in most places where you get benefits included , sick days , retirement savings etc..Canada is somewhere in the middle of all that.

Anonymous said...

I currently make 2.13 an hour and HAVE to claim 100% of my tips. We were forced to sign contracts that we would claim 100% of our tips and if we do not, we'll be terminated.

Kate said...

I'm a server in Washington State and here we do get minimum wage, but nobody ever works enough hours to live on minimum wage in the industry here (restaurant owners do EVERYTHING possible to avoid ever having to pay overtime), so tips still make up the bulk of my take-home pay.

Pademelon said...

Oh yeah, I forgot about that part. Not only do servers make $15-20 an hour and bartenders $25-30, you get overtime and full benefits, including retirement contributions (which kick in as soon as you're hired and is based on the number of hours you work) and paid sick & holiday leave if you work at the same place for (usually) a year. Plus, in addition to time and a half or double time on holidays, you also get time and a half or double on Sundays. One of my roommates was working at a popular bar and made $30 an hour weekdays, $60 an hour Sundays and was STILL pulling damn good tips for a country that doesn't tip. It was insane.

However, since it's a non-tipping country, the service you get in restaurants is usually crap. Good for the servers that get paid that much to provide minimal service but it sucks as a customer and former server coming from a place that does tip. My husband and I often tip, which usually means we get good service if we come back, but rarely do we get even decent service on the first trip.

purplegirl said...

@Stephanie -- I love Australia, for a long time I thought I'd end up moving there. When I was there I still tipped like I was in the States, so I'm sure I made a few servers very happy. :) Sounds like you all get treated infinitely better than server here do!

@Anonymous - We all have to sign those contracts; but it's just a scare tactic since they really can't prove anything other than credit tips. Still, I think 99.9% of us servers DO claim everything.

@Kate - I didn't know WA did minimum wage; but as you said, it's certainly still not enough to get by on. It's interesting how useless minimum wage really is!