Tipping is a weird tradition in America. It’s not just a tradition, it’s a regulated system, placing me as a waiter in a different blue-collar category than other workers. I wait tables at U.S. federal minimum wage for tipped workers – $2.13/hr – so about 85% of my average hourly earnings comes from tips.* Note that minimum wage for other workers is $7.25/hr, which is piss-poor.
If it were up to me, I’d be paid a decent wage for doing my job properly, and there would be no social pressure on customers to tip, nor one on me to suck up to them. America’s customer-is-king mentality, however, demands that I do, and the tip system encourages this. Business owners get away with paying their servers a lot less, but since most of our income is from customers, we think nothing of granting the customer more than they paid for; extra this and that costs the restaurant something, too. Furthermore, Americans are already used to the practice of seeing “$11.95” on the menu, then being charged $12.67 to include sales tax, then adding 15% or more as a tip (and frankly, on a bill that size, leaving it at $15 with the change for the waiter would be a meager tip for the time taken). It’s usually more; I give customers extreme respect and always agree to their requests, no matter how much trouble it is, so my average tip is about 20% on the bill.
But then Sunday comes.
I’ve heard other waiters complain about getting a table of black customers – that they don’t tip as much – or elderly people for the same reason. As stereotyping alone this would be unfortunate, but it simply isn’t true. If there’s one demographic that tips badly, it’s the church crowd. In a heavily-religious part of the country, eve in a town of affluent people, the Sunday lunch shift means dealing with dressed-up, soft-spoken churchgoers who probably feel like they’ve already given enough back to society today, and they will screw you. I don’t think the tipping system is a very good one, but it’s socially expected – and I both practice and rely on it – to compensate someone for good service. Yet it’s the white, upper-middle-class, churchgoing Christians, expousing generosity and condemning greed, who are the least generous group of customers I can name.
That is why I find the examples provide in the linked article (the latter is from about two weeks ago) angering, and why it’s so pleasing to hear Bill Maher lay it down on people who tip poorly for shitty reasons. I’m not much of a fan, but the man has nailed them.
* I make around $10-12/hr average, including the one hour out of five I spend doing side jobs in the restaurant instead of actual service, for which I am also paid $2.13. I am at the mercy of volume and generosity of customers; sometimes a five hour shift will result in $20 for me, sometimes $80.