Tipping and the issue of an uncertain paycheck

Photo by Casey Gomez

One of the most common complaints I hear on campus is about an uncertainty in grades for classes with heavy curves, but what many of the same students forget is that such is the reality for employees in the service industry.

With over 2.5 million employed as of May 2018, the service industry is one of the most populated in America according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Historically, serving and waitressing has been one of the most popular part-time jobs for students paying their way through college. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the only jobs where the tips you give them are how they pay their bills. 

Under federal law, employers can take a “tip credit” by paying tipped workers as low as $2.13 per hour, and while some states pay more than others, Georgia is among 18 other states that prefer the bare minimum. The assumption is that tips acquired throughout the day will bring the hourly wage up to the mandated minimum wage, but there are six states that either do not have minimum wage laws or have legislature that does not apply to tipped employees. Georgia is the latter. 

As a reference, think about the last class you had where the test average was lower than a “D.” The uncertainty in the extent of the curve is scary, even for the average student in the class. There’s an inherent stress because a final grade in the class is less based on a student’s knowledge of the subject and more based on a relativity to other students, or even subjectivity, altogether. Now imagine if your salary was determined the same way. You would hope that students might band together with empathy for the situation, but in reality, those hopes would be in vain.

“When young, college-age people come into a restaurant,” one server said, “servers are crossing their fingers that students aren’t put into their section. You know they’re going to try to be as cheap as possible and then leave a dollar at most.” 

While college students live a stereotype of tight budgets, being short on cash should not be an excuse for being a bad person. Tips are as much a metric of quality as they are a majority of a server’s salary. Tipping less than 15% on a bill would mean that you needed to talk to a manager about poor service. A 20% tip is considered standard for service received, and leaving any more than a 25% tip is translated as five-star service. Money talks, and servers remember what customers say with it. 

Student apathy is a subject repeatedly brought up in the Technique, and it extends well-beyond the college bubble surrounding campus. Whether its issues as large as mental health provisions or problems as small as tipping servers, students should actively think beyond themselves and leave a positive impact on the world around them. Sure, most student budgets are tight, but put it towards an individual rather than the pockets of Amazon with that next, possibly needless, purchase.  

Because tipping in America is so often an unspoken rule, a lot of ambiguity complicates a fundamental concept: treat others the way you want to be treated. So, at your next sub-standard restaurant experience, consider the option that a long wait for food or drinks isn’t the server’s fault, but is rather a problem in the kitchen or from the bartender. Use your own judgement, but don’t make someone suffer for someone else’s mistakes. And most of all, remember that servers are people, too.