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Tipping: A Tough Way to (Not) Make a Living


An HR manager once told me that he preferred to hire workers who had at least some food service experience on their CV. “No one knows how to work harder than a person who has worked for tips,” he told me. But does that hard work translate into a decent salary? PayScale’s Restaurant Report shows that the answer is often no.


(Photo Credit: shawnzrossi/Flickr)

This will come as a shock to the Mr. Pinks of the world, who still think that tips are an extra, and that earning them means leaving every shift with a large stack of cash. In fact, in 17 states, it’s legal to tip the federally mandated minimum tip wage, which is a whopping $2.13 an hour. If the weather is bad, or the restaurant is mysteriously deserted, or the customers are unusually cranky, it’s totally possible to walk out the door having earned less than a regular minimum-wage worker.

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In fact, only two job titles — banquet captain and bar manager — out of the 18 PayScale examined for the report earned more than $30,000 a year. Fewer than half the job titles worked 40 hours a week, which often means that in addition to being underpaid, restaurant workers are ineligible for healthcare benefits and paid time off. It all adds up to low pay, little to no job security, and low job satisfaction.

But the real issue, some workers say, is the tipping system itself.

“The restaurant industry in America features a broken financial structure — known as tipping — in which the guest and server are forced into a cash-incentivized relationship,” says Samuel Monsour, author and chef/proprietor of Caliber & Dice in Los Angeles. “Studies have proven that tipping is a less-than beneficial affair for both the diner and the server, yet, the restaurant industry as a whole insists on embracing this atrocity. …Until the day comes when this matter has been modernized, I recommend tipping a standard rate of 20 percent and always rounding up; your server or bartender’s quality of life depends on it.”

Don’t buy it? Have a look at some of the other food service horror stories PayScale rounded up for this package. If you’ve never worked a double only to find that you barely made gas money, it’ll be an eye-opening read.

Tell Us What You Think

Have you ever worked for tips? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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