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Monday, March 21, 2016

Tipping Point of Pain

Have you ever worked in a job where tipping is a valuable part of your income? Working for my father in a restaurant while a teenager, I picked up a few bucks as a busboy from “shared” tips. Occasionally, a customer gave me my own tip for some extra service I provided.

But the best of tipping experiences was when I was asked to help park cars at a Radisson hotel in Minnesota. What a great gig! You got to drive some pretty fine cars and then made oodles of tip money in a couple of hours when serious banquets were held.

So I can’t say I relate well to those who depend on people’s generosity in tip giving. Moreover, I find the practice often raises questions. What worker expects and deserves a tip? How much is “right”? And what is the acceptable thing to do when service is poor in a tipping environment?

Each of us must flesh out answers to those questions on our own. I’ve found myself going to Google for input on how much to tip. But not always. For example, some companies allow a goodwill “tip cup” to be placed near a register at a place like Dairy Queen. Or a sub shop. I avoid those. And when service is poor, I sometimes leave less.

But I must admit I was unaware of the larger problems in the world of tipping. My eyes were opened in reading an item found recently in the Washington Post. It is titled, “I Dare You to Read This and Still Feel Good About Tipping.”

The story opens by describing a former restaurant owner who ended the practice of tipping at his restaurant. He then “enforced” a mandatory 18 percent service fee. And he claimed EVERYTHING improved at his place as a result.

Much of what follows in the article is an interview with Saru Jayaraman, co-founder and co-director of what is known as ROC United—the Restaurant Opportunities Center United. She champions the view of ending the modern tipping system. And her data is quite revealing.

What is the current federal tipping minimum wage? I could not have told you. Apparently, it’s $2.13 per hour. This is the minimum amount a restaurant is allowed to pay workers who collect tips.

If Jayaraman’s research is correct, this low paying entry wage has roots in slavery. Really? She claims that the tipping practices of Europe were brought to America in the 1800s as wealthy Americans returned from travel and thought it to be a good practice. Then, it was hotel workers, porters, and employees of restaurants who got tipped. But unionization provided more income for the hotel workers and porters. Restaurant workers were left out. Most of these people were black workers and as Jayaraman states, newly freed slaves.

I recommend reading the article for more history on the practice of tipping. But here’s another aspect of a tipping related problem that causes concern. It’s when “favors” are expected or demanded of the servers. And we’re not talking about refilling your water glass.

Statistically, about seventy percent of tipped workers are women. Most of their restaurant jobs are at places such as Red Robin, IHOP, and the like. What is the economic situation of this group of people? They suffer three times the poverty rate of the rest of the U.S. workforce and use food stamps at double the rate.

But for Jayaraman, here is the worst part. These people “suffer from the absolute worst sexual harassment of any industry in the United States. When you’re a woman living on tips—even if you’re making a lot of money on tips, which most women aren’t—you’re subject to the whims of the customer, and really encouraged by management to objectify yourself or subject yourself to objectification to make money in tips.”

Other challenges mentioned were the employers who allegedly misused tip credits. And several people groups that get worse service than white males. It was a darkly painted picture.

So should all tipping be eliminated? Not necessarily. Jayaraman advocates a policy that seven states now require. In California, for example, every employer must pay the full minimum wage to servers. Tips are requested on top of that. And while it might seem logical that such a change would create economic havoc, it hasn’t happened.

The Bible does not specifically address the practice of tipping. However, knowing the economic hardship of many who have low paying jobs and hope for good tips, it might cause us to reconsider generosity. The Bible has plenty to say on that.

Try these verses: Proverbs 11:24-25: “Some people give much but get back even more. Others don’t give what they should and end up poor. Whoever gives to others will get richer; those who help others will themselves be helped.” (NCV)

As for cow tipping, well, you’re on your own there.

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