Friday, February 15, 2013

Waitresses of the World Unite!

This Chocolate Float with the Cherry on Top is Brought to You by American Slave Labor

Voice of the Mountain

by Shawn K. Inlow
So I'm sitting at The Waffle Shop in State College, Pa. where I often have my breakfast:  a bowl of fruit, a side of bacon, coffee and water with no ice.  My order always comes out to $8.88.  A "generous" tip is considered 20% these days and that comes to $1.76.

While I'm checking out, I notice one of the wait staff, Robin, is pictured, her face plastered on a tip jar.  Robin is suffering a second bout with cancer and, if you happen to have enjoyed a nice breakfast in the Waffle Shop, don't be a jerk and walk by Robin's tip jar without putting something in.  I don't know Robin, but I've been worrying about her.

I've put in a $5 or a $10 on a few occasions.  But this got me wondering whether this poor girl had any healthcare.   I am happily informed that The Waffle Shop is one of the rare restaurants that offers a health care plan to its employees.  They do not, however, pay a minimum wage.

The national minimum wage is currently $7.25 an hour.

This is not to criticize The Waffle Shop, which is a super good restaurant and I encourage you to go there.  Restaurants are an exception to the minimum wage rule.  And, since I know many people who have operated restaurants, - some successfully, some failed - I recognize the difficulties inherent to the business model.  Many restaurants employ wait staff "under the table" to avoid payroll taxes and other like obligations so they can make the ends meet.  But if the restaurant ownership is playing by the rules, you have to do a lot of business to keep costs down for the customers and still make a dime at the end of the week.

You should go to The Waffle Shop not only because the food's always good, but you should go there simply because they go above and beyond by offering health care to their employees.  Good on them.  Now, about that college fund...

I've worked in food service some.  I've been a cook and a dishwasher and I've waited tables.  And the wait staff has it pretty bad.  Let's say I screw up an order and the waitress takes it out and it's wrong and the plate comes back, odds are the waitress is watching her tip evaporate.  Worse, while the government sees fit to pay slave wages to wait staff, they amusingly find it okay to tax their tips.  Priceless.

Here's perhaps the most famous discussion of tipping in cinema history.  It's from Quentin Tarantino's "Reservoir Dogs."  (NOTE: The clip includes a lot of coarse language.)  And I'm tellin' ya, Mr. Pink is a jerk.

So, let's consider that you've got a couple Penn State Top Feeders - instead of the diamond thieves from the clip above - sitting there hogging up a waitress's section and they're having coffee all morning and the waitress smiles and is being nice to them and is refilling their coffee for, say, two hours, and when they get done they've not only deprived the waitress of better customers but they've also left one lousy buck folded under the cup of coffee - amounting to maybe a massive 50%.

Never mind that these guys are probably writing off the meal on an expense account to begin with.  Y'all are inconsiderate.  Go to the back of the line and sit with Mr. Pink.

The Mountain says if it's okay for the government to go along with paying wait staff less than minimum wage, then the government ought to get it's grubby mitts off their tips.  Fair is fair. 

We didn't have a lot growing up in my family, but one thing my father always instructed me on was never to be cheap with people.  You might be surprised how many ways a person of little means can be generous.

But here's the thing.  If you find yourself in a position to be sitting on one side of the counter, take a moment to consider the person on the other side of the counter.  You have enough that you can afford to have a servant come and feed you and you needn't lift a finger.  Why not hand the waitress a $10 spot right up front?  Then place your order.  Then you can be satisfied that she's made a living wage for at least one hour on your watch.

And you know what?  Here's another little kindness you can think about:  Tip in cash.  When you put the tip on your card, sometimes your waiter has to wait until the end of the week or payday to collect the tips.

Okay.  Waitresses of the world!  Unite and take over!

I'd love to hear your wait staff horror stories.  ("So a tour bus pulls in at five 'till closing....")  Feel free to type them in at the foot of this article.  Perhaps all our readers will become a more refined and generous wave of customers.  Perhaps a legislator somewhere will introduce the Waitress Tip Exemption.  One never knows.  And, if you've found the writing useful today, please feel free to forward the link on to your friends.

Shawn Inlow
Osceola Mills, Pa.


  1. NASCAR races..... without fail you have a roomful of inbreed morons wearing hundreds of dollars worth of NASCAR hats, shirts, jackets, etc, drinking Busch lite cans and tipping change....... and it seldom included coins with Washington on it. Races are not a short event, so these rednecks take up table space for hours and then complain about a 25 dollar bill after a full shift. Plus they chase out folks who stop in for a burger after church, and while I wouldn't call most little old church ladies great tippers they at least make an attempt.

    Once upon a time I loved racing. I loved the science of trying to make a car go one mile per hour faster. Now when a race is on I find the driver everyone hates and loudly root them on. I refer to Dale Sr. as "A redneck who couldn't make a left hand turn" Race fans have ruined my love of racing. Most other bartenders I know have similar stories...... So know if you walk into a bar and ask to turn the TV to the race, you're on a short leash. One slip and you may find an As***le Tax on your bill!

  2. Careful what you wish for...
    While small mom and pop joints may not generate big time tips, move up the scale a bit and it is not uncommon for a waitress, at let's say, a Cheesecake Factory, Ruth's Chris, or even a TGIF to pull in $150-300 dollars in tips. Busy, generous, nights even more. And that in a 4 to 6 hour shift. Even though the waitress may have to share about 25% of her tips money with the busboys and cooks/chefs, $200-25% in 6hrs plus the basic pay, isn't too shabby. So lets say, 150 x 3 nights (part timer) = 450 x 45 weeks (vacations, etc)= $20,250. (Amounts to $25/hr) Should this money be tax exempt? We can argue about slow nights later. Just pointing out that there are extremes and the norm in PO or SC may not carry on to Pittsburgh or Philly.

    Important to note that in every place, the wait staff is only the front end of food service ecosystem. Cooks, chefs, bussers, etc are all involved. The waitress, while maybe making the meal more of a delightful experience, is likely the most expendable part of that ecosystem. Think of how many buffet style places there are. You thank the waitress for a grand meal, but, really, all she/he did was take your order and deliver it. The cook did most of the work.

    While your feeling generous towards the waitress, perhaps that $10 should be divided proportionally among all those involved. Or you just tip everyone $10.

    And if you tax-free wait staff, what about all the other service jobs that rely heavily on tips? Hotel staff, valets, doormen, etc. I know a few guys that left college debt-free simply by parking cars on weekends at hotels and fancy eateries.

    1. You raise some good points. I do know some bartenders at high end places that do well, so your point about the opposite end of the spectrum is valid.

      I wonder, though, how many high end places like that offer health care plans.

      Thanks for the comments. I sure would like to see a bill not to tax tips if their wage is below minimum, though.


    2. Well, you might get a little better tips in Pittsburgh or Philly, but I can guarantee your rent is a little higher there, too. Even at $25/hr, you're not exactly "livin' it up" in Philly. Especially if you don't work the busy night shift. If you're sloggin' beers to the out-of-work regulars during the afternoon, you can forget about going out at night...

  3. Anonymous, I do believe you have an exaggerated view of what tips are at large chains. Sure you have good nights, even some great nights, but that is not the norm. Truthfully the best places to get tips are either a college bar (and you need to be a 22 year old co-ed with a large chest to pull those tips) or a stand alone neighborhood bar/restaurant. There you get regulars, folks that come back time after time and treat you well cause you treat them well. National chains see much more one time business, those folks don't tip near as well as a general rule.

    1. Not an exaggerated view. A family member worked at a fancy (by our standards) national chain. Granted, the job was in a larger city. Friday and Saturday nights during her 6hr shifts generated at least $150 in tips. When average meal costs are $150-$200 and your serve 10-12 tables, even measly 10% tips net you $15-20. Weekends of conventions can be very lucrative.

      Remember, although State College seems to be the center of the known universe in these parts aand thus the alpha comparative or other smaller communities surrounding it, compared to real cities/urban areas- Pittsburgh, Philly, New York, Boston, even Cleveland- State College is really nothing more than a slightly advanced Amish community that happens to use electricity.

      However, the argument that waitress's tips should be tax-exempt cannot be a all-encompassing as there cases where waitresses do very well on tip money.

  4. One thing I have noticed: If you've ever been a waitress or a bartender or a bus boy, you tip one hell of a lot better than someone who hasn't. I was a bartender and cook for four years when I was in college, and having that experience taught me to appreciate a good meal and good service. I ALWAYS tip in cash so the waitress can LIE about how much I gave her at the end of the night. I don't care if the owner thinks I'm a cheap bastard. And, when I return to certain joints with the same waitresses, I ALWAYS get great service. Hell, some places I don't even have to place my order, they just know what I want and how I want it.

    You gotta take care of the people who take care of you...


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