Outdated tipping system perpetuates discrimination, give waitstaff a living wage

By Maggie Nevens

I remember the first time a customer made me cry. 

The tears happen when you least expect it…usually after a long day of sweat dripping down your face, a customer nudges you over the edge. 

For me it was a table of eight, none of whom had looked me in the eye once or really acknowledged me unless they needed something. They complained about their burger temperature and the strength of their drinks, then BOOM, 10 percent tip.

Being a college student the difference between $20 and $40 is approximately half a bag of groceries, a third of my tank of gas, or half of one of my English textbooks. Many of the servers working alongside me,  know this feeling well. Most are students manufacturing the same loans or single mothers or someone working two other jobs just to survive. 

The terrifying part within the tipping system is the customer’s ability to decide how you are getting paid. This more frequently allows for discrimination against age, gender, race, or simply physical appearance.

One in 12 Americans currently work in the restaurant industry and it contains some of the worst paying jobs. The tipping system translucently reflects the discrimination affecting a large portion of Americans paychecks. 

A clear racial inequality prevails with workers of color earning 56 percent less than white workers. The origin of tipping comes from European aristocrats and was adopted by rich Americans within the 1800’s. It grew in popularity within cities after the Civil War as a way for restaurants to hire workers, the majority being newly freed slaves, without having to pay them.

This type of discrimination should be unlawful and unacceptable. Tipping is an old fashioned tradition that has harmed our economy by underpaying the workers who may need it the most. 

Furthermore, serving is one of the most sexist industries with 70 percent of tipped workers being woman, some suffering frequent sexual harassment and gender biased tipping.

Waitressing at ages 18 and 19, I have noticed the constant stares and heard nicknames such as honey, baby, and sweetheart.

I have also seen the younger and more “attractive” women pooling in more tips on average. This should not be celebrated.

I have heard horror stories of groping and hair touching from the highest tipped. This is not envious it is disgusting.

Without moving to a living wage, many women and men deal with this harrassment on a day to day basis and are taught to bite their tongue to get their 20 percent (hopefully). 

There is a simple solution, restaurant owners provide a living wage, $15 an hour, for all workers in the establishment; from dishwashers to bartenders and everyone in between. Cut tipping out, all together, ending the outdated tipping system.

My parents are restaurant owners in a small town along the coast of Maine. They hear the complaints from their workers and my nightly recap of the rudeness and stress I had endoured. Their reactions are empathetic and supportive of the living wage. However, for them and many small business owners, they are worried about how they could ever afford this shift.

What’s needed are politicians to support an all across the board shift abolishing the minimum wage and replacing it with a living wage.

One man didn’t wait for politicians and went out to prove that it is in fact possible.

Danny Meyer, founder of Shake Shack, leads the movement of fast-food restaurants banishing tipping and by increasing wages to $15 an hour within his New York City locations. 

Yes Meyer’s food prices did slightly increase, but so did the spending power of his workers leading to their improved lifestyle. Meyer’s recent changes, as well as protests that have been popping up across the countries, has put pressure on large food franchises such as Mcdonald’s and Chick-fil-A to follow in his footsteps. 

Fifteen dollars an hour is a glimmering suggestion that has caught the attention of the public with the hope of potentially minimizing the discriminatory mistreatment of millions of American workers.

At the end of the night when I’m wrapping up my ketchup stained apron and checking my calendar counting down the days until I return to school. I want the last thing on my mind to be the sly comment made by the elder man at table 5 or the size of the crumpled pile of 10s in my pocket. 

Hopefully within the next few years when I am serving lobster rolls and Dark n Stormies to that same crew of 8. I will sweat a little less wondering if my service is worthy enough to deserve my “fair” pay.