On the Menu: Tipping IS an Obligation

The moment I turned 16, my mother had a job lined up for me. A local restaurant needed a new food runner. Mom told me first: “Remember, the customer is always right.” Every day, I’d put my uniform with a smile and deal with customers. Some of them were intolerable, but I knew any money I made came from them so I was respectful even when it wasn’t reciprocated. I had a few hours to bust my ass, to earn any tips I received.

Growing up, my parents instilled in me that tipping is not an option. Even when I studied abroad, I left tips (and my friends always gave me funny looks). I’d always reply, “That’s what we do in America.”

My mother worked in that same local restaurant when she was younger. She always told me, “If you can’t afford to tip people, you can’t afford to go out.” Each time I’d go out to dinner with my friends,I’d tip the server. If it was good service, I’d increase the tip. If the service was poor, I’d leave a standard 10%-15% tip.

Many people argue that servers should appreciate what is left. But, in the case of Jess Jones, a 20 year old college student working a summer job at a local NJ joint called D’Jais, it’s a little more complicated. I’m sure she’d been stiffed before… But leaving nothing expect a message that read, “LOL,” is disrespectful. Period. Had they simply decided not to tip her, this probably wouldn’t have blown up as much as it did.

Let me break it down for you: servers do not have the ability to control when food comes out. If you are going to a restaurant on a busy night, expect to wait. Whenever I’d complain about food taking too long to the cooks in the kitchen, they’d reply, “Tell them to go to McDonalds, I can only cook so quickly.” Yes, it’s annoying to wait for food, but you could’ve stayed home and cooked it yourself. These people are providing a service to you and, in return for that service, there is an expectation that you’ll leave a tip.

If a server is rude and terrible at what they are doing, then give them a low tip or ask to speak to the manager about the poor service. As a server, I can tell you that this isn’t being entitlement. If a server felt least bit of entitlement and walked around life with that attitude, they probably wouldn’t be serving you. The truth is they probably need that tip more than you do. Maybe they have rent to make or student loans to pay. That’s their problem, but they took this job to solve their problem.

No one likes to serve someone else or get told what to do, but they’re in an industry where that’s part of the job description. They serve you and multiple other tables at once. There is one of them and 25-50 of you, all expecting their undivided attention. They’re taking orders, getting drinks, bringing food, extra napkins, side plates, extra dressing, putting things into a to go for you, and bringing dessert for you and many other people. Their job doesn’t even stop there. Those 20 napkins your kid just unfolded and used, some server spent an hour folding. They do things to maintain the restaurant and keep it running smoothly, things like restocking plates, cleaning procedures after closing, and not getting home until 2AM. What they do for the restaurant, the restaurant pays them for. Remember, it’s a minimum wage job. Often, they’re paid below minimum wage. Every person I have talked to who works in the food industry very seriously relies on tips.

At the end of the day, servers don’t make that much money, especially when you consider that they sometimes have to divvy the tips up between bartenders, food runners, and the other servers.

Yes, tipping isn’t mandatory. I’m sure that whatever you leave, servers appreciate it. But you should leave something. At the end of the day, their service should be rewarded.

You shouldn’t punish someone for factors they cannot control. You should never be rude or arrogant to someone handling your food. And you should never look down on someone for anything they do.

Remember: the only thing you’re doing by not tipping your waiter or waitress is saving a few bucks and making yourself look bad.

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