I don’t know if this is a case of “cheapskate shaming” or some other new blister on the cultural epidermis, but a story out of New Jersey this week has once again brought up the question of employment which relies on tips as part of expected compensation and, indirectly, the subject of the minimum wage. It’s also got some bad manners tossed in for good measure. A 20 year old college student in Belmar is working as a waitress while going to school and she got an unexpected – and unpleasant – surprise when some of her customers finished their meal. (USA Today)
On Aug. 17, Jess Jones of Belmar, N.J., was waiting on a party of eight at the restaurant and night club here. After the $112.03 bill was paid for by credit card, Jones discovered that her customers had left her no tip. Instead, the texting acronym “LOL” — for laughing out loud — was written on the tip line of the receipt next to the words, “1 hour for food.”
The following day, Jones took to her Facebook page to lament about the indignity, where she also posted a photo of the receipt (blurring out any personal information belonging to the offending patrons).
Honestly, the “social propriety” angle of this story is the one that jumps out at me first. It may be because I eat out at some fairly nice places on occasion when we can afford it or because I know more than a few people who work as wait staff, but these sorts of tales always bother me. Trust me, I’ve left a zero dollar tip once or twice and on other occasions left a tip well below the usual 20% minimum I try to stick to for even the bare basics of service. But when I do, it’s because the server was the problem, not the kitchen or the management or anyone else. If someone is deliberately rude, ignores us when they are obviously not busy, is unsanitary looking or otherwise plagues us, I will short them on the tip. If asked why, I’ll explain in a calm manner. Conversely, when the service is great I’ve been chastised by my wife for tipping up to 40% for a great experience. (And probably after a martini.)
But there are things which can go wrong during a meal which have nothing to do with the waiter or waitress and we really need to be understanding of that. The wait staff feels terrible if they bring out poor quality food or the service is slow. They know it affects their tips and they want everyone to be happy. That seems to be the case here.
“Last night, I was stunned by this receipt that was left for me by a party of eight people,” Jones wrote. “I would have preferred a ‘$0’ tip than a ‘LOL’ tip, but as a waitress, bad tips and harsh notes are all part of the job. Even though they did wait an hour to eat, they remained satisfied with filled drinks and proper notice that the kitchen was a bit busier than normal. I’ve worked in the service industry for five years and I take pride in providing great service to my customers.”
Jones wrote that servers in New Jersey earn $2.50 an hour. For non-tipped workers in the Garden State, the minimum wage is $8.38.
That was just rude, let’s face it. But it should also remind us that there are plenty of workers who depend on their tips because they make less than the minimum wage. And for the talented wait staff in this business, particularly the ones at higher end eateries, they don’t want to see that minimum wage applied to them either. At one of the best restaurants around here, some of the waitresses can earn upwards of $250 a night just in tips. Their actual paycheck for the evening is more like fifteen dollars. If we give them minimum wage, most customers are going to be paying more for their meals and feel far less generous about tipping. (I know that’s how I would feel.)
There’s not much more to say on the subject other than please try to be nice to the wait staff and tip as well as you can when they merit it. You’re not just helping them out… you’re striking a blow against the Fight for Fifteen crowd.