I’d like to preface this article by saying that, in our current society, I condone tipping. It allows us to reward excellent service and show our gratitude. Whether it’s at a restaurant or a café, being a server is not easy, and many servers are deserving of the extra 20 to 30 percent for just surviving the day. However, because the tipping system is so deeply rooted in our society today, it has created a few problems that have flown under the radar. Today, the tipping system is considered a part of servers’ main source of income, justifying servers’ low wages and allowing a sexist and racist dynamic to persist due to a long history of mistreated tipped workers.
To start, it’s important to understand how minimum wage for tipped waiters works. The federal minimum wage for tipped workers is only 2.13 dollars. When a server’s tips do not add up to the federal minimum wage the employer is required to make up the difference. However, due to poor enforcement of this law, when the U.S. Department of Labour (DOL) investigated over 9,000 restaurants, it was found that 84 percent of investigated restaurants were not ensuring that every server is earning the minimum wage. Of all the investigated restaurants, it was found that tipped workers were cheated out of 5.5 million dollars, demonstrating the magnitude of the impact the law made on tipped workers.
The law itself is the problem. This federal law is driving the idea that employers have absolutely no responsibility to pay their workers even the minimum wage, instead putting this responsibility on customers to tip. Only seven states have stepped up and eliminated this tipping system, requiring employers to pay their workers minimum wage not including tips. This still leaves 43 states to follow in their footsteps. Customers should not be responsible for paying a majority of their servers’ wage. They should simply be providing extra to show their gratitude.
Another hidden past that many do not realize is that this tipping system dates back to slavery and is now another subtle way racism lingers in our society today. Originally, workers who earned tips were Black, specifically newly freed slaves. Restaurant owners at the time would hire newly freed slaves as tipped workers, and again, would get away with paying them absolutely nothing, encouraging the idea that newly freed slaves deserved a zero to one dollar minimum wage. This is where the current faulty tipping system originated from. Even now, a majority of tipped workers are people of color and women. People of color were most affected by this system from the start, the only difference now is that while it may not be deliberate discrimination, underpaying workers still has an unjust effect.
I condone tipping in a world where tipping is an added bonus and not a necessity. While tipping culture today is supposed to encourage and reward workers in the restaurant industry, it allows servers to be paid one-third of the minimum wage. The exploitation of workers is already an issue, and eliminating the current system for tipped workers would minimize this. Many of us, including myself, have never worked a tipped job, and are taking a look at this problem from an outsider’s perspective. This issue doesn’t affect a bulk of students, especially because of the Andover bubble that we live in for the majority of the year. However, it’s important to take a look at issues outside our bubble. The unfair treatment of tipped workers is one of these unseen matters, which could be taken into our hands. As the next generation, it is our responsibility to alleviate this inequity.
In order to improve the tipping system and break the cycle, I call on you to advocate for a just tipping system at local restaurants, where there would be a set pay at least the minimum wage or higher. The only way this issue will be mitigated is if we come together, spread awareness, and take action.