A Living Wage Beats Tips

A Living Wage Beats Tips

Should your salary depend on tips you get at work? Is it fair if it does? Let’s think about it together.


Voiced by Vivica Williams

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I’ve been working as a waitress for 10 years now. It used to be that working as wait staff was considered a temporary job, but over the last few decades it has become a regular position for many people. Of course, I don’t think most people aspire to be waiters or waitresses. Maybe you get stuck, or maybe you get into it and find you really love it. I for one love my job. It is an art form in some ways. It takes a lot of skill to remember multiple people’s orders and all the substitutions or extra requests; to juggle lots of plates and glasses while navigating a maze of tables and chairs that could move at any minute; and to calm impatient or impolite customers. We have to do all of this and more for sometimes 12 hours a day. And restaurants have no obligation to pay us a living wage.
Like in many places around the world, we receive a very low hourly rate and then must make up the difference in tips. In the United States, we’re often paid as low as $2.50 an hour. We must make most of our pay from tips. Many customers feel pressure or guilt to leave a good tip. Many hate having to calculate what percentage to leave. Most don’t realize how much we actually make and think tips are just extra. Most people would rather that tipping wasn’t necessary. In fact, most people would love to see us make a living wage and for tipping to be abolished.
Maybe the kitchen staff messed up an order, or we were so busy that it took a long time to get any service. Our customers are given the right to decide our worth, to judge us, to choose whether we should be rewarded or punished. Some employers keep our tips for themselves which is against the law. Sometimes tips have to be split with all the staff, including those who work in the kitchen or bus tables. Most wait staff simply cannot live on what they make working full-time. What other job has such a pay system?