What Is Up With The Recent “War On Tipping?”

There are reasons to be angry about tipping, but it requires some context too.

Ted Bauer

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People definitely feel broke, even if they’re not broke, and I understand that, as I feel the same way often myself. Since August 4th, I’ve mostly been working in the service industry as a bartender, with a few flighty white-collar things here and there. At the same time, I’ve seen (mostly) conservative media talk about how “ridiculous” tipping has gotten, usually using examples from a self-service kiosk proposing a 15% tip. I almost now long for the days where Tucker Carlson fired up the exurb dads in recliners about critical race theory, because we don’t need to be coming for tipping right now.

Here is the basic deal: because a lot of people don’t really understand economics or how to cost-run a business (self often included), it should probably be stated upfront that most restaurants and bars operate at a slim margin and cannot afford to pay their people a living wage. In the USA, most servers and bartenders get $2.13/hour as base, far below even minimum wage. Honestly, general managers of multi-million dollar bars often make $65,000/year max. There is not a lot of money flowing in these worlds, except for those who own the places.

Tipping a self-service kiosk is ridiculous, yes. Tipping someone that handed you a muffin which they did not cook or otherwise prepare 20% is also asinine, yes. But in terms of servers and bartenders, even if they didn’t go brew the Miller Lite themselves, the only way they subsist as people is via tips. $2.13/hour on a 10-hour shift is basically $21. For 10 hours of work. Think about that. But, if the bartender or server can rack up $20 per hour in tips, now they walk with $21 (base pay) + $200 (tips), or $221. Hardly enough to pay the rent, which is always rising, or buy groceries (ditto), but five shifts like that per week is now $1,000/week, or $4,000/month. Hard to live on in urban areas, without a doubt. But better than $21/shift.

If you go out and expect others to serve you, reasonably you also need to be prepared to pay them 10% or more on top of your check. At this point, with people feeling the butt-prod of inflation, I’d argue 10% baseline, 15% average service, 20% good/conversational, and 25%+ for…

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Ted Bauer

Mostly write about work, leadership, friendship, masculinity, male infertility, and some other stuff along the way. It's a pleasure to be here.