I voted today. Helping to decide who the governor should be… the senator… etc. The right hand side of the voting box held the public opinion questions. One of them was whether or not the state minimum wage should be raised in conjunction with the cost of living. My issue is not with this question, but with what is lacking from it. My opinion on raising the minimum wage is irrelevant. Although I am not directly affected by this issue at this time, there is an entire group of people who aren’t affected by this issue either because they are paid an hourly rate that is FAR below minimum wage. Waiters and waitresses in the service industry get a base salary of $2.13 an hour. This base pay has not changed since I have been alive.
The $2.13 was created assuming that the difference between the cost of an hourly server and a minimum wage employee would be made up by gratuity given to the server by the paying customer. Well, the cost of minimum wage has increased over time. Why hasn’t the wage for the hourly service employee? When you get paid $2.13 an hour and declare tips, you can usually rely on no pay check. The tips you declare weekly, by law, usually void out that hourly wage. Receiving a paycheck that says “VOID” on it makes you wonder why they bother to waste the paper. This country went through a recession recently. Unemployment skyrocketed. What happens in a recession? People save money where they can. They don’t go out to eat as much, they cook hamburger instead of steak, and buy the $7 bottle of Flip Flop Pinot Grigio as opposed to the $62 bottle of Stag’s Leap Cabernet. I’m sorry fellow servers, but when you are helping a person on a budget and their bill comes to $10, you can’t expect a $10 tip. Even if this person leaves you $2, it’s 20%. At least this person made sure they had enough in their pocket to thank you for your service.
“Tipping isn’t just a village in China.” Funny expression, great bumper sticker. The reality is, tipping is not mandatory. No where is it written “18% gratuity is expected.” But honestly, what’s another couple of dollars to round off to an even 20%?? I digress.
Those of us who have lasted in this industry know it takes hard work, skin of steel, and Shoes for Crews. To pay the rent, to keep the electric on, most of us work 50-60 hour work weeks. During the recession I wouldn’t be surprised if some people worked 80 hours a week simply due to lack of business and therefore lack of income. We do what we do to put food on the table. If you have a bad tip, you move on and hope the next person has a pleasant experience which may or may not reflect in your gratuity. And yet this group of workers is forgotten. Why? Because we can take the hits. We survive the verbal punches, the insults, the two cent tips, and the insulting looks. We count our coins and un-crumple every last stained dollar. We get $2.13 an hour because Lord knows we can take much worse. That does not make it ok.
I hope one day there will be a question involving our profession. We elected a black President. We support gay marriage. We fight for “minimum wage.” And yet, those who bring you your food, make your cocktails, and serve as the most cost efficient psychologists around, don’t earn enough in an hour to buy a cappuccino at Starbucks.