Why Should Servers Make More Than Other Minimum Wage Workers?

The tipping wars continue in Dr. Know’s inbox.

You cut out my most important point: Tipping was created so workers in states with a “tipped minimum wage” of $3.35 an hour can still make the real minimum wage. Why should servers make more than other minimum wage workers? Your jerky move of cutting my letter leaves me feeling a bit freer to NOT TIP. —Still Hate Tipping

Yes, my “jerky move” is clearly the problem. Honestly, Hate, if I didn’t know better, I’d say you were looking for excuses to NOT TIP.

We got dozens of letters on this subject, but Hate’s follow-up was such a great example of how the anti-tipping crowd can always find a reason why they shouldn’t have to pay (and how scandalized they are that someone might make more than minimum wage) that I couldn’t resist.

“Why should servers make more than other minimum wage workers?” Because they’re not, in general, minimum wage workers. Servers and bartenders are skilled workers compensated based on varying levels of experience and ability. Some spend years working their way up to high-end jobs, which may even allow them to buy homes (as distasteful as that might sound to all you hardworking folks making $200K for answering email).

It’s true that service folks get their compensation in a weird way. At the end of the day, though, a top-flight bartender (for example) is worth upwards of six figures, whether it’s in wages, tips or cocaine. The bar can abolish tipping if it likes, but if it can’t pay the bartender in salary what she was formerly making in tips (which will involve raising prices), she’ll go work for someone who can—the free market at work, y’all!

Other folks sent variations of “they should just raise prices and pay the workers a decent wage.” I recently spoke to the manager of a Portland restaurant who just abolished tipping in favor of a fixed service charge, and—can you believe it?—the tipping trolls hated that, too.

Of course, that’s still a line item that looks like a tip. What about folding the additional labor costs completely into the menu prices? There are examples. One reader touted the “proudly tip-free” restaurant Lovina, in the Napa Valley. According to its website, it offers paid vacation, health and dental insurance, a 401(k) and a revenue share: 30% of every customer’s bill is paid directly to the staff. I don’t have a problem with that, but I’ll bet you do. (Also, a grilled cheese there is $26.)

Questions? Send them to dr.know@wweek.com.

Willamette Week's journalism is funded, in part, by our readers. Your help supports local, independent journalism that informs, educates, and engages our community. Become a WW supporter.