An image of a charming card left by a restaurant patron in lieu of a tip has been making the rounds:
“As a direct result of Proposition 30 and President Obama’s insistence that I pay ‘MY FAIR SHARE IN TAXES,’” the card reads, ”I find that I must cut back on discretionary spending and gratuities. I wish it didn’t have to be this way for both of us.”
The card has sparked a firestorm of discussion about the mistreatment of wait staff and the attitude of the person who left it — a person who, incidentally, must be rather wealthy, because California’s Proposition 30 only affected people making $250,000 a year or more. On that kind of annual income, you’d think someone could afford to drop a few bucks for a tip.
The card is passive-aggressive and nasty and gross, punishing a server for something that isn’t the server’s fault. (Did the server singlehandedly elect President Obama and the entirety of Congress, let alone ensure the passage of Prop. 30?) But it also reveals a telling lack of understanding about how compensation for people in the service industry works.
Let’s take a look behind the curtain of the “wait wage,” one of the better-kept secrets in the U.S. People who haven’t worked in an industry where they routinely make more than $30 in tips every month might not be familiar with this sneaky little loophole in Federal minimum wage law.
Here’s the key information you need to know about the wait wage, courtesy of the Department of Labor: “An employer of a tipped employee is only required to pay $2.13 per hour in direct wages if that amount combined with the tips received at least equals the federal minimum wage. If the employee’s tips combined with the employer’s direct wages of at least $2.13 per hour do not equal the federal minimum hourly wage, the employer must make up the difference.”
That’s right: employers are only required to pay tipped employees $2.13/hour under Federal minimum wage law, as long as they collect enough tips to make up the difference. Thankfully, a number of states think this is totally ridiculous, and they’ve set their individual minimum wages for tipped employees higher. Those minimum wages, of course, are rarely living wages, and many service industry personnel rely heavily on tips for survival.
While the tip is often thought of as optional, custom in the United States would argue to the contrary, as would the presence of laws effectively expecting that patrons will partially cover the wages of their servers. While this might seem ethically astounding, it’s perfectly legal in many U.S. states. Before you stiff a waiter (or any other service employee) on the bill, you might want to think about the wait wage — and if you’re up for some activism, consider lobbying against the continued and unfair use of wait wages by the service industry.
Image credit: Reddit