Women Servers Face Systemic Discrimination

Tonight will likely be the busiest night of the year for many restaurants. But for the thousands of women working in the restaurant business tonight will be another night where they are purposefully left out of the gains.

A new report released this week by the Restaurant Opportunity Center United shows that women who work in the restaurant industry face systemic discrimination, poverty wages, a lack of sick days and five times more harassment than the general female work force. A direct contributor to this systemic discrimination is the success of restaurant lobbyists in keeping the federal minimum wage for servers and other tipped workers frozen at only $2.13 per hour for the past 20 years.

According to the report, 7 of the 10 lowest-paid occupations in the United States are restaurant occupations. Most of these occupations are primarily female and pay median wages below the poverty line. The restaurant industry follows what the report calls a “conscious business model of confining women to the lower-paid positions within restaurants.”

The report reveals the discrimination is wide-spread and systemic. Women are confined to the lower-paying segments of the industry such as quick-serve and family style rather than the highest-paid fine dining segment. That means that even within the same job classification of server, full-time year-round female servers are paid just 68 percent of what male servers are paid. Over a work career, that means the industry takes an extra $320,000 from each female server.

An immediate short-term answer to the wage disparity would be to raise the minimum wage for servers and other tipped workers. In 1996, restaurant industry lobbyists convinced Congress to overturn 30 years of past practice that provided that the subminimum wage for tipped workers automatically rose with federal minimum wage increases for other workers.

Since then, seven states have eliminated the subminimum status of tipped workers entirely and provide that restaurants must pay them at least the minimum wage.

But even if the federal subminimum for tipped workers were raised to 70 percent of the normal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour (the same percentage as before 1996), that increase to $5.08 per hour would immediately improve incomes for the families of nearly 837,200 workers, 630,000 of whom are female, who are not in states that already provide higher minimums or subminimums, and raise the wage floor for five million women. It would also decrease the gender pay equity gap in the industry by one fifth.

The National Restaurant Association just released its 2012 forecast which predicts the restaurant industry will earn a record-breaking $635 billion in revenue for the year. With record-breaking revenue projections for the large restaurant chains that dominate the industry I think it’s safe to suggest they can pay their female workers a fair wage.

Photo from jmrosenfeld via flickr.


Debbie Crowe
Debbie Crowe6 years ago

OMG. $2.13 an hour is all they get? Yes, they should raise their salary to at least minimum wage. I've seen too many people walk out without leaving any tip at all.

Jay Williamson
Jay w6 years ago

they should not have to rely on tips in order to be paid this is wrong what if they dont make enough in a week to cover the food bill and power, phone etc?

Lika S.
Lika P6 years ago

Well, hate to say, but, when it comes to this, those waitresses that are "hot" or pretty get harassed and if they take it well, they get tipped well by the men. Those who aren't lucky enough to be pretty and aren't deemed worthy of flirts tend to not get tipped well. yet the pretty faces get told they deserve better... That's discrimination. Then of course there are the hooters eateries. I don't see chain restaurants called ballsy or dickies, where the guys have to have big packages in some form and show off their crotches while working. Why is that? It's fortunate for the guys that women don't play that game.

Plus, when the married men flirt with the waitresses, when the wives come back, of course the waitresses get less tips. The husbands flirt with them to make them earn the tips. Duh.

Until women are seen as equal, the service field will always lag behind. Wait staff are exactly that, not your eye candy, sex symbol or food slave.

Chad A.
Chad A6 years ago

Reunionize service work and see working conditions improve and wages rise. We can also push for comparable worth...

Kate Hilts
Kate Hilts6 years ago

How unfortunate is it that I'm not surprised?

Nicholas L.
Nicholas L6 years ago

Let's also remember that the male servers make the same wages so there really isn't discrimination.

Erika M.
Erika M6 years ago


Mike Chrissie
Mike Chrissie6 years ago

I have 2 friends who are servers, they make an average of $200 a night on weekends and $100 to $150 a shift during the week.

BTW, they say men tip much better than women

Nicholas L.
Nicholas L6 years ago

Tip Rate Determination Agreement (TRDA). A TRDA represents an agreement between the IRS and the employer that specifies an agreed-upon rate of tips for each occupational category of tipped employees. The program requires the employer to work with the IRS to calculate a tip rate for each occupational category. To be enforceable, the agreement requires the participation of at least 75% of the employees. Participating employees must sign an agreement to report tips at the rate specified in the TRDA.

This would be what my girlfriend's place of employment does, and the number they cam up with was $7/hr for servers, on cash tips since credit tips are automatically claimed I do know what I'm talking about I have worked in restaurants and talked to servers.

Nicholas L.
Nicholas L6 years ago

You need to receive a” tip report” from each employee for every payroll period. While the IRS requires tipped employees to provide this report once a month, you will need a report for every payroll period, otherwise you cannot correctly report the employee’s total wages, nor can you withhold the proper taxes (and pay your share of FICA tax). You can use your POS system to collect this information at the end of each shift by requiring tipped employees to "input" their cash tips prior to "clocking out" (charged tips are already captured when guest checks paid by credit card are closed). Alternatively you can use the IRS created Form 4070A “Employee’s Daily Record of Tips” (http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p1244.pdf) or use any other form you like.

This may not be how it works everywhere but every restaurant I'VE WORKED FOR this is how the claimed tips and most servers did not claim all of their cash tips. They claim at least 8% as income. To get taxed income tax from. Meaning if they make 16% tips on average they claim half their cash tips, therefore, NOT ALL OF THEM.

As a result of the significant under reporting of restaurant tip income; the IRS has been trying to get the support of restaurant owners.