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Tip Culture Hurts Servers, and Not Just in Wages

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  • Tip Bones

It's instinctive here in the U.S: once the meal at a restaurant is over, we pull out our wallets and start the tradition that is tipping. That means a lot of debate over how much to tip, whether to pay on a card or in cash, and sometimes, whether to even tip at all for a bad service experience. But who benefits from tipping?

Certainly servers don't stand to gain much from a tip-based income. It's dependent on a number of factors highly specific to the consumer, and it invites discrimination. Time and time again, investigations into tipping have found that, on average, people of color are tipped less, as are men and older servers. Reasons for receiving a small tip, or none at all, can even be as petty as whether or not a server draws a heart or smiley face on the bill! With that kind of volatility in income, servers often go without basic services, most notably health care, which many don't qualify for in their workplace.

What does that mean? It means that servers may not be able to afford to get health care when they need it. It leads to servers coming to work when ill, perhaps affecting their performance, and further reducing their income from tips. It's a bit of a never-ending loop: a server who experiences discrimination in tipping gets sick, can't afford the care they need or the time off necessary to recover, and then experiences more reduction in wages because they are ill. If we as consumers insist on great service, shouldn't we have a system that encourages fair treatment of serving staff?

Photo: Tip jar at a restaurant in New Jersey. 

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