Sign off your gratitude to restaurant workers

Neha Seenarine, Associate Arts & Life Editor

Illustration by (Amanda Riha)

The best tip I can ever give you is to tip your servers.

Servers spend relentless hours on their feet and the least you can do is reward them. They balance hot plates on their forearms to be sure your stomach is happy and your experience is amazing when you sit down at any restaurant.

When people get their bill, sometimes we forget a tip can go a long way. It can help a server pay for their next meal or buy toothpaste. We can’t assume that their life outside of the restaurant is picture-perfect. Servers may struggle with providing for their families or just themselves. Also, depending on the restaurant, a single server may have to split the tips in a pool along with other staff members.

However, isn’t the restaurant to blame here?

Biweekly paychecks that restaurants give their employees are not enough to support their day-to-day needs.

Oftentimes, servers are on a tipped-worker wage. Under tip-based services, the employer is only required to pay $2.13 per hour in direct wages if that amount combined with the tips received equals the federal minimum wage. If the tips combined with the employer’s direct wages of at least $2.13 per hour don’t equal the federal minimum hourly wage, the employer must make up the difference, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Servers spend long hours at work, sometimes from sunrise to sundown, providing their guests with the best hospitality they can deliver. They’re expected to go to work and stay for as long as they are needed.

I worked at The Cheesecake Factory as a hostess for a brief five months. I remember there were times where I spent hours in the restaurant after my supposed clock-out time because the managers wouldn’t give me the OK to go. Although I was only seating guests and handing them the 100-page menu, I could not imagine how a server felt being constantly on their feet while I was only standing at the welcome booth.

Servers, just like many other professions, are under the impression that they’re supposed to hustle so they can afford to live. Employees are worried about paying their bills over their own sanity. Their schedules are tied up with going to work rather than focusing on things that matter. Servers have a life outside of a restaurant. They could be taking time to spend time with family or do things they enjoy.

Big businesses contribute to creating a culture of encouraging hospitality for workers to earn their tips. However, small businesses can’t afford to pay their workers when they have to budget supplies, pay rent and make sure their small staff is compensated.

“When labor costs climb, employers in labor-intensive industries like restaurants are forced to raise prices to maintain profitability, thereby driving up consumer costs,” wrote the National Restaurant Association in its 2021 Raise the Wage statement.

People question if it’s a guest’s responsibility to reward their servers because a restaurant won’t. I’ve heard people argue that they should only pay for what they ordered. Some guests might think they owe nothing more to the restaurant or its workers. They may think that a server’s financial situation is not their problem.

I see going to a restaurant as a privilege. Growing up, my family didn’t have the luxury of going out unless it was a birthday, anniversary or graduation. Sitting in a restaurant is enjoyable because of the workers who drive that experience. I could sit in my dining room and eat a frozen pizza, but I would rather have the nice feeling of leaving my house and eating a fancy meal. The least I can do is show my appreciation.

The standard tip I’ve been accustomed to is 20% of the bill. Some people may find that too generous. Others might scale their tips on the worker’s service: 20% for above average, 15% for average or 10% for below average. My mother taught me to tip what I’m comfortable with, but I always end up whipping out a calculator. I didn’t want to leave the server with only $5 because I felt it would imply they did a bad job even if they were superb.

I’ll admit, I’ve had a few bad experiences at restaurants, whether my order was wrong or I waited a long time to be seated. Guests give their servers little room for error. However, we have to remember they are people, and people are imperfect. It’s important to treat others with generosity, and I’m a strong believer that good will come back to you if you do good things.