Tips on tipping: On the importance of considering the waitstaff when eating out

April 27, 2016 by Lia Steinhardt-Keely

Hi. My name is Lia. I’m the girl who works at the Log, and I’m here to talk about tipping.

The College is a small enough campus that some of you who see me at work also see me getting breakfast in my pj’s. This means I do the awkward dance of questionable eye contact with a lot of you. Some of you seem to be surprised that I’m not eternally wearing a plaid button-up and jeans. Others seem confused by my presence in your classrooms. A few, though, view the duality without issue at all.

The dichotomy between my work and academic lives is understandable, in the context of the College. On this campus, we have limited exposure to a community of high-need, financially independent undergraduates. Of the student body, 50 percent of students are judged to not have any financial need, and many more are in a financial situation that doesn’t necessitate off-campus work. Instead, students devote their time to sports, clubs and coursework. I’m attempting not to place a higher value on employment, but rather to remind us that some have no choice but to work. We are students at the College. We are privileged. We are (mostly) cared for on campus. We are also offered 30 percent off of our meals at the Log.

This is not the situation on every campus, and we should appreciate these privileges. However, we should also be cognizant of the fact that not all students are fully provided for here. Some students cannot remedy this fact, because of both individual conditions and the realities of Williamstown. I suppose that means that I am lucky to have the chance to change things for myself. I say lucky hesitantly, because my luck allows me to work my allotted six to seven hours on campus, plus 20-30 hours off-campus per week. I articulate this not looking for pity, but simply so that my situation – and the situation of many others, both on and off of this campus – is understood.

As a waitress in Massachusetts, I am entitled to $3.35 an hour. The Log very generously pays its waitstaff a full $4.00 an hour before taxes. The national minimum, in place in many states, is $2.13 an hour. Service wage differs from the minimum wage in the United States because people are expected to tip. If you work in a profession where you make $20-$30 per month in tips, your employer is permitted to pay you service wage. It truly is assumed that you will tip. This is not a matter of kindness. This is a matter of the financial structure and cost of living in the United States.

An appropriate tip generally lies somewhere between 15 percent and 20 percent of the cost of your meal. If you look at the bottom of many restaurant receipts, you will see the tip amounts for 15 percent, 18 percent and 20 percent. This is to make it easier for both you, and for the server. This is to make it so that your claimed inability to do math cannot be the reason that servers go home underpaid.

There are a lot of people who don’t know this. The facts aren’t hidden, but people either don’t care or have never had reason to be exposed to them. Not everybody will work in the industry or be closely connected to someone who does. This is especially true at the College, I think. Many of you will have internships that will lead to jobs on Wall Street, as lawyers or in upper academia. Many of you will also work as teachers, waiters and caretakers. This is not a judgment of any of those professions. We come from many backgrounds; we have different aspirations and our lives will take different paths. This is rational and diverse and wonderful. However, an issue arises when we are so unaware of others’ paths that we don’t take the opportunity to do what is appropriate and right in supporting them.

Those of you who go to the Log come in with your friends, your families and your entries. Sometimes you pay with your own money, but other times it is with the money of your parents, or with funds that come from the College. In fact, every time one of you comes in, 30 percent of your check is subsidized by the school. The institution offers you that allowance, but they do not make up the difference for your servers. In the industry, we do our best to keep things equitable, operating off headcounts. If an entry – 10 or 15 students – comes in, and I take your table, I am forfeiting my right to wait on 10 or 15 other people. If you leave $1.27 for a $13 burger, rather than a reasonable $1.95-$2.76 that other groups would each tip, that difference quickly adds up.

If you’re tipping 13 percent, 6 percent or 0 percent because your waiter called you stupid and spit in your food, be my guest. If you’re tipping poorly because you didn’t understand how service wage works, I invite you to spread this knowledge and adjust your behavior. I appreciate it. So do my coworkers and every other person who works in the service industry. But if you’re tipping poorly because you have a moral issue with it, I invite you to take it up with the U.S. government, and stop fucking me over in the meantime.

Lia Steinhardt-Keely ’19 is from Austin, Texas. She lives in Pratt.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Charlie April 27, 2016 at 1:52 pm

Lia –
I applaud that you find the time to work during college. It is evidence of a sound work ethic that will serve you well going forward in life.

It saddens me to think that your classmates are not properly tipping you or your colleagues at the Log. Regarding tipping standards, you write:

There are a lot of people who don’t know this. The facts aren’t hidden, but people either don’t care or have never had reason to be exposed to them. Not everybody will work in the industry or be closely connected to someone who does. This is especially true at the College, I think.

Let me be more blunt as it relates to your classmates and their apparent “ignorance”. They know what the norm is, they simply have no appreciation for the people that work for them or serve them.

Your generation has been told since they could walk how special and entitled they are. Remember, you are the first Americans that were awarded trophies just for participating in kickball. It never stopped. You had graduation parties for nursery school and elementary school. Williams, like other schools, constantly tells you of your special gifts. Yet, your generation cannot change a tire on a car or mow a lawn. What is the difference between a four stroke and two stroke engine? Diesel or gas? Remarkably few of your classmates have swept a factory floor and moved earth for a wall or foundation. A true hard days labor like lay asphalt in the summer sun? Unlikely. These are menial tasks for people “less worthy.” Unfortunately, the “server” class falls into this category.

The point is, a great number of your classmates, unfortunately, never had to work menial jobs. They (not you) have been brainwashed to think such jobs are below them. Hence they treat these people with blatant disregard. So yes, they don’t appreciate the people that work in these jobs. Those that work these jobs are the “others”. Better seen and not interacted with.

For those of you keeping score at home, this is what Charles Murray has been writing about for 20 plus years. The growing disconnect between the elites (Williams students) and the working class. Your experience is a microcosm of this painful reality in America today.

I hope you and your colleagues get paid enormously better in the coming weeks. You undoubtedly deserve it!

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anononymous April 29, 2016 at 8:29 am

Charlie- I think it is safe to say that when dinning services took tips from employees and then later had to settle in court- that we learned a lot about the real dynamics of what the school is teaching these young adults about the value of those who work for you in “menial tasks.”

Maids and such… are not to be respected or paid well- apparently?

This is a leadership problem as much as it is a followership problem.

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Max Ghenis April 28, 2016 at 6:21 pm

Not a Williams student, but absolutely agree that diners everywhere should tip the expected amount, where it’s expected. However, it’s important to note the problems with the tipping custom itself: it’s discriminatory (e.g. black servers are tipped less), correlated to sexual harassment and corruption, and virtually uncorrelated to service quality.

One need not go up to the US government to act on this issue. Nearly 200 restaurants across the US have replaced tipping with service charges or higher menu prices, opting to pay staff fairly as other firms do. As part of the progressive Williams institution, The Log is well-suited to make this transition. I invite you to propose the change to them, such that someday waitresses no longer have to plea for fair tips from their fellow students.

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anononymous April 29, 2016 at 8:33 am

“One need not go up to the US government to act on this issue. Nearly 200 restaurants across the US have replaced tipping with service charges or higher menu prices, opting to pay staff fairly as other firms do. As part of the progressive Williams institution, The Log is well-suited to make this transition. I invite you to propose the change to them, such that someday waitresses no longer have to plea for fair tips from their fellow students.”

Be careful. This is a scam to leverage wait staff on margins. A way to cut diners costs out of tipping. I’d avoid this suggestion like the plague- if you actually want waiters and bartenders to be paid a living wage.

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Kevin April 29, 2016 at 3:52 pm

I always tip my servers at least 20% unless they were terrible, and I don’t mean that they were bogged down with other tables or that I could tell that they are having a rough day. I mean avoiding my table, not being semi polite. I know it’s a tough job, but it is a job and I will tip well if anyone tries, because I know it’s tough and want to make my servers day 🙂

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