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.