Earlier this week, I read a story that made my head hurt. After being charged the industry standard 18% gratuity following a dinner for 10 at a St. Louis Applebee's, a pastor scratched out the automatically-calculated tip on her receipt and wrote in "I give God 10% why do you get 18 (sic)."
The receipt made its way to the internet, thanks to another server who snapped a photo of it and shared it on social media. The internet does what the internet always does in these situations: located the woman who wrote the rude note and put her on blast. As a result, the server has been fired and the customer, Pastor Alois Bell, feels totally humiliated. She apologized publicly upon learning that the receipt had gone viral.
Ignore the fact that 18% of a dinner tab and 10% of a salary are not in any way, shape, or form related. Let's pretend that Pastor Bell earned a salary of $45,000 a year after taxes and gave $4,500 to her church. And let's also imagine that she dines out once a week and averages $6 in gratuities on each meal, totaling up to $312 in a year. That would equal 0.69% of her annual salary…way less than what she's paying to the Lord. But you know who will be getting more than God from Pastor Bell's paycheck? Uncle Sam, who requires between $5,800 and $7,300 in income taxes alone for someone at that salary. This is, of course, before she's paid Missouri taxes, Social Security, etc. So, yeah, let's never compare tithes and tips ever again.
Tipped employees in Missouri earn $3.67 an hour, the majority of which is taken away before they receive their paychecks to pay taxes on their estimated tip income. The IRS estimates servers to make 8% of their sales in tips; they are able to track the actual amount tipped when a customer uses a credit card to tip and servers are required to report their cash tip income accurately. Presumably, most underreport what they earn, but remember: if a customer leaves no tip at all, the IRS still assumes that the waiter got 8% of that sale. The big winner? The restaurant industry, which pays employees very little and gets lots of labor hours in return.
Waiting tables is skilled labor and the persons who perform it should be compensated for it. It is one of the only jobs that finds the employee paid based on how well they performed that day and who the day's customers were. If you are a secretary or a teacher and you have a really crappy day, your check is going to be the same (so long as you don't err so greatly that you are sent home without pay or terminated). Imagine if you were paid less every time you spent 30 minuntes of your work day on Facebook or dealt with a client who'd had a bad day and brought that attitude with them.
The average U.S. sever earns approximately $9 an hour; of course an upscale restaurant waiter is likely to net more than someone working at, well, a St. Louis Applebee's, but this isn't a gig that sees a lot of folks getting rich. While many consider 18-20% to be appropriate for good service, 15% is considered to be the standard. If you can't afford or trouble yourself enough to cough that up, do everyone a favor: learn to cook.
If you are enraged to learn that the restaurants are getting over on you, then start a petition to change the server salary structure. But don't take your frustration out on a service worker. That means you pay at least 15% for decent service, you don't require free soda or extra biscuits or magic tricks from a waiter to give up that extra $6. If the service starts out so terrible that you fear you won't want to offer a fair tip, then, early on, you should let the server know that you feel shortchanged and give him or her the opportunity to turn it around…they may be cranky after getting stiffed by a previous party that left them a note about tithing! If all else fails, have a conversation with a manager.
I'd like to imagine that Pastor Bell, a formerly homeless mother of three with a very small storefront church, is not a mean or selfish woman. It's likely that like many, many people, she simply doesn't understand how restaurant tipping works. Hopefully, she and others will learn from this embarrassing situation. Each one, teach one. Amen and ashe.
All you have to do in this life is stay Black, pay taxes and follow "The Rules!" Each week, we'll break down an important lesson for living. Take notes.