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Why the tipping system is unfair to college-aged waiters and bartenders

There’s one saying that restaurant waiters and bartenders often use when they want to castigate people who don’t tip: “If you can’t afford to tip, you can’t afford to go out.”

Let’s think about this statement for a second. It implies that a tip is money that the patron is required to pay. But if one decides not to pay the tip, they’re not penalized, so tipping is not actually required.

A waiter goes to work expecting to be paid for their service. Whether the service is good or sub par is subjective to the customer, but there is still an expectation that there will be a tip. But this expectation negates what the tipping system is intended for.

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Restaurant owners ostensibly use the system as a way to incentivise their waiters and bartenders into doing their best in order to earn their pay. But when one scrutinizes this logic, one realizes it’s just a big denial of responsibility on part of the restaurant owners — a denial which shifts the employer-employee relationship into much murkier territory.

Whereas most businesses reward their workers for doing their jobs with regular, unwavering paychecks, restaurant owners expect the same kind of work for purely potential payment.

Because tipping is a custom based on expectation of payment elsewhere, restaurant owners see it as an opportunity to not pay their servers steady salaries.

The idea that if you do well, you get paid well, is often not the case. Customers fall into the default routine of tipping 10, 15 or 20 percent on their checks without considering whether or not the waiter smiled.

Targets of the quote I mentioned at the beginning forgo tipping altogether because, well, they’re not required to. And really, why should they, considering they’ve already paid the full price for the food? Still, people who don’t tip are seen as rude by servers simply because no tip means no salary.

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But it’s not the job of the customer to pay the employee’s salary. It’s the owner’s job. Their job is not only to account for the pricing of their products but also the salaries of their workers. And if employers don’t account for their employees’ salaries, they are effectively profiting off of unpaid labor.

Because college students need to attend school during the day, they tend to take jobs in the evening. One logical option for an evening job is a position in a restaurant and entry-level positions in restaurants are usually service jobs. If students don’t get paid for their work, not only are they wasting their time, but they’re rendered unable to pay for their own food and other living expenses.

And that is why I say the tipping system is a violation of an honest worker’s right to a steady salary. A violation disguised as a friendly, informal custom which is anything but. Employers profit off of employee’s belief in the tipping custom at the employee’s expense.

So now that I’ve shown what I perceive to be the true source of waiters and bartenders’ frustration, I shall invite servers everywhere to turn their indignation on their employers and say instead: “If you can’t afford to pay your employees, you can’t afford to start a business.”

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