Ack. I’m feeling a little salty. Maybe you guys can help me. There’s this newish thing, and I just don’t get it.
You may have had this experience, if not, imagine with me: You go into a fast food restaurant, and after standing in line behind a couple families, you make your way to the front. You stand there studying the menu finally able to see the tiny asterisk and the footnote that explains its existence next to the item you’re thinking about ordering. The young person behind the cash register (is that what it’s called? Is cash even still a thing?) asks what you want. You tell her your choice, she pushes three buttons, informs you of your total, and then the screen facing you gives you several options for the percentage you’d like to tip.
You look at the screen wondering why the only options are 15%, 20%, 25%. (Maybe there’s even an option to tip 30%, you can’t exactly remember.) You stand there as the young person who just pushed three buttons and the family behind you in line all stare at the screen waiting to see how much you’ll tip. You scan the options, but don’t see the option that says, “I’ll tip you robustly after you come to my clean table with a menu, explain all the various asterisked options, give me time to look it over, take my order, make sure my food is delivered in a timely fashion, refill my water, anticipate my needs, and take away my dirty dishes.”
You feel the stares.
How the heck can you leave a tip? The young person has only pushed three buttons. Are you tipping the person for pushing three buttons? You don’t even know if the person pushed the right buttons! You have no idea if the tables are clean, you haven’t even found a seat yet. You have no idea if your food will be fresh when you get it. What the heck?
Tip. You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
Let’s be honest, isn’t this just the option to pay up to 30% more for your meal. Why, yes, you think, I’d love to pay more for this meal than is advertised on the fast food menu hanging above my head. I’d love to stand in this line, order my food, make my own drink, gather my own silverware, find my own seat, wipe the crumbs off the table, clear my own dishes, and pay more for my meal. If not that, then it feels kind of like a threat: enter a good tip, or else! Will my food be nasty if I don’t tip? Also, if you don’t enter a tip, will the button-pushing employee and the family behind you give you the side-eye? That’s always how you want to begin your dining experience, right?
Now, before you conclude that I’m just stingy or that I’m a typical older woman … I’m totally NOT. Well, older, yes, typical, no. Completely the opposite. (Also, I proved my waitress-credibility with that statement about older women. Am I right? I hope I’m wrong, but at least back in the ’80s older women were some of the worst tippers.) I paid for my entire college education, car payments, insurance, gas, blah, blah, blah, with tips I earned. Ken and I met in the restaurant business. It was my life for many years. I know what it’s like to work for tips (my fingernails, wrist tendons, and leg veins have never fully recovered), and I’m a generous tipper. Especially if the service is excellent.
Waitstaff and bartenders don’t make minimum wage. We made a ridiculous hourly wage. Less than $2.00 an hour. (I looked it up, and according to the U.S. Department of Labor, the current hourly wage for tipped employees is $2.13, so, not much has changed there.) Our paychecks were so tiny (especially after taxes) that most of us would forget to pick them up for months on end; we worked for the tips. The harder we worked, the more money we earned. The more knowledgeable we were about the menu and what constituted a good dining experience, the more money we earned.
I wondered if the person who pushed the three buttons was on the clock for $2.13 an hour. I’d probably have been considered rude for asking the button-pusher’s wage before leaving a tip. When I left, I Googled the average wage for the restaurant I visited, and from what I could see, the employees—all of them—earn minimum wage or higher. Not that that is something to write home about, I know, but it isn’t $2.00 an hour.
A tip was something we earned as a result of something we gave. Are we defining tip differently now? Seems a bit presumptuous (entitled?) to ask for a tip before serving a person in any way. Seems like I could draw some conclusions about the direction we’re headed as a society based solely on this.
Help me, people. What are your thoughts about the pre-service tip?