Tipping culture should change over time

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Royal Purple Staff Opinion

March 15, 2016

With St. Patty’s Day approaching, many students are searching their closets for last year’s shamrock t-shirt and matching leprechaun hat, but others aren’t so fortunate. Quite a few of us work as bartenders and servers, and the “luck of the Irish” just didn’t translate to “luck with the work schedule.”

So while you’re enjoying that green beer, keep in mind the bartender who poured you that green monstrosity. Give them a tip and a thank you (but more importantly the tip).

Remember, most servers and bartenders earn a subminimum wage, so your tip is incredibly important to their livelihood.

But here at the Royal Purple, we believe tipping is an outdated practice that needs to be altered, if not done away with completely over time.

And we understand tips are necessary to keep small businesses afloat. Bars and restaurants – especially smaller startups – need tips to subsidize worker wages, so they can keep their prices reasonable. But that doesn’t mean there’s no room or need for change.

Take Europe for example, where tipping originated in the homes of the aristocracy. During the 19th century, Americans traveling abroad brought the tipping custom back to the U.S. as a kind of cosmopolitan expression of European exquisiteness.

At the end of the century, an anti-tipping movement arose on both continents, according to historical records. In the U.S., restaurant owners fought to keep the practice as an alternative to wages (many of their tipped workers were freed African-American slaves, and they didn’t want to pay them at all).

In Europe, however, the anti-tipping movement was embraced by labor unions, and today the custom is considered taboo. Yet they still have restaurants capable of turning profits, and at the same time, workers earning livable wages.

Tipping also perpetuates sexual harassment towards women in the workplace.

Almost 70 percent of tipped workers are women, according to the Restaurant Opportunities Center United (ROC United). Because they rely on tips, female servers are more likely to put up with harassment and degrading behavior from customers. Nearly 37 percent of all sexual harassment claims come from restaurants, according to the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC).

Also adding to the problem are government regulations. Under federal law, bars and restaurants are required to pay their tipped workers at least $2.13 per hour. That’s less than a third of the standard $7.25, and tips are supposed to bring that abysmal wage up to the “normal” minimum.

If the tips don’t add up to $7.25, the employer is supposed to make up for the difference, but many do not. Over the past three years, more than 10,000 investigations have been conducted into restaurants, resulting in almost $83 million in back wages for nearly 93,000 workers, according to the U.S. Labor Department.

Most businesses follow the law but some clearly look for ways around it, and many workers don’t know the law or are afraid to report violations.

In the past, the subminimum wage was at least half of the normal minimum. That changed in the 1990s when the regular minimum wage went up, but the tipped minimum stayed at $2.13. That’s the same as it has been for almost 25 years, according to the Fair Labor and Standards Act (FLSA).

With that being said, 30 states have already required the tipped minimum be set above $2.13, and seven states have gone even further, eliminating the subminimum wage altogether and requiring restaurants to pay tipped workers the same standard minimum wage as everyone else.

In Wisconsin, employers are required to pay their tipped workers at least $2.33 per hour.  While it’s not reasonable yet to demand wage parity for all tipped workers, it’s not too much to propose a step in that direction.

Write your state representatives and ask them to consider raising the minimum wage for tipped workers to at least half of the standard minimum wage.