Life is Work
This week we chat about the culture of tipping: where it comes from, the problems with it, and how to start rethinking this method of compensation. Whether or not you've worked in the service industry, we all interact with these services in our daily lives, and we can all help make it better.
Life Is Work - Ep 34 - Tipping Culture
- Area of Work: Intersectional Equity
Cameron Navarro, LMSW
Mel’s Mindful Minute: 42:45
Melanie Wilmoth Navarro, LMSW, RYT, TSTSY-F
Owner, Lead Facilitator - Whole Moon Wellness
Intro - King Must Die, by Picnic Lightning
MMM Transitions - Sur, by Picnic Lightning
Outro - Pa’lante, by Hurray for the Riff Raff
- RESULT: To explore the systemic and cultural practice of tipping, why it exists as a payment model, and how to do it well while advocating for a system of pay that works better for everyone (intersectional equity!)
- Waiting tables - V HARD JOB
- Have to learn preferences very quickly
- Different demands from different customers who have complete control over my take-home pay for the day (ultimately learned that the best way to consistently earn reasonable tips was to try and be as invisible as possible - not great feeling)
- Also have demands from the restaurant managers - who don't rly pay me but have their own set of expectations
- Learned over time that this idea of “the harder you work and the better you are at serving the more you are paid” was p much bogus. Yes you learn how to adjust to ppl’s expectations quickly, but that’s no guarantee that you will be paid fairly. Also, it is the most powerless I have ever felt in a workplace
Protein - Main Event - Topic d’jour
- For international audience, in USA it is expected that you provide a tip in most service industries
- Waiters/bartenders in restaurants
- Hotels - cleaning staff/bellhop (hotel porter)/Valets
- Hairdressers/Nail Technicians
- Delivery/Taxi/Lyft/Uber drivers
- Generally speaking, if tipping is encouraged/ an option in a place, it means the employees are likely not making much, if anything, from the company they work for
- Ex. When working in a restaurant, Dan made about $2.13/hour even though the minimum wage was at $6.25 at the time
- 1938 New Deal - first minimum wage law
- You have the right to the minimum wage either through wages or through tips → gave employers permission to not provide a wage to workers
- U.S. Department of Labor reports an 84 percent violation rate in regards to employers actually ensuring that they make up that difference.
- Industrial revolution - white workers began migrating moving to cities to work in urban factories. Now that they were in the city, there was an increased demand for restaurant food, but needed ppl to work as servers who had less resources than them and would be willing to work in a food service job. At the time, people in those positions were primarily black, formerly enslaved people
- Link to slavery -
- Noblesse oblige is a French expression meaning that there is an inferred responsibility of privileged people to act with generosity and nobility toward those less privileged
- So, at its core, tipping was a practice associated with tipping inferiors
- In the U.S., that particular hierarchical thinking can most always be traced back to slavery
- Before we get in to the payment structure - important to note that because employees in a tipping model are often hourly, that almost always means they also do not receive benefits of any kind (healthcare, time off, etc).
- Instead of employers paying their workers, they rely on their customers to pay for both the product and the labor
- Essentially constantly working for many different bosses all day, every day
- Because workers are valued by multiple consumers instead of their actual employer, workers must always center the desires of consumers to even possibly make minimum wage for the day, and sometimes what consumers want is different from what their employer wants, so they are having to juggle multiple bosses and multiple demands that is never guaranteed to fairly pay them for all of that labor
- Customers often demand all kinds of things to justify giving tips (and even then, they do not always tip well or at all):
- Entitlement to your time
- Different needs you have to learn very quickly (customer A prefers water to be refilled constantly, customer B finds your constant refilling to be an intrusion → often this leads to trying to be as invisible as possible. Also harmful) which leads me to
- Emotional labor
- From personal experience, I have especially seen this when I worked in a hair salon, an expectation of processing life events in addition to the labor of cut & color
- Also in nail salons
- Physical Labor
- Entitlement to say and demand anything they’d like
- “Customer is always right”
- Also, makes it very difficult to hold individual customers accountable for how they treat service workers, which brings us to:
- Reminder, racist origins are still relevant today
- There is still a $4 per hour wage gap between what white workers and workers of color make in the restaurant industry, and it’s because workers of color are relegated to lower level positions. In fine dining, they work as bussers and runners, instead of as a server or as bartenders. They also work in lower level segments, at places like Olive Garden instead of at places like Capital Grille. They work in places where you make less money. (source)
- because of the racial segregation, the people who are most impacted and impoverished by the current tipping system are people of color, and in particular women of color
- In 2014, restaurant workers were polled with the question: ‘Have you experienced sexual behavior in the restaurant industry that is scary or unwanted?’ And 90 percent of workers, both male and female, said yes. (source)
- 5x the rate of sexual harassment than all other industries
- Service industry has low level of entry for women, and because their income is dependent on the happiness of the customer, they are subjected to sexual harassment without consequence (see: patriarchy)
- Having worked in a restaurant for some years Dan has a lot to say about this
- It sets a low bar for what to expect in a workplace, both in terms of how you are treated and accountability for others who treat you that way
- Experience a range of sexual harassment and there is no consequence/it’s not taken seriously
- Self-worth - a place where your employer holds you to high standards but does not pay you, and the customers who do pay you can treat you without consequence, + other employees can treat you without consequence as well is harmful
- Me too
- So many problems! What to do?
- Tip well
- When I hear someone say things like “this is going to affect their tip” they are usually someone who has not worked within that payment structure
- Assume positive intent. It is very hard, underpaid work. If you do not feel you are receiving the service you’d prefer, think more broadly about why that may be, vs. placing all of the responsibility on individuals
- Believe people when they say they are mistreated, advocate for them in the ways that are accessible to you
- Systemic action? TBD
Mel’s Mindful Minute: 42:45
We Are Always Students
Sharing is Self-Caring
- Have you worked in an organization where tipping was your primary means of income? What in our conversation resonated with you? What challenged you?
- If you have not worked in an organization with a tipping structure - same questions. What in our conversation resonated with you? What challenged you?
- How might those perspectives differ based on experience?
- What will you do with that knowledge?
- What is one way you want to support service industry workers and model what that support looks like for others?
- We have discussed a few systemic factors that help to create and shape tipping culture. What are some you think we have missed?