Why We Should Give Tipped Workers Good Tips

Every so often, a family member (usually my mom or me) is out with a friend, and the family member argues with the friend about how much of a tip to give when we’re at a restaurant. My mom and I argue for a high tip, while our friends sometimes argue for a significantly lower tip or no tip at all, regardless of the quality of service.

After seeing what minimum wages are for tipped employees in every state, I feel both vindicated and saddened. I feel vindicated that my stance on this topic is such that the higher tips mean higher wages for workers, but also saddened that these workers earn poor wages without tips.

Actually, the term “poor wages” would be a disgraceful understatement of how some tipped workers are paid before tips. Given that numerous states have a minimum wage for tipped workers at an utterly shameful $2.13 an hour, it’s the tips of consumers that could have a major impact on the economic well-being of people. So for consumers in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, and South Carolina, you all had better give generous tips if you feel that $2.13 is too low of a wage for people to earn.

While I just directed my last sentence at the consumers of six states where tipped workers only earn $2.13 an hour before tips, consumers from the other U.S. states and territories aren’t off the hook. Not by any stretch of the imagination.

I say this because many tipped workers earn below a living wage. The MIT Living Wage Calculator says that the living wage in the United States is $15.12 per hour for a family of four.[1] Waiters and waitresses (a form of tipped work) could earn a wage around or above the 75th percentile without having a living wage (national living wage is $15.12 per hour while the 75th percentile pay for a waiter/waitress is $13.30 per hour).[2] If we want our tipped workers to earn living wages, we need to give them generous tips.

When I bring up these points, some people say that it’s not fair for us, the consumers, to compensate for the fact that tipped workers are given poor wages. While I agree that it’s not fair, the injustice of giving tipped workers a little extra compensation pales in comparison to the injustice that would happen if we all gave low tips, or no tips at all. Even if certain employers don’t pay the kinds of wages they should, it doesn’t excuse us from paying the kinds of tips we should. The ultimate injustice with tipped workers is that the people who serve us would earn so little money that they couldn’t serve themselves and their families.

It’s our choice. Do we want humane and living wages for our tipped workers? If so, it’s time for us, the consumers, to step up our games. And yes, that means I’m going to continue paying my 20%+ tips.


[1] I should note that this is the national average. The living wage varies widely between states (and even municipalities within states) depending on factors such as cost-of-living. For example, the living wage in New York City for one adult and one child is $30.86 per hour while the living wage for two adults and two children in Boise, Idaho is $15.68 per hour. Source: http://livingwage.mit.edu/articles/19-new-data-calculating-the-living-wage-for-u-s-states-counties-and-metro-areas

[2] Source: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes353031.htm

8 Replies to “Why We Should Give Tipped Workers Good Tips”

    1. Thanks! Hopefully this issue will get resolved over time. Or, at the very least, that the $2.13 minimum wage for tipped workers gets raised to the national minimum wage.

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  1. Sadly, the “food (service) industry” will never change until we change the whole tipping mindset. As long as we continue the practice, the employer won’t make up the difference.

    That being said:
    I seldom give less than 18% and sometimes I give as much as 50%. So yeah, I should practice what I preach.

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    1. I get what you’re saying, but I don’t think the solution is to give lower tips or no tip at all (which is my understanding of what you are proposing). In the end, all that does is hurt the workers financially in some cases (Do we want people to really earn less than $3 an hour?). Additionally there are some states that cover the difference between the wage earned and the minimum wage (as I recall…I wrote my original post awhile ago) so giving a lower tip won’t really do anything in those cases.

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      1. Yep! I totally agree that the answer is the employer giving a living wage to the employee. But I don’t think all employers will do that out of the goodness of their hearts. Call me cynical for saying that. There need to be laws mandating such wages, and in order to get the laws, pressure needs to be put on lawmakers.

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