America is the rare country that expects customers to tip their servers, and the practice has been controversial for decades. As conversations evolve around tipping, and as the Trump administration passes rules that make tip stealing more likely, one problem that’s been ignored is that when your income depends on keeping the customer happy, sometimes the customer uses that leverage to harass the server.
Now the New York Times has taken a deeper look at just how awful this aspect of tipping really is. And it’s dark.
It’s not a secret, in the food industry, that servers have to grin and bear it. But it’s difficult to read some stories in the Times report, which interviewed 60 tipped servers ranging from teenagers new to the industry to veterans who’ve dealt with this problem for years, and not cringe at a hard job being made that much harder by the misbehavior of customers. In some cases, that behavior is simply written off, such as one server who was groped in a cocktail lounge:
She stifled the urge to scream. “I don’t want to do anything that makes these people leave and not tip me,” she said. “I’m looking at $200 in tips.” Fighting back tears, she pointed out the offending customer to her manager, expecting the restaurant to take action. Instead, she saw the manager shaking the man’s hand.
Even managers with the best intentions, the piece points out, can only do so much. The server has to inform them of the situation, and then they have to act. But servers need the tips, especially with a minimum wage that can be as low as $2.13 an hour in much of the country, and some managers can’t, or won’t, throw out problem customers. So it’s a question for servers of what they’re willing to put up with, and they’re often asked to deal with extreme, even frightening behavior.
The piece relates stories of unwanted advances, attempts to ask servers out, and even stalking. It happens regardless of gender and sexuality, and regardless of who goes there to eat. Servers are as likely to be harassed at a chain eatery at 3 pm as they are at a nightclub at 3 am (though alcohol is a common factor).
The reality is, as long as there are tips, the customer has some form of leverage. That can take the form of humiliating the server or it can take the form of sexual harassment. It’s up to us, as diners, to behave better.
(via New York Times)