Tipping, gratuity mandatory practices in food service industry

Imagine being a server at Applebee's. You work long shifts, interacting with (sometimes) difficult customers, taking orders, serving food and cleaning up — all for less than $6 per hour.

You depend on tips for your livelihood. Large parties are the most difficult, requiring more work to keep everything straight and running smoothly.

Finally after a long day, the last large party finally finishes dining and leaves after paying. You pick up the receipt, hoping for a generous tip for your hard work only to see a nearly-illegible signature, the tip area scratched out and a note written: "I give God 10 percent. Why do you get 18?" Naturally, you'd be irritated. Even though the family automatically pays the 18 percent gratuity for large parties, made to ensure a somewhat adequate tip, they refuse to pay anything further and condescend toward you after nothing but pleasantries. You show the note to a coworker who snaps of a picture of it.

Now imagine being the coworker: You're outraged as well. You post the receipt online for people to discuss, obscuring all personal information, save for the messy signature.

And then you get fired.

This is precisely what happened to Chelsea Welch, a waitress at an Applebee's in St. Louis.

Irritated by the condescending note left to her coworker, she posted the receipt on Reddit, prompting a long discussion and a witch hunt.

While Redditors were unable to find the pastor, Alois Bell, due to her illegible signature, Bell stepped up and called for the firing of not only Welch, but the managers involved as well.

Despite allegedly leaving a cash tip and paying the gratuity, Bell did not ask for Welch to be reinstated and apologized for the embarrassment she brought to herself and her ministry — instead of the harm to Welch herself.

Applebee's did not stand by Welch, claiming she violated their privacy policy. She disagrees. Furthermore, on one Applebee's Facebook page, a positive note on a receipt had been posted with the author's name completely legible. It has since been removed, but nobody has heard of any firings.

Welch herself responded to the debacle.

"In this economy, $3.50 an hour doesn't cut it. I can't pay half my bills," she says. "Like many, I would love to see a reasonable, non-tip-dependent wage system for service workers like they have in other countries. But the system being flawed is not an excuse for not paying for services rendered."

The incident is merely a symptom of our society's issue with tipping.

In 43 of our 50 states, the minimum wage for tipped workers is below the general minimum wage.

In Arizona, most workers get at least $7.80 per hour. However, servers may work for less than that: $4.80 an hour. While restaurants are expected to make up the difference in the case of lousy tippers, it doesn't make up for the harsh reality that that may not happen.

While tipping came about as a way to show appreciation for good service, it's become mandatory in our society. Stiffing a server for bad service, though it might be an attempt to send a message to him or her, instead irritates the server, threatens his or her livelihood and makes you look like a jerk.

Why is this acceptable? Why does our culture seem to think it's fine to give some of the hardest-working people less wages, leaving them to depend on the generosity of others?

Tipping does not leave any room to send messages to people who provide bad service.

It is not optional — it is a mandatory practice, else we risk putting them out of their homes. Whether or not one finds this to be a good thing, it should make one wonder: Why is it acceptable, in the name of religion, principles or anything else, to shaft a server on their livelihood?

Refusing to tip in order to make a statement about society directly puts servers in monetary danger.

In quick-service places such as Starbucks, tips are added bonuses. In sit-down restaurants such as Applebee's, tips are an expected component of workers' wages. Regardless of your own income, keep in mind that waitstaff legitimately need the money.

In the words of Lafayette from HBO's "True Blood:" "Tip yo' waitress."


Reach the columnist at baorteg1@asu.edu or follow him at @BrandoBoySP


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