Waiting on Tables? Here’s Why You Should Make $10/hr Part 1

by S.A. Prince

A server should be making $10 per hour, plus tips. That figure $10 per hour didn’t come from any financial research, nor did I compute it through an algorithm that figures out livable wage. As a matter-of-fact, that figure could be completely off base, as livable wage is an idea that is objective in nature. What constitutes as a living wage for a waitress, mother of three, is in stark contrast to that of the single and unbound college student doing the same job.

I am not an economist, nor will I try to be one. What I do know though is that the Federal rate for servers is $2.13. Some states have raised this number voluntarily. Good for them. They threw servers a bone, but no servers are “required” to make minimum wage (some do in some states), and it’s even less likely to see a server making over minimum wage. At the rate we’re going we’ll all be living on Mars before we see servers make above minimum wage before tips.

The Federal minimum wage is $7.25. The Federal rate for servers is $2.13. It has been that number since 1991 when minimum wage was $4.25. In 1966, the Fair Labor Standard Act required servers to make no less than 50% of the minimum wage. Even a kindergartener could see that $2.13 is not half of $7.25. So, what happened?

Well, to understand that we must look at the presidency of America’s “first black president,” Bill Clinton, and his dealings with restaurant lobbyist Herman Cain. This excerpt is taken from “In These Times:”

“Cain was particularly effective during the 1996 fight over the minimum wage. Approximately 3.3 million tipped workers (with 2 million of them being servers) receive a substandard minimum wage of $2.13 an hour. Between 1950 and 1991, the wage for restaurant servers had always increased every time the minimum wage increased. In the 1996 fight over increasing the minimum wage, however, Cain was determined not to see server’s wage increase in conjunction for the first time ever. And that’s exactly what happened.”

Also See Like Article From Huffington Post.

Under pressure from the Herman Cain and the restaurant lobby, Bill Clinton, who is often portrayed as an advocate for the “little guy,” crumbled, making it so that servers no longer had to earn 50% of the minimum wage.

The Federal wage for servers should be higher, as was original intended by the Fair Labor Standard Act. Still, $3.63 wouldn’t be enough. Who can live off of that? Then I read this from the United States Department of Labor:

“The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires payment of at least the Federal minimum wage to covered, nonexempt employees.  An employer of a tipped employee is only required to pay $2.13 an hour in direct wages if that amount plus the tips received equals at least the Federal minimum wage, the employee retains all tips and the employee customarily and regularly receives more than $30 a month in tips. If an employee’s tips combined with the employer’s direct wages of at least $2.13 an hour do not equal the Federal minimum hourly wage, the employer must make up the difference.”

Alright, now I’m beginning to understand this whole “tipped wage” business. Servers, if they don’t make at least $7.25 per hour from their “exorbitant” tipped wage of $2.13 per hour, including tips, then they are entitled to the difference.

So, if I am understanding this right, a server must grovel every week, hoping to make enough money in tips to not only exceed minimum wage, but to maintain a decent lifestyle? And, if they don’t happen to make enough in tips to earn at least minimum wage, then they have to go to their employer and request to be compensated in full?

Here’s the problem I have with that. Servers are the face of your business. Your customer’s experience is directly tied to the output of the server. Your customer’s lasting memory will be of the quality of service they receive. In theory you would think that by underpaying servers and making them “earn” their minimum wage, you create an incentive situation.

Provide good service or don’t get paid. I guess that would be okay, it sounds okay, until you realize that those who count on tips are more likely to need social welfare, according to the Economic Policy Institution.

A wage should be a wage, and a tip should be a tip. The two should be mutually exclusive as they relate to the idea of a “livable wage.” A person should be able to live off of their wage (all things considered, even though we truly cannot define a livable wage), and a tip should be bonus money.

In the current system a wage is a wage, and a tip is a wage and not a bonus/tip, until the server has made enough to eclipse the minimum wage level of their state. How does one get the best out of their employees, when their employees (who ARE the face of their business) have to grovel and scrape to make enough tip money to at least make minimum wage, hopefully earning bonus money by week’s end? Why can’t they just start off pocketing their bonus money?



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