At The Daily Beast, Jessica Yarrow relays a report titled “Tipped Over the Edge: Gender Equity in the Restaurant Industry” compiled by The Restaurant Opportunities Cities United which is backed by groups such as NOW, National Women’s Law Center, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Ford Foundation (thrown in for all of those conspiracy theorists out there).
From the report:
Servers, 71 percent female and the largest group of all tipped workers, represent the seventh-lowest paid occupation of the country’s lowest-paid jobs, with a median hourly wage of $8.81, well below the poverty wage. Not surprisingly, servers experience almost three times the poverty rate of the workforce as a whole. Many of these workers are supporting families. Since their take-home pay is mostly dependent on tips, their paychecks can fluctuate widely, impeding these workers’ ability to adequately provide for their families on a consistent basis. Servers rely on food stamps at nearly double the rate of the general population. In a sad irony, many of the same workers who serve America its food cannot afford to eat. Since the vast majority of tipped workers are female, issues affecting tipped workers are also matters of gender justice. In fact, the restaurant industry is one of the only sectors with a bifurcated minimum wage: non-tipped workers have a federal minimum wage of $7.25, while the predominately female tipped workers have a federal subminimum wage of $2.13. In many sectors lower wages for women are partly the product of discriminatory employer practices, but in the restaurant industry lower wages for women are also a product of direct public policy.
Of course, this analysis repeatedly lowballs actual wages and ignores the widespread tax evasion that plagues the restaurant industry. Three quick anecdotes on that front:
- Last night I waited in line at a computer check-out station at my restaurant while a coworker spent several minutes figuring out how to minimize her reported tip figure. By my estimation, she underreported tips her night’s tips by at least $40 (she earned $130 after tip out). Extrapolate across the entire year.
- I used to work with a guy who had five children who worked as a waiter in order to minimize his reported income to abscond child support garnishments. I assume that the same principle applies for many servers who are tacitly compelled to work in restaurants because of marginal tax evasion.
- Another female coworker recently mentioned to me that she routinely has a manager decrease her reported cash tips in order to “qualify for government housing”. This is the same coworker who queried me on how many tattoos she should get with her EITC check.
In the report, a waitress’ take:
“I was a server for 15 years and raised four kids on a server’s wages plus tips. Depending on other people to tip you… can be the most stressful part of being a server. There were many nights that I didn’t even make enough to pay my babysitter… What most people don’t realize is that servers don’t make the minimum wage like most people.”
I hear this refrain from most of my co-workers. After a lower-than-custom tip, many servers will trot out the old argument about how we only get paid $2.13 an hour. What they never appreciate are all of the 20-plus percent tips they receive. For servers, in my estimation, there is very little ‘taking the good with the bad’. On net, most servers would rather have a tipping regime rather than a set wage without tips.
Attempting to cloud facts with emotion, the report quotes another sympathy case:
“I just had my first baby, and her father is not in the picture right now, so I’m having to do everything myself.… It’s nearly impossible to pay rent, car payment, utilities, car insurance, and the cell phone bill on the pittance I’m making.… I can’t afford to get health insurance for myself and my baby through my job because my paycheck, even when I’m working 40+ hours a week, isn’t enough to cover it. I’m very lucky to have family and friends that are willing to watch my baby girl free of charge while I’m at work… But I suspect that not all working moms are so lucky.”
– Sarah, Texas
The report rightly pins the differences in male and female servers’ income on differences in restaurant scale. Fine-dining establishments tend to employ more men than family-style or quick-service restaurants. This disparity exists for two reasons: first, wealthier patrons prefer professionalized service, and they also tend to prefer a more assertive and masculine servers. I believe that this preference is a historical relic where the wealthy relied heavily on butlers for various domestic duties. And since it is more likely that men are paying for the meal than are women, feminists really have no response to this form of discrimination. Second, as in other occupations, women take on jobs that work around their domestic obligations. They select jobs that require less side work, less preparation, and fewer opportunities for upward mobility. An executive chef is similar in nature to a corporate executive; in order to reach such heights, the employee has to devote years to their job. Women are less likely to do this which is the reason for the “glass ceiling” and the income gap.