Wednesday, October 22, 2014
There is presently a lot of heated social conversation about people who traditionally receive tips as part of their pay for work – namely those in the restaurant-bar, hotel, taxi-limousine, beauty service and travel service industries. They legally receive what’s known as a sub-minimum wage (apx. $5.00/hour) from their employers, because their tips, supposedly, bring them up to a living wage. That wasn’t true 30 or 40 years ago and it’s even worse now. That’s because more and more Americans, either out of ignorance or cheapness, are leaving smaller and fewer tips. So the question is: should the sub-minimum wage be increased? Would it surprise you to know that many Americans are saying no?
Tipping is a uniquely American custom, something Americans traveling abroad are delighted to discover and foreigners visiting here often learn to their embarrassment the first time they stiff a waiter or cab driver. There’s an irony here, since it appears that tipping began in the 1600s in England when men drinking in taverns gave money to servers “to insure promptitude” or T.I.P for short.
When the practice started to make its way into American bars and restaurants in the late 1890s, a movement against it rose up. Many Americans felt it was in opposition to the country’s ideals of class equality and would lead to the development of a “servile class” that would be rendered financially dependent on the rich. But the custom persisted – and grew – here, nonetheless.
Over time, tipping somehow went out of favor (in some instances out of legality) in Europe, and indeed created that “servile class” in America – which has never been a classless society, despite our delusions to the contrary. This explains why many Americans resent tipping and/or look down on people who work for tips and/or are ashamed to work in jobs that receive tips.
I was the daughter of a man who spent most of his working life first as a waiter and then as a skycap. He worked for tips. He worked very hard and put up with an assortment of indignities, but still never made enough to support a family, which is why my mother worked in the 1950s when most women were still housewives.
She worked until the 1980s, pouring her considerable intelligence into the bottomless, low-paying well of the pink ghetto, first as a bookkeeper, then as a comptroller, and finally as the manager of the subscription department of an elite specialty business newspaper – where she signed her letters “L. Browne,” lest the high-powered male subscribers suspect she was a woman. And meanwhile, my black father smiled as he allowed white people to rub his head for luck in the hope it would earn him a larger tip.
Since Ronald Reagan (whom I still blame for everything), America has been creating an economy and social mindset guided by millionaire Republican belief that the population is made up of Makers and Takers, an idea that middle class and working class Republicans buy into. That’s why so many people still think that teenagers are the ones working minimum-wage jobs, when the truth is, most teens can’t find jobs because the jobs they used to have are now held by adults trying to make a living and support their families. People working for tips are also doing the same thing.
In case you haven’t noticed, unless you (or you and your partner/spouse, if you have one) are bringing in a six-figure salary, nothing in America is affordable, anywhere – not housing, utilities, food, gas, a night at the movies, nothing – except clothing, house wares, and the smart electronic devices everyone loves so much, all of which are sold cheap because they’re made by indentured and child labor through the American “job creators” who are actually outsourcing those jobs to Third World countries. Welcome to the 21st century.
It’s time to raise the minimum wage and the sub-minimum wage, federally. And it’s time for Americans who eat in American restaurants, stay in American hotels, ride in American taxis – etc. – to ante up and leave a decent 15-20% tip. You’re not tipping for extraordinarily wonderful service, you’re tipping because that’s what we do here. It’s the American way.
Posted by MizB at 8:31 AM