Shuddering At the Thought


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Joe’s Crab Shack announced yesterday that it is instituting a “no tipping” policy in its restaurants. Instead, they announced, they will be paying their wait staff a wage of $14/hour. One might think that I, a lifelong server, would applaud this move. I am going to reserve my ovation for the moment.

While this may well be a step in the right direction, I am concerned about the hourly rate. How, I would like to know, did the folks at Joe’s Crab Shack arrive at this figure? (To be fair, they did indicate that some servers — based on merit — would be paid more.)

I think a pre-tax hourly rate of $14/hour is low. I think that the majority of the staff at Joe’s Crab Shack will be taking a pay cut. Actually, at least here in the northeast, I know that they will be. I took a look at my most recent pay stub and discovered that, for me, and I would guarantee for most of my co-workers, this would be true. The pay cut that we would be taking if our company were to go in this same direction? Approximately 50%.

Does anyone think we do this because we LOVE our jobs? We do this for the money — and for the flexible hours. I would hazard a guess that servers at Joe’s Crab Shack are going to lose both money and flexibility, particularly in terms of the number of hours they will be allowed to work on a given day. Many States have laws on the books that require a person be paid time-and-a-half for any time worked over 8 hours/day. Typically, tipped employees are exempt from these rules.

Generally, I work an 11-hour shift at least one day/week, sometimes more often than that. It allows me to maximize my hourly wage and to work fewer days.

I would also like to monitor the prices at Joe’s Crab Shack — for the past year and for the coming year — for increases. I am willing to bet that the consumer will still be paying the service staff, only in a different way; in a way that will now be controlled by Joe’s Crab Shack, rather than by its patrons.

It will also be interesting to see whether or not the level of service will decline once the service staff is no longer incentivized. Think about it. If a server has three tables in an hour and their sales in that time period add up to $300, they have a built in incentive to service these guests well. Why? $45/hour, that’s why.

While I understand that a person will not net $45 in that hour (one must take out taxes and tip-outs). Still, 15% of this $300 in sales would, at a minimum, translate, after taxes and tip-outs, to about $30 in the server’s pocket, which is still more than double the $14/hour that Joe’s Crab Shack has decided is a fair wage for its service staff. (No, we do not make $30/hour ALL the time, but during peak dinner hours we can earn that.)

I watch servers now — servers who have every reason to provide excellent service — who do not do their jobs. These are people who, in my opinion, will be content with a flat rate wage. Will their customers be content without a water refill? Will their tables be full of dirty dishes? Will they have ketchup? Time, I suppose, will tell.

If this trend takes hold, I would not be surprised if most good servers, professional servers, leave the industry altogether. If people think servers are stupid (or lazy, or lack menu knowledge, or…. insert your own preconceived, but likely wrong, notion here) now, just wait until they see what they get when the person waiting on them is only taking home about eleven bucks an hour. Trying to find your server will be like trying to find the person wearing the orange apron at the home improvement store. Good luck with that!

I understand that there are restaurants where tipping is not allowed. I understand that it works for them. Frankly, I don’t know how — not when these same workers can go down the road and make twice what they are making in an establishment where tipping is the norm.

Where a “no tipping” policy works may have something to do with workers who are comfortable with this custom. For example, there is a Japanese restaurant in NYC where tipping is not allowed — because tipping is not allowed in Japan. I am not sure how this translates to the US economy, but it seems to work for them. (So they say.)

There may be isolated cases where a worker simply can not go “down the road” to another establishment and make more money. I would imagine that a restaurant located in a lightly populated area — an area where the hourly wage vs. being tipped evens out. This sort of establishment might draw a decent pool of workers who are happy to work for a flat rate. This is not the case in my corner of the world.

Do not even get me started on what the expectation from employers — once they are paying their front-of-house staff $14 an hour — will be. I guarantee you that cleaning bathrooms, removing garbage, and spit-shining fixtures will be in the future of service staff members nationwide. That will not be a good thing, not for servers, but especially not for the folks who currently do these jobs. I would bet that quite a few of these workers will find themselves out of jobs — jobs that they sorely need.

Currently our “side work” can be back-breaking. There are considerations, though, about how much of it we can have and how long we can reasonably be expected to complete our tasks. The law says that we must be able to finish this work while we still have tables — while we still have the opportunity to make at least minimum wage. Once we are being paid $14/hour, all bets, where “side work” is concerned, will be off.

Where I live, bringing home $11/hour will not cut it. Working for $440 a week would bankrupt me. (This is assuming that a restaurant is willing to give me — or anyone else — a full 40-hour a week schedule.) I would have to have two jobs — two full-time jobs — to earn what I currently take home working one. I am, quite literally, shuddering at the thought.

As consumers, you should be shuddering at the thought, too.

4 thoughts on “Shuddering At the Thought

  1. Easy answer. Up the wage, and still allow/encourage tipping for service that the customer feels good about. Then the company pays what it should, and the rest is bunce. In the UK cerain people get taxed on notional gratuities. It would graste to get taxed on something that’s not allowed, but there again we have Tories in power at the moment.

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    • javaj240 says:

      People won’t tip if they know their server is making $14/hour. We are still considered, by many, to be “unskilled labor”, I would argue that we are not — at least not those of us who do our jobs well, professionally. It is one of the last industries where people can actually make a decent living IF they work hard enough to earn one. Our employers put enough road blocks in our way, allowing them to determine what we should make? I would not want to be in that position for a minute. Sure, we take our chances now, our wage fluctuates, but at the end of a 35-hour work week, we come out with a livable wage. But, we have earned it, no doubt about that. Serving/bartending is physically grueling and mentally challenging.

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      • I’m on your side here. Would people really not tip if they knew you got a decent wage? Not sure. Over here there’s a legal minimum wage in the region of $13 an hour. I still tip when I get good service. Even my local greasy spoon caff gets 10% every time I go in for a cup of tea, at least 25% if I eat in there

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        • javaj240 says:

          It’s highly unlikely that we would be tipped if people knew what we made per hour. I have had conversations with bad tippers — people who have, to my face, told me that a 15% tip is “ridiculous” considering that I make minimum wage — where I have disavowed them of this thinking by showing them my pay stub (I can access it on my phone) which shows that I make a whopping $2.13/ hour.

          You are a good man, Charlie Brown!

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