Standardizing pay for servers: tips aren’t an income

Would you rather make $2.13 an hour or $16.37?

The answer seems obvious, but there is still much debate in America’s service industry. The United States maintains low standards of hourly pay for service workers.

Across North Carolina, servers make a base pay of only $2.13 an hour and survive off of tips alone.

Working in restaurants is something I firmly believe everyone should have to do at least once, because trying to survive off tips alone is no easy task. In my stint as a waitress, I would work for two weeks, only bring home $50 on paychecks and try to pay bills with the tips.

When dirty diapers are left for tips — which happened to me not once, but twice — decent wages are preferred. I cannot put gas in my car with dirty diapers.

Primarily, this issue affects servers who work mostly carry-out restaurants or restaurants with low business turnout. The fluctuating income servers face in this industry makes money management difficult and nearly impossible at times.

The chance to improve credit is a problem for servers working for tips.

“It’s very difficult to be accepted for a loan, because when they see you’re a waitress, they consider your income too inconsistent since you’re working for tips,” said Gail Thigpin, waitress-turned-manager of The Pioneer Family Restaurant in Archdale, N.C.

Assistant Professor of Economics Natalya Shelkova agrees that a wage-based salary benefits servers.

“In Germany, the waiting staff is paid very well,” said Shelkova. “The waiting staff can be different ages, not only young people; it can be a career for a person.”

However, there is counter argument to wage-based pay. Mike Liner, owner of The Pioneer Family Restaurant, prefers paying his staff the $2.13 minimum wage.

“When the wait staff works harder they receive more tips, but it also makes customers come back, which benefits everyone,” said Liner.

Shelkova believes the U.S. may be slow to catching up with the rest of the world in server wages.

“The U.S. has its own ways,” said Shelkova. “Tips are performance-based … there is a productivity argument to it.”

However, I have worked in restaurants for nearly 10 years, and I have noticed it does not matter how hard a server works. Some people are not going to tip — or worse, leave dirty diapers on your table.

Depending on customers for an income is hard, and it honestly does not always matter how friendly the server is. Many people have decided their tip before they walk through the door.

However, there is a solution to this problem.

Since tip-based jobs cannot provide a stable source of income, responsibility for paying the staff should go directly to the owner of the restaurant.

The system works this way in many other countries. For example, Australia’s minimum weekly rate is $622.20 for a regular 38-hour week, and in Canada the general minimum wage is $10.25 an hour, providing security and consistency for workers.

Paying a non-tipped minimum wage eases the burden, especially for servers working in restaurants underperforming in dine-in sales.

According to Sandra Smithers, a veteran waitress, this works in other restaurants.

“When I worked at East Coast Wings I was paid minimum wage plus tips,” Smithers said.

This provides a fallback for servers so they do not have to depend completely on tips alone.

While I really do enjoy restaurant work for the most part, the inconsistent income needs to be revamped. Perhaps one day we will catch up with the rest of the world by standardizing pay for servers.