Restaurant employers can legally underpay wait staff at something like a quarter minimum wage. (In MA, the base waiter pay is two-something an hour.) Employees need the tips to get paid anything approaching working wages. Depends on where you work, but a fraction of the tips usually go to the other underpaid restaurant schlubs: the busboys and dishwashers, and the person who cooks your food. Waiters also get screwed at tax time, as the two dollars and change is often insufficient to get properly FICAed. It's always fun to come up with a couple grand lump sum in April.
See, the last thing I want to be worrying about at the end of a nice dinner out is the FICA index for wait-staff's wages. It just simply should not be my problem. I think I should only consider the quality of the service received, rather than the compensation and taxation policies. Doing otherwise perpetuates an unjust system.
Of course, it's a lot easier for me to be principled when it's not my rent money we're talking about.
On the jury I was on last week, we had to figure out damages, and one of the jurors said we should add some more because the plaintiff's lawyer would get a certain percentage, and our response was that's not our problem.
I consider myself a good tipper (Does anyone consider himself a poor tipper? Or a bad driver?), but probably not at the standards of a server or former server. I can count on one finger the number of times I have ever left less than 15%, and almost always leave more. If I use a coupon, I add the coupon back in before calculating my tip. If I have the girls with me and they eat "free" but make a mess anyway, I'll add more.
But I do find myself avoiding scenarios that involve tipping, find myself resentful when I feel one is expected but unearned, and anxious about ambiguous situations. (e.g. I wait in line and place an order at a counter, and am given a cup and a number tent. Someone brings me a platter with my food. There are no visible trash cans for me to bus my table, so I leave my tray. Must I tip?)
And I guess I should add with reference to my post yesterday that it's probably a good thing for social equality that most of us know somebody who has worked for tips, and can sympathize.
John McG. (cheap bastard)