Mega-tippers threaten to catapult service workers into living wage
The United States Department of Labor on Tuesday called attention to a disturbing new trend that some claim is upending the nation’s job market: hyper-tipping.
A CNN/Payscale.com survey reveals that the national average for tipping is a mere 10.3% across all service categories from babysitters to waiters and valets, a segment of the population that depends heavily on tips to make ends meet.
But since last summer, reports surface at least twice a week about restaurant and coffee shop servers who are given stratospheric tips by customers who want to help them in some way: let their family take a trip, get a car, or care for an ailing parent.
Just last week two men gave a cheerful young Cracker Barrel waitress in Nebraska $6,000 to help her with college, and a someone who calls himself “Tips for Jesus” has been, according to an unnamed source, “throwing money around like a drunken apostle” throughout the holiday season.
“We’re seeing an upswing in people leaving gratuities that are 100 to 1000 percent of their bill,” said Marian Marsh, a labor department spokeswoman. “We can’t tell people how to spend their money, but hyper-tipping is dangerous in that it not only puts expectations on other diners, but it also pushes ordinary working class servers into a false sense of income security.”
“I’ve heard that Johnny Depp and Brad Pitt and Drew Barrymore are really generous for good service,” said former McKeesport, PA waitress Angela Boyd, 25. “I’m always grateful for 15-20%, but one time Bill Murray came in our restaurant and left one of the girls $500. That was really cool.”
WalMart chief business officer Robert “Duke” Wayne says hyper-tipping puts stress on all segments of the economy. “When waitressing and carwash work look like a career path, it puts the pressure on business to pay more than minimum—and benefits, even—just to stay competitive. It’s a recipe for disaster. Some of them even think they can afford lodging and food. We don’t want to see another 2008.”
“It’s edging [service workers] perilously close to a living wage,” said Ned Kilpakyan, a Republican congressman from northern California. “We can’t stand idly by and watch this situation unfold—we have a duty to stop it.”
Kilpakyan also cited instances when servers had been “stiffed,” inspiring sympathetic strangers to send money. One such waitress, who was left nothing by a diner except an insulting note about her weight, received about $8,000 from anonymous donors. “I eat out eight, nine times a week, so I know they’re making a good living at waiting tables,” Kilpakyan said. “This extra income presents a dangerous push toward financial independence.”
“This is a trend that poses serious problems for the economy,” said Fin Kilpatrick, editor of OURS magazine, a conservative weekly. “If people keep helping waitresses by leaving huge tips, it’s like feeding a cat. They just come back for more.”
“I know a housekeeper at a local hotel who was left $300.00 by the guest. That’s criminal,” Kilpatrick continued. “So what did she do? Went out and bought Christmas presents for her kids. You start asking yourself what’s the point? These people need to be shown how to manage money.”
“People leave these huge tips,” said Kilpakyan, shaking his head. “Then the waitress turns around and spends it on shoes or dental work or something.”
Boyd eventually put her tips toward going to college, where she received a teaching credential. She began working as a math teacher at a Philadelphia middle school last fall, which has pressed her into taking an evening job as a waitress.