Last month, a reader tagged me in a post on her Facebook page to let me know that a tip jar in central Ohio was not operating as a tip jar at all.
You would agree with her assessment, unless you’re a restaurant patron who loves to reward good service with tips for managers and owners.
That’s not you, right?
I didn’t think so. C’mere and give me a hug.
When I asked that reader for further details, her response on her page inspired two other people to send me private messages a few days later about skimmed tips in businesses in their parts of the country: Houston and Milwaukee, respectively.
All three of these people gave me the names of the businesses and described the conversations that transpired when they pointed to the tip jars and asked the clerks behind the counters a simple question: “Who gets to keep the tips?”
In each of these instances, the answer was the same: Management keeps the tips.
Welcome to the holiday season.
Or, for those who insist saying “Happy Holidays” is an attempt to rob the season of its reason, welcome to the never-ending Christmas fight for food service workers’ rights.
Could there be a faster way to keep the Christ in Christmas than to advocate for those who wait on us everywhere we eat? Surely, we Christians can agree that Jesus (a) would not want bosses stealing their workers’ tips, and (b) expect us to do our part to put an end to it.
To state what I wish were obvious to everybody, one needn’t be a Christian to want hourly wage earners to keep their tips. The Christmas season, however, is a particularly fitting time for the reminder, as so many of us will be eating out more as part of our seasonal rituals.
I’ve been writing about skimmed tips for more than a decade, but as the examples at the top of this column illustrate, it’s a problem that never goes away. Just when we’ve outed one manager or owner who, not coincidentally, immediately changes their tip-stealing ways, another one thinks he or she is immune from discovery.
One of the most rewarding parts of being a columnist for these past 17 years is the steady stream of readers who care about this issue. They confront these businesses, and they let me know when they’ve changed their own tipping practices because of the ongoing discussions we’ve had. So often, I meet someone and one of the first things he or she wants me to know is this: “I always tip in cash.” I’m never going to stop loving that.
Yes, in a just world, no worker would have to depend on tips to make minimum wage. As soon as the restaurant industry in the U.S. universally agrees to pay their servers a living wage, I’ll be one of the first to absolve you of this burden of treating fellow humans as fellow humans.
But if that time ever comes, I will agree that you can stop feeling obligated to leave tips for good service.
In the meantime, a few reminders during this time of giving:
Whenever possible, please tip in cash. Many restaurants still deduct a percentage of the charge card fee from the tips of their servers.
If you are dining with enough people to trigger management’s mandatory “gratuity” — quotation marks intended — ask your server what percentage of that payment goes to him or her. Often, the answer is zero.
Likewise, if you are hosting a party and using a catering service, ask in advance who gets that mandatory service charge. I have found the only sure way of getting tips to the waitstaff is to press it directly into their hands at the end of the night.
If you’re staying at a hotel and order room service, do not assume that the service charge goes to the person delivering your food. Ask, and you will likely find that he or she is getting none of it. While you’re there, please tip the housekeeper every day of your stay.
Finally, if you should find out that a manager or owner is skimming money from a tip jar, do feel free to let me know at email@example.com. I never tire of making that call.