“Tips are not optional, they are how waiters get paid in America.”

I’m sure if you’re reading this — and therefore have net access — then you’ve heard about the tip stiff heard ’round the world, when the St. Louis Applebee’s waitress posted on Reddit a receipt in which a local pastor crossed out the gratuity with the words “I give God 10% why do you get 18”.  That cost the waitress her job when the pastor called to complain.  Above is a link to the op-ed she wrote for the Guardian UK regarding the lamentable position of waitstaff in America, who depend on tips as a pillar of their income.

Of course, the whole thing has created a firestorm online: some people focusing on the religious aspect, others the rudeness of refusing to tip for service, some the refusal of Applebee’s to stand up for their employee, or the privacy issues — and of course, the low wages to begin with that create these situations.

What I haven’t seen, however, is anyone really address a deeper problem in American society: how we treat waitstaff to begin with.  For me, this is a basic issue of human dignity and decency.  In America, waiting tables isn’t considered a career — and it seldom is, because of the low wages — but a job.  That has a demonstrable effect on the way many of us treat the people serving us food and drinks every day.  We see them as people who are simply making ends meet while trying to look for something better.  In a society where who you are is what you do,  they suffer not only from low wages, but quiet cultural contempt from many of us.

Contrast this with Europe, where waiting tables is a respected profession.  While it does not have the social status of a doctor or a professional, the career choice is afforded not only more respect, but a real, living wage that isn’t based on gratuities.  Waiters are respected for their professional knowledge and prowess.  And if you’ve watched one of them juggle, as I did during my months in Rome, orders from large tables of foreigner tourists flawlessly (and often in second languages), you understand why.  In Europe, waiting tables isn’t job, it is a career.

I like to think of myself, above all, as a pragmatist.  There is no doubt in my mind that tipping culture is an ingrained part of American society and will not go away any time soon: there are simply too many social factors, and corporate pressures, to make any changes in the way these souls are paid for the work they do.  However, why we can do individually as people, is try to treat the person bringing us our food and drinks with a modicum of dignity.  We should respect their labor at the same level we respect the person who builds our homes, grows our food, teaches our children, or keeps our streets safe.

An honest days work is an honest days work.  Basic, simple dignity.  That would be a start.

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