I was a waitress from 21 to 35 years old and I have worked in the food service industry since I was 15. Of course, I’ve served all kinds of people, some generous and kind others cruel, bigoted, and nasty. The craziest thing I remember was when I had only one table and it held two men that were getting intoxicated before their meal. As I brought a third round of stiff drinks, one of the men informed me that I was being a flirt, which I was not, I was simply trying to maintain my dignity as they made sexual comments and ogled my body. When I mentioned to the bartender that the men were becoming increasingly hard to handle, he passed me a round of drinks for them and told me to go “work the tip.” I was furious! As if I had to encourage this kind of degradation in order to receive a good tip from two very inappropriately behaving elderly men. I brought the drinks out and one of the men grabbed my butt after I dropped the drinks and quickly walked away. In the end, the men became so loud and obnoxious that the bartender finally felt compelled to ask them to leave our fine dining establishment. This was quite some time after I had been groped, and tolerated several other sexual comments. I was 23 at the time. I didn’t know how to stand up for myself and I didn’t know how to express my concern that it was not my harassment that had the men expelled, but their loud behavior. The next day, the owner of the restaurant heard about the events of the evening and apologized profusely to the bartender for having to deal with the men. The craziest thing was that I received no apologies or acknowledgement that I spent most of the evening being sexually harassed or that my service was degraded to a kind of self-prostitution by “working the tip.”
I support raising the tipped minimum wage because I worked for a fine dining restaurant for 11 years and never received an hourly raise. In the food service industry, a raise is getting to work the busier shifts, which are generally nights, weekends, and holidays. This may be fine when you are 21 years old, but gets increasingly hard as you start a family and become older. I also support raising the wage because $2.13 per hour will not even cover basic social security and income tax because the rest of your income goes home with you in cash every night. Each year I struggled with paying quarterly taxes in order to avoid a large tax bill at the end of the year due to inadequate hourly pay. And each year, I still owed the government between $600 and $1000 in January, the slowest season of the year. The owner knew this wage discrepancy affected several if his full time workers, and never offered an increase in wages. He stated he matched our social security income and that was all he was required to do. Until minimum wage for servers is required to be higher, I believe it is unlikely that servers will be paid a living wage in most food establishments. Living of tips is a struggle.