When I was a sixteen-year-old waitress at a resort on Maui, I lived off my tips. Oh, I had started in the kitchen at $3.50 an hour but to earn $2.40 an hour and take home twenty or thirty bucks for a five hour shift was pretty cool, in a Maui, beachy, 75 cents for a gallon of gas sort of a way.
So. Everything about the above paragraph has changed except for one thing, right? That the general public subsidizes server wages by tipping. Although, this also might be changing. Slowly.
I made my way back into the kitchen, pulling down the odd waitress (still called such back then) shift for extra money and to see how the other side lived ––more lavishly than those of us toiling in the kitchen, that’s for sure ––and I was always haunted by how it was so damn hard to make ends meet unless there were tips.
I didn’t dine out much back then. Couldn’t afford it really, adding 20% to a check and all, until I went to Australia in 1986 to manage multiple kitchens at World Expo’86. The gang of us American and Canadian managers went out to eat (and party and drink) whenever we mutually eeked out free time from our long hours. Although the menu prices were a little higher, it didn’t dent the pocketbook so much. Because we weren’t expected to subsidize server salaries. I learned that, in Australia, waiters made ten bucks an hour and a five or ten dollar tip was a bonus to them. Minimum wage in Oz in 1985 was around $7.50 so ten bucks an hour was good pay. And waiter types were happy in their chosen profession and service was efficient and friendly everywhere we went: all the way up to Cairns and down to Sydney (though a little cockier in Sydney for sure).
Back in the US, I’ve had to endure crap service with overblown tipping requirements so my mind has been cemented into believing the Aussie way is the correct way. Certainly, a living wage is necessary, regardless if tips are abolished or not; the concept of patrons paying server salaries is ridiculous. For a list of restaurants that have abolished tipping, read Thrillist’s recent article. The comments afterwards are interesting too.
More by Huff Post on tipping, pros and cons and the social aspects of tiping. Again, interesting comments.
My daughter, after blowing all her money travelling Southeast Asia, is now in Sydney to work and build back up her monetary coffers. She’s a rockin-awesome- millennial-foodie-server with experience in several high end and busy New Orleans restaurants. But her experience getting a server job in Sydney was very different than what you get here:
America: talk to the owner or manager, wink-flirt-smile, show them you’re hot and wave a paper application their way with stuff written on it. You’re hired, start tomorrow!
Sydney: work an eight hour shift for free (called a trial) and we’ll get back to you.
Daughter worked THREE trials before she was hired by a high-end steak house. Her wage: 20 bucks an hour plus tips. Her schedule: Monday through Friday, 40 hours a week. The restaurant is closed on Sunday. She’s had to attend an Australian meat class and an Australian wine class to ensure she is properly educated for her position. She says it’s the most well-run restaurant she’s ever worked at.
Reading the comments in the above articles, I understand that waiters in New York pulling down hundreds of dollars a shift would be marginalized by the abolishment of tipping. I get that. So maybe I’m not entirely right in my thinking. I’ve never worked in New York and I don’t regularly dine there either. But for the rest of the country where I have experienced ditzed out servers whom I’m obligated to tip for substandard service well, I think the Aussie way is correct.
I can’t help it.