Consider the following: last Saturday, a Brown student went to a certain Thayer Street nightclub and ordered a round of tequila shots and a Grateful Dead. When the bartender presented him with the 20-dollar tab, he looked around, smirked, and wrote “$0.00” on the tip line. He then turned to this editor, perhaps hoping for someone to share in his little joke.
This editor was not amused. Of course, not all students go out to restaurants and bars with the intention of stiffing the waitstaff. However, the practice is common enough that Brown students have acquired a reputation on the East Side for being a little too tight in their tipping practices. At Spats Restaurant on Angell Street, servers have resigned themselves to the fact that when a troop of Brown students comes in, orders a single 100-ounce tube of beer (priced at $17- $28 each), and sets up camp at a table for four hours, it is very likely that they will leave a tip of one or two dollars, even when the waiter performs well.
This is not acceptable. Although Oprah Winfrey (who stated over the summer on her television show that it was okay to tip servers 10 percent in “these economic times”) and Rachel Ray (who commonly tips 10 percent or less on $40 A Day) have popularized the notion that customers may go out to eat, order a full meal, and then stiff the server due to financial constraints, the reality is that waiters and bartenders deserve better. Minimum wage for servers in Rhode Island is $2.89 an hour; their making the true minimum wage of $7.40 is completely reliant on tips. And, if Barbara Ehrenreich’s experience in Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America is to be believed, even earning minimum wage falls far short of making a living wage.
Some argue that it’s not the responsibility of the customer to make up for the unfair pay structures used by restaurants. Fine. But until industry-wide wage reforms occur (which likely won’t be soon, as neither minimum wage bill passed in the Rhode Island legislatures this year), it’s up to us, the customers to accept our responsibility to the service workers who shake our martinis, dress our salads, and clean up our crumpled napkins.—ALvM