It might surprise you that the average American dines out 4 times per week (The Simple Dollar, 2020). Even considering the impacts of COVID-19, food preparation and restaurant service is the second most common occupation in the United States. The restaurant industry is the nation’s fastest-growing sector, employing over 12 million Americans in over 600,000 establishments (Brookings, 2020)
Yet the industry is infamous for its so-called “wage penalty”: median hourly wage for restaurant workers is $10 compared to an average of $18 outside of the industry (Economic Policy Institute, 2014). This arises from the fact that restaurant workers, in particular servers, bartenders, and drivers, who can be tipped legally are also allowed to be paid subminimum wage. This forces workers to rely on tips, creating dire consequences: according to the Economic Policy Institute, 1 in 6 restaurant workers lives below the poverty line.
So, whether you eat out regularly or occasionally take out, how can you help?
Cafe server, Natalie Soutonglang emphasizes tipping as part of the cost, not just as an afterthought. “Often, customers forget the restaurant industry supports some of the most vulnerable people in today’s society,” she says. “Immigrants, undocumented workers, and single moms all split the tip at the end of the day. Empathy is crucial, everyone loves going out to eat but not everyone considers that they are paying for food AND service.”
Paul Solomon, General Manager of Hinsdale’s Vistro Prime, echoes the importance of tipping as payment for service, but notes that standards for tipping vary greatly. “Quantifying tipping creates constraints that require service to be incredible and almost unachievable to compete for liveable wages.” He suggests that customers support restaurant workers through consistent patronage as well since “asking for staff members you like can help lend them a sense of financial stability.”
Although as teens, we may not be able to fully control our financial situations, we still have the power to support the restaurant workers who service our lives. We have the choice to build tipping and patronage habits that benefit a workforce and we can choose to educate the people around us to do the same.