What's good restaurant service worth? Fifteen percent? Eighteen? Twenty?
...Do we hear 25?
Some restaurant workers and high-end eateries are attempting to make 25 percent the standard tip in San Francisco. MercuryNews.com found that many locals disliked the idea, but the Bay Area has a high cost of living -- just like the D.C. area.
Regardless of location, most servers are paid an hourly stipend that's far below minimum wage; they're expected to make up the rest in tips. But the IRS sets the expected tax rate at 15 percent.
A highly unofficial survey on our Facebook page concluded that most diners do what Becky Hankins does: "15 percent and a thank you for decent service, 20 percent and a thank you for great service. Ten percent and a 'thank you, but my coffee cup stayed empty too much,' for poor service."
Heidi Carrington Thomas said she always leaves 20 percent "because I used to wait tables, and so did my husband, and it is a tough job. Most people don't know that servers almost always only make about $2.15/hour! Our tips were our salary; after tax our paychecks were usually $0.00!"
Earlier this year, the Restaurant Opportunity Council of D.C. released a report with some unsavory conclusions.
Of the 510 D.C. restaurant workers surveyed:
- 33.5 percent reported not getting overtime pay when they worked more than 40 hours in the week.
- 35.4 percent said they’d been required to work "off the clock," i.e., for no pay at all.
- 11.4 percent got paid less than the legal minimum -- at least in some cases because their tips didn't suffice to bring their wages up to the regular $8.25 an hour minimum and their employers didn't make up the difference, as the law requires.
If the public doesn't directly makes up for this gap, in the long term, they may, even if they're not aware or it. Ethical employers may have to pass on the costs to diners, while those looking to cut corners do it at the expense of the staff.
We Love D.C. reported back in February:
Andy Shallal, owner of the Busboys & Poets chain and Eatonville... has tried to position his company as what [the Restaurant Opportunity Council] labels a "high road employer" -- offering paid sick leave, health care and on-the-job training for his staff....
These practices, he noted, have costs -- and some of that cost will inevitably show up on the diner's bill. He has encountered some customers who are uncomfortable paying the higher prices associated with his way of doing business -- which he suggests is why some other employers cut corners.
Regardless, it's still a zygote of an idea in San Francisco. We'll have to wait and see whether the concept gains traction elsewhere.
In the meantime, as Marco Moss told us, "15 percent... embedded in the brain."