Consider two tables at a restaurant. One is a four-top of 30-something men. This is a prime table: They’re likely to order a lot, probably opting to tack on appetizers and beer, which means their check will yield a fairly high tip. Table two is a mother and her three young children. These customers, on the other hand, will be ordering kids’ meals and, one would assume, a lot less beer. Their check will be smaller, and so will their tip, even if the young children demand more attention than the 30-somethings.
As a server, this system can be frustrating: Why should my earnings suffer because of who happened to sit in my section that night? I’ve worked in restaurants where the more senior servers always get the most desirable tables, and that’s aggravating for the rest of the staff, who also make $3 an hour and depend on tips to bring them up to a living wage. Inevitably, servers with slower sections will end up supporting their coworkers who are busier, but they never see compensation for that work.
Now I work at a restaurant that has a solution to all this: We pool our tips.
When customers hear about this arrangement, many are baffled. Some even refrain from tipping, or give much lower tips, after they learn that their money isn’t going directly to their server, the “right” person. Many of my non-industry friends are confused, and often curious, when they hear that in my current restaurant job the servers share the money each shift. “But isn’t everyone mad that they don’t get to keep what they earned?” some may ask. These questions amuse me, but also leave me somewhat deflated—they reflect Americans’ tightly held belief in independence, which suggests that people are living the lives they, and they alone, have earned.