A good server deserves a generous tip. But it's about to become complicated

Wednesday , February 07, 2018 - 5:00 AM10 comments

DON PORTER, special to the Standard-Examiner

First, an admission of guilt: I was not always a generous tipper. I’ve always tipped – I was never the guy who stiffed a waiter – but when I was younger I left 10 percent, max.

Only during the past 15 years, perhaps longer, have I bumped it up to 20 percent or more. My generosity, if it can be called that – honestly, it can’t – was the direct result of having two daughters working as baristas and a son-in-law who’s a tattooer.

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I mention the subject now because the Trump administration appears set to reverse a 2011 Obama administration rule about tipping in the restaurant industry. The U.S. Department of Labor under Obama said that front-of-house wait staff in eating establishments who received tips could keep all their earnings; they weren’t obligated to share with back-of-house cooks and dishwashers.

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And, most important from my point of view, restaurant owners and managers didn’t get to keep any of the tips. Under the Trump-proposed rules, owners will decide whether to split the thank-you money with back-of-house employees or, appallingly, keep the tips to reduce menu prices, remodel the restaurant or increase the profit margin.

Monday was the deadline for public comment on Trump’s new rule. Everyone expects the Labor Department will go through with the change, for a few reasons:

  • It was an Obama-implemented rule, and Trump is obsessed with obliterating any evidence his predecessor served as president of the United States.
  • Like recent tax-reform legislation, it will directly benefit Trump’s bottom line because he owns and operates lots of restaurants at his resort and hotel properties.
  • And it will benefit business owners at the expense of working stiffs, the latter being the people he pretends to love but so obviously loathes.

I get it: The whole situation is complicated. Generally speaking, back-of-house staff don’t make much money. They argue their role played in the service chain should be valued and rewarded equal to the front-of-house staff.

Perhaps they’re right. I do enjoy delicious food.

But I also know my dining experience depends on the wait staff’s attentiveness and excellence.

I’m torn, is what I’m saying.

The one thing that doesn’t keep me wondering is the part about restaurant owners getting to divvy up the tips or, worse, deciding to keep them. To me, that sounds exactly like something a Donald J. Trump-style big-money control freak would endorse: “I own and operate the restaurant, so it’s up to me to second guess the customer’s reward for a job well done. If I want to keep a portion of the tips, or all of them, that’s my decision to make.”

Finally, I’ll gladly confess I don’t know enough about the restaurant business to understand why back-of-house staff make so little – typically $7.25 per hour, the federal minimum wage. Are the profit margins that tight in every restaurant in every city in every state in America? Maybe so.

My hat’s off to entrepreneurs who choose to be restaurateurs. It’s a dicey business. I’d never do it because 1) I’m a coward and 2) I’m lazy. These people, obviously, are neither.

That said, I don’t trust them with control over their employees’ tips. The temptation to pocket that money is just too great.

Also, if I’m honest, I can’t imagine Trump’s administration is doing this for the good of the working men and women of our nation. The Tweeter-in-chief’s people are primarily interested in helping those who are already successful in the business world. Trump and his minions don’t lay awake nights trying to figure out how to help the people who cook and serve our food or wash the dishes after we’re done dining out.

You can email Don Porter at dportercolumn@hotmail.com and follow him on Twitter @DonPondorter.

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