Why aren't waitresses making minimum wage?

Wrap the silverware, cash the bills, bring table 11’s drink refills, and don’t forget to serve table seven’s meals. As a waitress, Chelsey Kangas has a lot on her mind when she’s on the clock.

As far as jobs go, working in a restaurant is fairly common. It is estimated that there are around 2.5 million waiters, waitresses and bartenders in the United States. However, waiters and waitresses are paid lower wages because of the belief that they will make up the money by earning tips.
As of January 2017, Michigan’s tipped minimum wage was $3.38, while non-tipped minimum wage was set at $8.90.
Chelsey Kangas is just one waitress trying to earn a living. Her hourly wage is set at the minimum, and she depends on customer tips for the majority of her income.
Chelsey works at Georgio’s Apple Orchard Inn, a casual restaurant in Washington, Michigan.

Chelsey Kangas at work. Photo by Chelsey Kangas

“On a slow shift, for about 3-5 hours of work, I leave with anywhere from $20-$50 in tips,” Chelsey said. “Busy shifts where I work the same amount of hours, I make $50-$100, sometimes more.”
According to Cornell University Law School, “the minimum wage was designed to create a minimum standard of living to protect the health and well-being of employees.” However, due to inflation over the years, this is no longer the case.
“I currently live with my grandparents, and thankfully, they don't charge me rent,” Chelsey said. “But the bills I do pay, I sometimes have trouble paying. I sometimes won't have enough money. If I lived on my own, I wouldn't last very long.”
Some people, including Chelsey, struggle to make ends meet.
“I truly don't think I earn enough,” Chelsey said. “Some tables make you run around constantly, and even if you give amazing service, they still tip poorly. My wage is very low. Also, my tips are taxed, so I technically lose out on those as well.”
In 2014, a bill to increase minimum wage was approved by Michigan legislators. By 2018, minimum wage will raise to $9.25 per hour, and the tipped minimum wage is expected to rise alongside it. However, it is not required to.
“We basically rely on customers to pay our bills if you think about it,” Chelsey said. “If we made minimum wage, at least I wouldn't have to worry as much about paying bills.”
The U.S. Department of Labor stated as of December 2016 that “if an employee's tips combined with the employer's direct (or cash) wages of at least $2.13 per hour do not equal the minimum hourly wage of $7.25 per hour, the employer must make up the difference.”

Related Story: Hundreds of Restaurant Workers Crowd State House in Debate Over Minimum Wage

Even with this regulation, waiters and waitresses still make lower wages than other minimum-wage employees. In some restaurants across the United States, employers ignore this law and do not make up for the money lost.
When an automatic gratuity is not added to the bill, the customers decide how much to tip. Some people leave less than the recommended 20 percent. Rachel Lindsay works as a waitress at PF Chang’s, and has experienced this.
“I think servers should be paid a little bit more hourly because we do get people that don’t tip us properly,” Rachel said. “We don’t have automatic gratuity, so we can take a party, and have their check be $300, and they might not properly tip. There’s more to the job than just taking orders and bringing food out. It’s a hard job, and people should take care of their servers.”
Customers may not know that servers are dependent on tips, and they may not think their tips impact their waiter or waitress.

Tipping - Simple English Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
A tip left on a restaurant table. Photo by Scott Sanchez for Wikimedia Commons
“What we do, and the stuff we go through with customers is hard,” Rachel said. “I think every single person, at least once in their life, should have the experience of waiting on people and to deal with the public and deal their food to see exactly what we go through.” (sic)
Waiters and waitresses have motivation to keep their jobs, despite the small paychecks.
“I love my coworkers,” Chelsey said. “But I also have amazing regulars who I care about who make my job worthwhile.”
Until tipped minimum wage raises, Chelsey has advice for how an average person can help.
“Always tip 20 percent,” Chelsey said. “Even if your server seems bad, just remember that we have bad days too. You don't know what happened to us earlier that day. If we truly were a bad server, we would be fired. So just know that if your service is bad, it isn't normally like that from us.”

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