Don’t listen to him, kids!

I saw Reservoir Dogs again yesterday for my film class, and every time I see it this opening scene makes me so angry that I absolutely have to rant about it.

Haaaaaaaaate!

Let me pause for a moment before I rip Mr. Pink’s little speech to shreds to note my nonsexual crush on Steve Buscemi. I don’t think there’s any role I don’t like him in, and in this movie I like to pretend that he got away with the loot, even though, you know, he pretty clearly didn’t. Score one for the funny-looking guy!

So on to the issue. First, let’s address this “They’re not starving” assertion. It might be untrue, even if you take it literally: Obviously it’s very difficult to live on $5.85 an hour (federal minimum wage), and if you have kids to feed, it’s basically impossible. So minimum-wage workers may well be starving, or close to it, even if their employers aren’t pulling any of those fun, fun tricks like scheduling them for 39 hours a week so they’re not eligible for benefits or overtime. Next, let’s look at the “If she doesn’t make enough, she can quit” defense. And go where? If all your waiter is qualified for is minimum-wage employment, what difference does it make if they’re earning minimum wage at McDonald’s or Dunkin’ Donuts or the diner down the street? It’s not like minimum wage suddenly goes further if you’re serving burgers instead of pancakes.

Mr. Pink’s the-tipping-system’s-fundamentally-unfair-to-other-minimum-wage-workers logic might sound pretty appealing if you’re the kind of cheap bastard who likes to pretend that your deathgrip on a couple of Washingtons is born of some lofty idealism. There’s just one teensy, tiny fucking ginormous problem:

Waiters do not make minimum wage.

Waiters are part of a special class of workers called tipped employees, for whom tipping is so expected that tips are actually counted as part of their wages. The federal minimum wage for tipped employees is a whopping $2.13 an hour. You, the customer, are expected to make up the difference between waiters’ salaries and the minimum wage for non-tipped employees.

But wait! There’s more! When waiters’ weekly tax withholdings are calculated, those payroll taxes are not based just on the wages the employer pays, but also on the estimated amount the waiter got in tips that week, which is assumed to be about 8% of their sales. And because waiters make a whopping $2.13 an hour, the withholdings on their wages and expected tips often amount to 100% or more of their wages for the week. For example, say a waiter works 40 hours, averaging $8 an hour combining wages and tips, for a total of $320. The government expects to keep about $96 of that total. But since tipped employees make a whopping $2.13 an hour (can’t say that enough), the paycheck they get from their employer would only be $85.20 before taxes. Which means that that waiter is getting a $0 paycheck. So if you don’t tip, your waiter may not receive a single goddamn dime for the work they’ve done.

But wait! There’s still more! Waiters are, as I just said, taxed on their assumed tips, whether they received those tips or not. If you don’t leave a tip, the waiter still pays taxes as if you had left 8%. Which means if you don’t tip the waitstaff, not only are they not getting paid for doing work they’ve done, but you also may as well have reached into their wallets and pulled out a few dollars.

But wait! There’s even more! Waiters are often expected to give a cut of their tips to support staff who help them serve their customers—bartenders, bussers, and food runners. If you don’t leave a tip, either your waiter must give less to those people or make up the difference out of their own pockets. When you don’t leave anything for your server, you may be taking money away from four or five working-class people.

Still think the tipping system is fucked up? Yeah, actually, so do I. But the answer isn’t refusing to pay people who’ve performed a service for you and who really need the money, the answer is working to get Congress to raise everyone’s minimum wage to a livable level, then doing away with the tipping system altogether, except for outstanding service. And seriously, unless your waiter spit in your eye and killed your dog, leave at least 8% so you’re not making them pay Uncle Sam for the privilege of bringing you your dinner.

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2 Responses

  1. OT: I recently realized that Steve Buscemi is the second coming of Peter Lorre.

  2. @ Alexx: Ha! I buy that.

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