The balancing act plays out every day in restaurants across America: Servers who rely on tips decide where to draw the line when a customer goes too far.
They ignore comments about their bodies, laugh off proposals for dates and deflect behavior that makes them uncomfortable or angry — all in pursuit of the $2 or $20 tip that will help buy groceries or pay the rent.
In interviews, more than 60 servers and bartenders — nervous teenagers and seasoned veterans, students and single mothers, a few men but mostly women — shared stories of crude comments, propositions, groping and even stalking from customers. They work in diners, chain restaurants and high-end dining establishments, and they reported hourly take home pay ranging from $8 to more than $40.
A number of efforts have arisen in the last several years to protect servers from harassment. Some restaurants have adopted no-tipping policies, eliminating the leverage of a gratuity. In Oakland, Calif., a restaurant called Homeroom devised a color-coded system to monitor customer behavior: a yellow flag if a server senses a potential problem, an orange one for inappropriate comments and a red flag for overtly sexual comments or touching, at which point the customer is asked to leave.
Workers’ advocates are pushing about a dozen states and the District of Columbia to change laws that allow restaurants to pay servers less than the minimum wage, making them more dependent on tips. New York recently cited harassment as one of the reasons it was looking into the way tipped workers are paid.
Working for tips means that each shift comes with questions that do not apply to millions of other workers around the country: How much money will I make, and how much will I tolerate to make it?
Chosen excerpts by Job Market Monitor. Read the whole story at The Tipping Equation – The New York Times
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