Letter From the Editor

| February 17, 2011

The next time you're sitting in your favorite watering hole, ask the bartender or waitress who the best tippers are. They'll likely say it's people who work in restaurants — other waitstaff and bartenders who recognize that a couple extra bucks here and there can make a big difference for working stiffs on an hourly wage.

I worked as a waiter in college and I almost always over-tip a little. I figure giving an extra dollar or two won't hurt me and will generate good will. And based on my experience as a former low-wage worker, I know it will quickly get recirculated back into the local economy.

There has been much ado lately about the city's successful campaigns to lure the Electrolux and Mitsubishi corporations to Memphis. Our local officials courted these companies relentlessly and offered large tax incentives to get them to put manufacturing facilities here. The theory being, of course, that the long-term jobs created will offset the loss of immediate tax revenue.

These efforts should be applauded. Mayor Wharton and his team are doing excellent work in this area. They're creating a local version of an economic stimulus. They know that more jobs mean a stronger economy, which lifts us in many ways — housing, retail, and, yes, education. I'm not alone in thinking that the central problem with our school system is more about poverty than race.

Which brings me back to tipping. Last week, my wife and I were driving through Wendy's. After the worker in the window handed us our food and change, my wife gave him a dollar. The look of surprise on his face was priceless. Then he smiled broadly and said, "THANK YOU."

"What was that about?" I asked.

"I always do that if they're nice," my wife said. "They're trapped in that window all day, making $7.50 an hour, and I like to brighten their day a little."

Which leads me to suggest that those of us who can afford to should take a cue from that Wendy's worker's reaction. Let's be generous to those who do the unglamorous, underpaid work in our community. It'll make them — and you — feel better. Think of it as a mini-bailout, a tiny TARP. Do the math: If 100,000 of us in Shelby County put an extra five bucks into the hands of our working poor each week, it would add $25 million or so a year to the local economy.

And that ain't chump change, brother.

Bruce VanWyngarden



Comments (24)

Showing 1-24 of 24

Just don't do it at the County Clerk's office....

Posted by B on 02/17/2011 at 9:52 AM

I think you just gave Barbara Swearengen-Holt-I hate dogs-Ware a defense for her upcoming trial.

Posted by mad_merc on 02/17/2011 at 10:30 AM

My wife used to be that girl in the window at Wendy's. She never got a tip. I'll have to ask her, but I don't know that management would have let her keep it. If they saw her putting money in her own pocket, she'd probably have been fired.

Posted by Jeff on 02/17/2011 at 10:38 AM

The average Memphian is a ridiculously bad tipper. Many simply don't tip at all. And they wonder why the waitress making $2.13 an hr. isn't cheerful and attentive. It was my experience that the most demanding customers are frequently the worst tipper. People who do tip generously are remembered and always receive the best service.
It's true that people who depend on tips or worked for tips in the past usually treat servers best. They remember what it was like when they were in the waiter's shoes.

Posted by LostYankee on 02/17/2011 at 2:34 PM

That explains a lot. Everyone here is always surprised when I tip a $1 per drink at the bar. Gave someone a tip at a bar recetnyl when they came out and turned on the heaters for our group- seeing as we were the only ones on the porch. You would have thought we gave him a new car. Not Mr. Moneybags here, but I thought that was the norm.

Never worked in the food service industry, but where I'm from to tip is both a given (amount varies by quality) and something of a status symbol. Nobody wanted to be the guy crunching numbers to make sure they gave 15% and not a dime more. 20% was a given unless we were ignored for a lengthy period- but even then an apology, explanantion and good service from that point on was enough to smooth things over.

Posted by barf on 02/17/2011 at 2:57 PM

My father in law takes us out to eat about once a year; he is a notoriously bad tipper. 10% max. So every time, I beg off to go to the restroom, then corral the waiter and hand him a 10 or twenty to make up the difference. Yes, I waited tables in college.

Posted by Packrat on 02/17/2011 at 3:39 PM

Why is it the restaurant industry gets to shift the responsibility to pay its employees a living wage onto its customers? It's not like restaurant meals are such a bargain because restaurant owners pay their employees so poorly. I would respect an establishment more if it included a service charge on all bills (i.e., "service compris") and then paid its employees better.

Also, LY: Sure, we've all heard the apocryphal COGIC tipping stories, but besides that, what statistically significant evidence do you have for your indictment of Memphians as tippers?

Posted by M_Awesomeberg on 02/17/2011 at 3:48 PM

Ummmm you whiffed at the adding money to the economy part. All you would do is redistribute wealth. I hope people in Washington don't get the idea to do that and call it "growing the economy". Oh..... Wait.

Posted by C-Dog on 02/17/2011 at 9:26 PM

The other night we had pizza delivered. I used to be in that profession, so I always tip. But this particular driver takes my twenty, says thanks, and starts to walk away.

I say wait a minute, you owe me some change. He looks all befuddled, checks the price again as though somebody (not him) had made a mistake.

My guess is he's working part time. His real job is insurance.

Posted by Jeff on 02/18/2011 at 7:50 AM

C-Dog: The economy "redistributes" wealth every day through the purchase of goods and services, which is what I'm suggesting.

Posted by BruceVanWyngarden on 02/18/2011 at 9:23 AM

I delivered pizzas for a hundred years in Knoxville.
I can say that I never assumed I was getting a tip. I would always go through the motions. "OK, so I owe you three bucks. Let me just slowly reach into my pocket and get that out for you..."
But, there may have been a few times that I was exhausted after a long night and forgot my polite routine.

There was a strip club in my delivery area and going there was always a tipping crap shoot. I would either get a big fat tip or a big stiff. There was no middle ground.

Posted by cdel on 02/18/2011 at 9:29 AM

The "stiff" could very well have counted as your tip

Posted by mad_merc on 02/18/2011 at 9:37 AM

Just the tip?

Posted by BruceVanWyngarden on 02/18/2011 at 10:03 AM

I agree with Marty. As much as some restaurants charge, they should be paying their servers a living wage.

Posted by B on 02/18/2011 at 10:30 AM

Why should restaurants pay servers a living wage when nobody else does?

Posted by Jeff on 02/18/2011 at 10:52 AM


Exactly. The agribiz is feudal in its structure. Compared to those who pick the produce in the fields, waitrons are several rungs up the ladder, and still nowhere near a living wage.

Posted by Neondragon on 02/18/2011 at 11:05 AM

Jeff: Two wrongs... And, of course, here in the South, which still has a mentality that's a vestige of slavery, namely that workers should be servile and grateful to their masters for any crumbs thrown their way, any organized effort to improve wages or working conditions doesn't have a snowball's chance. Just look at how FedEx finally succeeded in cramming down legislation to make it harder to organize a union in that paternalistic shop.

I'm hoping that what's going on in Wisconsin right now will spread like wildfire to all sections, and all sectors, of the country (and the economy). Worker does not have to be synonymous with sheep.

Posted by M_Awesomeberg on 02/18/2011 at 12:41 PM

Wait staff at good restaurants can make more than a living wage, it's just that the restaurant owners aren't paying it to them. They like this arrangement, obviously.

Posted by Packrat on 02/18/2011 at 1:03 PM

Marty while I do think that the Wisconsin matter is nothing more than a union busting move, public sector employees pay and benefits do need to be re-evaluated, especially around here.

Public service jobs have traditionally not been very well paid on the front end, but rewarded the with a good pension much earlier than could be obtained in the private sector, along with (in general) better benefits (sick time, holiday pay, health insurance) and job security. During the boom years of the 90's, this was forgotten and pay raise after pay raise was given for a good number of public employees. Now the majority of public servants make a good deal more than the average citizen, and still retain the above average benefits and the early retirement. So something has got to give. I do agree with starting at the top. Legislators and high ranking political appointees should lead the way by slashing their salaries, per diems, pensions (where applicable), and various other fringe benefits first. Follow that with trimming the fat from the various departments (Joseph Lee is a prime example of this type of savings!), THEN work on reducing the costs of the employees doing the work. First make every effort to modernize and reorganize in order to do things more efficiently before going straight for the wallet. It can be done. It really needs to be done. I'm not saying that public servants should live in poverty, but I am saying that when all of the employees on an entire department of city government average above 50k per year, something isn't quite right.

Posted by mad_merc on 02/18/2011 at 1:34 PM

Merc: I'm disappointed in you. You've adopted a favorite line of right wingers by demonizing public sector employees. It's the same tactic the right uses to blame unions for economic and fiscal problems. So, when the two are joined (public sector AND unions), it's no wonder all right-wing hell breaks loose (including what's happening in Wisconsin).

There are many misconceptions about public sector employees. Did you know, for example, that, hard as they work (would you want their job?), Memphis' sanitation workers (you know, the ones MLK ultimately died for) get no pension?

I'll let Robert Reich explain this Republican tactic: http://www.nhregister.com/articles/2011/01…

I would also direct your attention to a piece in DailyKos entitled "'Public' Enemy Number One": http://www.dailykos.com/story/2011/01/13/9…

That said, Memphis does have some issues, as far as public employees are concerned. The 12 year and out pension arrangement for city employees is absurd, especially when some of those employees can "double dip" by taking public sector jobs AFTER they've "retired." And yes, there probably are too many $100K+ public employees, some of whom may well be featherbedding, not to mention that the city has more employees (over 7,000) than virtually any other comparable city. But none of that justifies some of the other generalizations you made that are being used as the basis for attacks on public sector employees, and particularly on the ones who are unionized.

Posted by M_Awesomeberg on 02/18/2011 at 3:48 PM

I'm all for public secitor employees receiving fair pay and benefits. What I'm not for is running Memphis city government as an employment agency of last resort. Public sector employmnet should be about delivering public services efficiently, nothing else.

Posted by Packrat on 02/18/2011 at 4:15 PM

Don't be disappointed Marty. I'll be the first to admit that I made a broad statement that is not going to apply to every position. For instance I was not aware that the city sanitation workers were taken out of the pension system. I also know that there are a lot of secretaries and other workers making very little weekly. This is such a small space to try and touch on all of the points. I am not anti-union so much as I am against resisting change, which is what some unions fight tooth and nail against. There are some departments that trudge along year after year, never making use of new technologies, or looking at ways to improve delivery of services. This is what has to stop.

My disdain for waste in public sector jobs comes from first hand experience. I've been there, done that, and have the t-shirt. There is no doubt that the fire department can cut their budget tremendously, but they lack the leadership to do so, plus the IAFF will wage a war of misinformation and propaganda in public that will generate public sympathy for them. Indianapolis just restructured their emergency services effective Jan 1, 2011. It's not impossible with the right leadership.

You are absolutely correct about the pensions though. The problem with the pension fund is that the politicians allowed themselves and other high salaried appointees to rape it by paying in minimum contributions, but withdrawing maximum benefits and after only 12 years (I believe there was a time that certain offices were eligible after 8 years, but I'm not certain). The pension should be for those employees out there on the front line and not for politicians or appointees.

And to echo Packrat, the government should not be an employment agency, ESPECIALLY for relatives and friends of the body politic.

Posted by mad_merc on 02/19/2011 at 3:35 AM

I still think y'all should over-tip now and then.

Posted by BruceVanWyngarden on 02/19/2011 at 8:40 AM

@BVW Especially at the shake joint ;-)

Posted by mad_merc on 02/22/2011 at 2:19 AM
Showing 1-24 of 24

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