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.