The restaurant industry has a unique business model. Rather than business owners budgeting to pay employees, restaurant owners depend upon customers “voluntarily” giving waitresses and waiters tips in return for “good service.” That pay structure can lead to a dangerously imbalanced power dynamic between customer and waiter. No wonder, then, that a recent report from Restaurant Opportunities Center United found that two-thirds of female employees in the food service industry have been sexually harassed. In fact, 37 percent of Employment Opportunity Commission harassment claims come from women in the restaurant business.
(Photo Credit: Doug Kline/Flickr)
Many states in this country allow restaurant owners to take a tip credit. This means that the waitress makes less than minimum wage, in some states this is as low as $2.13 per hour. As long as the food server makes enough in tips to bring her average hourly wage up to the minimum, the employer is not required to pay her more. While some restaurant customers believe that leaving a tip is the equivalent of saying, “thank you for the service,” in reality waitresses live off of tips.
Some people may consider good service as bringing hot food in a timely manner, refilling water or offering another drink, and being able to intelligently discuss the menu.
Unfortunately for women in the restaurant industry, many men consider good service to be flirting, acting comfortable with sexualized comments or behaviors, and being touched. Nolo cites statistics that indicate that 100 percent of women who bring sexual harassment claims are harassed by men. If a waitress complains, he tips her less. If the customer is told by management to stop it, or even banned from the restaurant, the business loses money. If a waitress causes the business to lose money, she will lose her job.
It goes beyond that. Other restaurant workers are certainly aware that waitresses are putting their dignity on the line in order to keep their jobs and make a buck. Waitresses are considered fair game to some other restaurant workers, including managers who have power over the waitress.
One Fair Wage
Restaurant Opportunities Center United (ROCUnited) is leading the battle for waitresses and other restaurant workers to earn one fair wage for their labor. This will take the burden off of women, who make up 70 percent of tipped laborers, to be sexually harassed in return for their daily pay. It will also prevent zero dollar and negative paychecks, and help lift many waitresses out of poverty.
We should all be paid for doing our jobs, and not for flirting with customers.
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