Heather Saul on how serving staff are deprived of the tips paid for their work.
A bar tender drops a cocktail at work. She has worked there for many years, and – unusually – has never dropped one before. The full asking price of this cocktail (not the cost price) will be taken out of her next pay packet. Tips she receives on shift are collected in a jar: for a ‘staff night out’. She has been waiting for this staff night out for a year now.
A waitress takes home a ‘generous’ 60 per cent of her tips – the tips that customers give, directly to her, as a means of saying thank you for the service that she alone provided them during their meal. The remaining 40 per cent is not given to the kitchen or front of house. It will instead go straight into the pockets of the wealthy restaurant owner.
When I was 17, I worked at a cafe where all tips had to be handed straight to a manager – being caught keeping your gratuities was cause for instant dismissal. We would see them picked up at the end of a long day, dropped into the till and subsequently vanish. Over a year spent working for £3.30 an hour, I built up a brilliant relationship with the regulars and I was often tipped. I never saw a penny of it.
Tips are a way for customers to recognise the extra mile that those in the hospitality industry go, to quite literally cater to their every need. What most patrons do not know is that tips are also a mental stimulus for us as we power through our ten, eleven, twelve hour shifts without a break – something that is widely accepted within the industry.
I asked a friend what soft drinks she was allowed during her shifts at a bar. “Water”, she said, “from the tap.” Because whilst many company employees enjoy the perks of working where they do, hospitality staff lose rights to any company privileges. Resources and time must not be wasted on us whilst there is a sea of drunken customers out there screaming for a double that they want RIGHT NOW.
After speaking to friends, and friends of friends, we also realised that as bar staff our job stretches out well beyond serving up food and drinks. We have an important role as listener, shoulder to cry on, and carer when someone has had one too many. We cheer you up when your boyfriend mis-behaves, we make your favourite coffee when you are sad or are having a bad day. We break up your domestics and get rid of the guys giving you trouble, and we put you in taxis home when irresponsible friends abandon you.
Tips also help compensate for the habitual ‘CHEER UP!’ from lads lads lads; for the slurred abuse we get from customers who we have to refuse; for the sexual innuendoes thrown at us from across the bar.
We are much more than the faceless figure delivering food, or handing you a pint: we improve a bad night and make a good night even better. It is time for bosses to recognise that their staff are the face of their businesses, and help bring in a large proportion of their customers. An excellent standard of service is cultivated by decent working conditions, and the easiest way to create that is by simply letting staff keep the gratuities the customer wanted them to have.