Opinions

Tipping point

Serving staff deserve higher wages

AScreen Shot 2017-01-16 at 7.04.48 PMOver the last few years, the big craze in the workplace has been something called gamification, and it is exactly what it sounds like.

The idea is that employees will be more motivated and will enjoy their work more if it gets made into a game.

For example, in a two-week contest, Lawley Insurance started giving employees points for the various data-entry tasks they were performing each day.

Over those two weeks, productivity more than doubled.

Although gamification now has a fancy name, it has been the standard in numerous industries for decades, namely the service industry.

It is less mystifying, however, when you take away the “points” and just call it a tip.

And when you are relying on tips to pay your rent and to put food on your own table, it loses a lot of its romance as well.

Maite Caamano-Walton, a graduate of SAIT’s Baking and Pastry Arts program, experienced just that when she was forced to take a job waiting tables due to the economic downturn.

“It’s totally soul-crushing. No matter how hard you work, you get nothing to show for it,” said Caamano-Walton.

“I received no recognition from the company, and even if I gave a customer outstanding service, I would rarely see an extra dollar.”

As it turns out, tipping, which is supposed to be an incentive for servers to work harder to satisfy the needs of the customers, is largely outside of the server’s control.

Instead, much of what goes into a tip comes from the kitchen staff, the support a server receives from his or her co-workers, the customer’s general attitude towards tipping and the shift itself.

“The best [shifts] usually go to the people who don’t bring up breaks or labour law violations.”

Caamano-Walton regularly worked the opening shift, and was often alone while she was a server, but people don’t tip very well first thing in the morning.

While the evening shift was pulling in $150 in tips per night, she was earning an average of $30, while handling nearly twice the clientele.

“The majority of my customers wouldn’t tip. I understand that a lot of them were just coming in for a coffee, but we had a lot of business people who would have a sit-down breakfast and not tip,” said Caamano-Walton.

“The other thing that happened a lot was that surrounding businesses would bring their employees in to treat them for breakfast and have an impromptu meeting. That was always stressful because it was usually a group of 30 people showing up randomly and not tipping for anything.”

What makes this especially stressful is that servers in Canada are taxed based on their estimated tipping income. So, even when she wasn’t being tipped, money was still coming out of her pocket.

“It can be really disheartening, working so hard and not seeing anything in return.”

What is the point of tipping, then? When so much of a server’s income is on the line, this is clearly something that we need to scrutinize.

Caamano-Walton said that before she found a better job, she had nearly exhausted her savings just paying her rent.

Tipping can’t possibly be to incentivize good service since there is such a clear disconnect between the quality of service and the promised incentive.

We have dozens, if not hundreds, of examples of better ways to encourage good work from an employee.

But, it can’t be to disincentivize bad service either, since that’s something that we wouldn’t accept in any other industry.

In every other industry, if you treat a customer poorly, that customer doesn’t come back. As a society, we have decided that is a fair price.

We wouldn’t expect to have our mechanic’s pay cut if he or she did a poor job repairing our car. We just wouldn’t return the next time we needed repairs.

So why do we see it fit to play games with the livelihood of our service staff?

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