Here’s a tip: Servers depend on gratuties to survive

Posted on December 18, 2011


By Jessica DeMattia

It’s been a quiet night at Southwest Florida restaurants. The server takes the check book from their last table of night, having been cut early to save on labor costs. A $5  tip on a $54 check is not something to write home about. After tipping out bus and bar staff, the server is lucky to keep two or three of those dollars.

However, at the holidays, being strapped for money is a reality for everybody. Lower tips have become a reality at this time of year. Stephen Dublancia, the author of Waiter Rant: Thanks for the Tip, appeared on Oprah Winfrey’s talk show in September 2008 with some sound advice: don’t tip less than fifteen percent.

“If you don’t tip, then that person doesn’t get paid,” Dublancia said in the clip, “Literally.”

Restaurants usually see a dip in business in between Thanksgiving and Christmas because more seasonal residents are opting to spend the holidays with family up north.

Server Cathy Neill maintains three jobs to supplement the income she’s used to.

“People aren’t spending money like they used to, and when they do out, they skimp on the tip,” Neill says.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the minimum cash wage for tipped employees sits at $2.13 an hour. In Florida, the minimum wage is well above that, at $4.29 an hour for tipped employees. On January 1, the minimum wage for tipped employees will increase to $4.65 an hour.

For the average server that only works 15 to 20 hours a week, after taxes, that paycheck will still sit at just above $100. The U.S. Government taxes tipped employees based upon an assumption that they made a certain percentage of their sales in tips.

The IRS calculates an average percentage based on the credit card tips the server earns and applies that number to cash transactions.

Neill says she works about twice as much as a part time server, and sometimes it pays off.

“You have regular customers that usually take care of their favorite server, by bumping up the tip. Usually, it’s someone they’ve followed from restaurant to restaurant.”

Melissa Galvagni, a bartender at Aurelio’s Pizza, says the holidays are an especially difficult time of year.

“We have to choose between spending time with our families or making a few extra bucks,” Galvagni says.

Galvagni says Christmas Eve was an especially tough time to find employees willing to work. Those who had wanted the day off had asked for it months ago.

Neill also worked last Christmas Eve. With adult children, she says, it was easier to work that day.

For three hours of work that day, some servers at Aurelio’s walked with as little as $12.

Because some restaurants overstaff for the holidays, at most restaurants across Southwest Florida, patrons can expect to see a surplus of servers in the dining rooms of their favorite restaurants.

Posted in: Jessica DeMattia