Tipping (Cuban Diary)


There is an inequity to tipping. It is based on how much your clients spend and not on how hard you work. It is also patronizing in the old sense of the word. The patron – or lord of the manor – bestows his or her largess on the lower classes, the serving classes, either based on some standard that his class establishes or on a whim.

It doesn’t stop there either. Better looking waiters and waitresses get bigger tips than those who are more plain of face or standard of body. And sexism? Men get better tips than women for the same level of service.

But this is not the inequity I was talking about.

In many establishments, managers who are already well paid insist on significant kickbacks from the tips of servers – who are generally poorly paid and need their tips to pay their rent and support their children. In other places, front-line staff receive the bulk of the tips while those who work behind the scenes – cooking or clearing tables or washing the dishes receive little or nothing.

The system is based on good will but generally only creates bad. I know, I’ve spent a few years waiting tables and tending bar back in my “full-time” (ha-ha) writing and acting career.

But there are further inequities built into the system. First and foremost are the laws that in many jurisdictions allow employers to pay less than the standard minimum wage in food service industries. The idea is that waiters will more than make up the difference in tips. However, the sub-standard wage applies even in fast food restaurants where tipping is neither expected nor allowed. What is the logic behind that? Rich people like to be waited on by poor people?

But wait there’s more. Tips are taxable and tax collectors go to great lengths to figure out how much a waiter may have made so they can tax them accordingly. I’ve heard that lifestyle audits now used to catch drug dealers and others with illicit income were invented to catch waiters from high end restaurants who didn’t claim enough of their tips.

But the thing is – that money was already taxed by the person paying the tip. If you employed a servant in your house, their pay would be – if you worked it right – tax deductible. Certainly, if as a publisher, I pay someone to do book design, this is a business expense and is deducted  from my business income. Yet, with tipping first I pay the income tax and then the waiter pays it again.

There is a simple solution – one you see applied in places like Italy or Australia. Figure out a way to pay serving staff a living wage – through statutory means or by making it easy to unionize. Then all that awkward tableside arithmetic can be avoided.

But that’s ten minutes (Cuban time).


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