16 Things the Restaurant Industry Doesn’t Want You to Know

1. The real minimum wage in the U.S. is $2.13 an hour.
The regular hourly minimum wage is a paltry $7.25 an hour. If you earn tips, your only hourly guarantee is $2.13.

2. It’s been $2.13 since 1991. That’s pretty much before the internet was a thing.

3. In 1991, this is what the Olsen sisters looked like.

4. And this guy, his pants and timeless dance moves ruled the airwaves.

5. The tipped minimum wage was on track to increase in 1996, but Herman Cain, then head of the corporate restaurant lobby—the National Restaurant Association—swooped in to block it.

At the behest of the National Restaurant Association, he brokered a deal with Congress, allowing the regular minimum wage to increase so long as the tipped minimum wage stayed put at $2.13 an hour … forever.

6. More than 70 percent of servers are women.

In the restaurant industry, five million workers are women. Two million of them have children, one million have kids under the age of 18.

7. The restaurant industry is the single largest source of sexual harassment charges filed by women with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), accounting for 37 percent of all claims.

That’s more than five times the rate for the general female workforce.

8. In addition to being the largest low-wage industry in the country, it’s also the largest employer of people of color.

9. The restaurant industry provides six of the 10 worst paying jobs in the country.

And the two absolute lowest paying jobs. Yum! (Source: Department of Labor.)

10. Servers use food stamps at double the rate of the rest of the U.S. workforce.

They’re also three times as likely to fall below the poverty line.

11. And most servers are employed by corporate chains like Red Lobster, Olive Garden, and Applebee’s.
Although some servers make great money, most don’t. A server’s median pay is just $8.00 an hour (including tips).

12. Servers typically get $0 paychecks.
…which means they’re living off tips.

13. But aren’t employers required by law to pay their tipped workers at least minimum wage when tips fall short?

Yes, but most don’t. In fact, enforcement is so weak and disorganized that an average employer has just a 0.001 percent chance of being investigated in a given year. And most restaurant workers don’t make enough to money to afford taking their employers to court. (Source: Economic Policy Institute)

14. Tips aren’t something “extra,” they’re the majority of a server’s wage.
Living off tips means you’re quite literally living shift-to-shift. Your wages can fluctuate based on a customer’s “belief” in tipping, your physical appearance or that day’s snow storm.

15. The corporate restaurant industry pretty much figured out how to avoid paying wages altogether.
The biggest chains (like Red Lobster, Olive Garden, Applebee’s) actually operate at an expense to the consumer (a la WalMart) because their employees depend on public subsidies to make ends meet.

16. Naturally, servers are FED UP.

They’re joining the Living off Tips campaign to demand Congress take action and raise the tipped minimum wage. It’s time for one Fair Wage!

For more information, see ROC’s reports: Tipped Over the Edge – Gender Inequity in the Restaurant Industry and Realizing the Dream – How the Minimum Wage Impacts Racial Equity in the Restaurant Industry and In America.

This post originally appeared on Buzzfeed.

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  1. gdfo
    Monday, February 10th, 2014
    If you think Servers as working on straight commission with a salary, then what?
    I have been served by folks who don't much care for what they are doing and some who padded the check, some substituted wines by the glass. Some just got the order wrong. On the other hand some Servers go out of their way to learn to give better service by actually knowing what is on the menu.
    Right now the Restaurant Industry is not doing as well as many beleive. Is this really the right time to try to get the Feds involved in this?

    BTW. At one time I did work in the business. When I did act as a Server, I made more money that any of the managers. Servers can make alot of money if they put forth some honest effort.
    To site only the worst examples of low earnings concerning restarurant servers is a disservice to them all.
  2. Linda
    Monday, February 10th, 2014
    I agree that servers wages are too low at 2.13 an hour, but it is a law that the employer makes sure that the employee gets the minimum wage if their tips are not enough to make it. Contacting the labor board does not cost the employee, and they can report the restaurant anonymously.
    I have friends who are servers, and they get really good tips, especially when they work for big chains.
    Servers do live off their tips so I would encourage everyone who eats at restaurants to be generous when their server is taking care of them well. And don't forget to remember to be kind!
  3. Bill Lepman
    Monday, February 10th, 2014
    I believe that Washington state has the highest minimum wage in the country and that applies to tipped employees, too ... there is not tip credit in Washington so that servers get full minimum wage plus tips...I believe that most owners of service oriented restaurants in the state are prone to under staff the floor because of the cost creating poorer service when the restaurant gets too busy.
  4. hollie b
    Monday, February 10th, 2014
    Nope, not buying it. I was a server all the way through college and I made a killing in tips! I am sorry , but those servers you speak of that are on food stamps are just milking the system because they can. There is no way to prove your income, therefore you qualify for just about everything. You can't prove any of that cash that is handed to them. There is no need to increase the 2.13/hr pay rate when they work on tips. If they increase it to minimum wage then there is no reason to tip anymore. Think about it. On average a server has 4 tables in their section that all stay about an hour. If each table only tipped $5 (and you know they are tipping more than that) that's $20/hr the server is earning. And that is really lowballing it. So where exactly is the problem? And why exactly are they collecting food stamps? What this article really should address is the big scam that servers are pulling on the government and collecting from my tax dollars.
  5. Tracy
    Monday, February 10th, 2014
    Well sounds like all these others opinions are the be all end all, after all everyone in the world knows if a few can do it, all can. BUT wait what is that? My daughter? Struggling to make $20 a week? Because the hours shes given to work, no one ever there, or the fact that shes bartending and everyone tips the waitress who should but often "forget" to share. Why not get another job you say? Because she has 2 children to support, and because she doesnt make enough to live on, she has to rely on friends and family to babysit in order to even go to work. And ahe is trying to find one, but that doesnt make this situation ANY better. Since she has to buy something to drink, often times she is paying to work, which is just plain wrong. And thats before the gas, etc has to be paid for. Can she quit? Sure, but its much easier to find a job, while you have a job. And then what about the person replacing her?
  6. Monday, February 10th, 2014
    I sure glad that there are a lot of people who had a part time job during college and made a lot of tips...that may be a very small part of the whole, but there are many restaurants in less urban places that customers think that $2.00 on a $35.00 check is plenty...I beg to differ...perhaps the US should do it EU style where the tips are only for great service...but then the wages should be livable.
    • Saturday, February 4th, 2017
      Thank you. Not every one gets a $5 tip. Most of the time 2 or $3. And the waffle house charges 3.00 every time you work for food that they just you're going to eat I never eat there. All these other comments so far don't know what you talking about
  7. stephg
    Monday, February 10th, 2014
    Why doesn't the restaurant industry want us to know what the Olsen twins looked like in 1991 (#3 on the list)????
  8. Tuesday, February 11th, 2014
    Here's a tip, get a better job. If your only skill is carrying food and filling drink glasses, be glad someone will pay you to do that. If you want to make more money, then get your ass out of the restaurant and go to school
  9. Wendy Eaton
    Tuesday, February 11th, 2014
    Stop working a job that pays $2. whatever an hour...bottom line nothing will ever change as long as people are prepared to put with being treated poorly.
  10. Stacey
    Tuesday, February 11th, 2014
    Yea, I can agree. I worked as a server in college, and my employer only paid me minimum wage. No matter if my tips went up, or down, he only paid the amount, even though my check showed 'tips'. I unfortunately didn't know better, so 7.50 an hour was all I made.... The rest of the people there definitely weren't making any more. Many were illegal immigrants who were barely getting by and were being taken advantage of by the owner, who provided them housing, but 'owned' them as workers.

    In the end it depends on where you live, whether your employer is treating you right, and if your area does good business. Being a waiter at a golf course or wealthy county is very different than being a waiter in the cheapest place on the bad side of town.

    Anyway, anecdotes aren't going to win this argument. The truth is that the statistics are saying it all. If it's true that waiters are 2x more likely to be on food stamps, then it can't be going well for everyone in the industry.....
  11. hophead222
    Tuesday, February 11th, 2014
    This is actually a little bit offensive to us servers. We are not poor, on food stamps, barely making end's meet, etc. Working at a high end restaurants I was making nearly $50,000 a year straight out of college which was much more than any of my friends working crappy receptionist jobs in offices. There are always a few jerks out there that don't tip, but if you are regularly receiving crap money who either suck at your job, or you work at a terrible place with low class clientele. This is not representative of servers everywhere
  12. Nicole
    Tuesday, February 11th, 2014
    I've had days when I worked a double shift and only made $25 within 9 hours, due to barely any customers who would tip more than a dollar and if they made a mistake by not telling me the exact way they wanted their meal made, then I would have to take it back and pay for half of the cost. If I make any little mistake and the food has to be taken back then half of what that meal cost comes out of my tips. Even when it may have been the customer changing their mind after their food came out. Or the customer just didn't read the menu and told me the wrong thing, which is their fault b/c I always repeat their order before I send it. And then if I tell the customer that I cannot take it back b/c that's what they told me they wanted and it'll come out of my pay then there goes a tip from that table, if they were even going to leave a tip. It's just a gamble. You never really know how much money your going to make and you never know who's going to appreciate you trying your best to take care of them. It would be nice to make more per hour so I wouldn't have to worry all the time about how much tips are each of my tables going to leave me. Besides waiting isn't the only thing we do in a restaurant. We also have side jobs and when it's busy it can be a lot of work and it can be very stressful. So more money would make waiting a more desirable job.
  13. jessica
    Tuesday, February 11th, 2014
    Okay first off I have been a server for years and yes sometimes the tips are very good but most of the time despite the service you give your customers they still tip bad second did you know most servers have degrees and can't find jobs in their degrees because of lack of experience. I also think before anyone talks about the issue you should know the situation. Even if you are a great server the restaurant could be slow and that's something you cant control.
    • Saturday, February 4th, 2017
  14. Andrea
    Tuesday, February 11th, 2014
    As an Australian who recently spent six weeks travelling in the US I have to say that I think the system there does need an overhaul to protect the workers. I did not find restaurant service in the US any better than Australia where tipping is not done. Our wait staff are paid reasonably well with standard leave entitlements etc and restaurants still thrive. Scare tactics about restaurant closures should not override fair treatment of wait staff.
  15. Christopher M
    Tuesday, February 11th, 2014
    I too worked in the serving industry, and still do part-time to cover the extras the make life fun. I agree that the servers in this business can make a lot of money...IF....they work in a restaurant that serves decent patrons who understand tip etiquette. Many of these people the article talks about, are the servers that work at the local diners. They work harder than those who get to work in fine dining. For example...my current job, located in a small Midwest town will earn me about $100 on a Friday night....if we are busy, and I have turned 12-20 tables in a night. At a fine-dining place I work at when I visit back home on the east coast, I can make over $100 on just 4-5 tables. Is it true that there are horrible servers out there...of course....name a job and anyone can name a person horrible at it.... However, the waitress that has been busting her a$$ for a few decades at the same diner is probably a damn good server...and does not deserve to make $2.13 an hour, and definitely deserves more than some loose change for the lunch you just purchased... If you can afford an $8-12 lunch...you can afford to leave a $2-5 tip. AND if you can afford the most expensive steak on the menu, you can sure as hell afford to leave more than a weak 15% tip. Plain and simple....people go out because they don't have time to cook, they don't want to cook, or they want to enjoy a meal out....so in doing so, you are asking someone to cook for you, serve you, clean up after you, and do it with kindness and efficiency. If you don't want to tip...drag your butt to the grocery store, buy the ingredients you need to make your own food, then stop off at the liquor store to get your spirits there. Upon finishing that errand, go home, start the tedious process of mixing your own drink, preparing your food, cook your food, plate and serve your food, then enjoy eating your food...BUT WAIT THERE'S MORE....clear and clean the table, wash the dishes, then put them away. It's 2014....there is no excuse for not knowing proper tip etiquette.
  16. Jessica
    Thursday, February 13th, 2014
    I am a server in NYC. And I will say that I make a decent amount on tips during the warmer months. I am in graduate school so I choose this job for now because it allows a lot of flexibility between my classes. So one day I will have a "real job" that others that mentioned. For now this supports me and allows me to go to school.

    However, I pay rent, bills, and am drowning in loans that I have to pay back for all of the schooling I attended.

    Like I said I make a decent amount of money during the spring and summer. That doesn't translate over to the winter where most customers we get are tourist that don't know they are expected to tip 20%.

    In addition, using the same math as a previous commentor, I have 4 tables that have watched tipped me $5 with an hour. Then correct I have $20 in total tips before I tip out. I then proceed to tip out 38% in my restaurant which gets divided between the busser, food runner, and bartender as their tips for the day. So that is $8 sent back to the other employees that have a job in serving a patron their meal. A server is the face that you see but clearly other people are involved in making sure you have a good dining experience. So in this scenario, I have only made $12 in this hour you speak of and not your assumed $20.

    Most restaurants pool tips or use a tip out system because clearly if you order a cappuccino or margarita your sever is not running beyond the bar to make it.

    Partons needs to stop assuming that the server is taking home every penny in that $2 left on a $20 check because that's not the case. People also should stop making judgements as to why a server chooses to be a server.
  17. John Reed
    Monday, December 26th, 2016
    As Service Industry Veteran (20+ years) I have been employed by a variety of restaurants over the years, including many of those mentioned in this article. Nearly a quarter of my S.I. years were with Darden inc. which was the parent company of my specific employer, Red Lobster. Yes, the minimum wage really is as low as stated above and it can be nearly impossible to get by. Thankfully companies like Darden offer great benifits for their full time employees, benefits i have yet to find anywhere else. The have the basics like health insurance, vision, dental blah blah blah. and of course a 401k retirement package, but they also offer stock options, sometimes allowing you to buy in at 50% face value ! They have a company match savings program, depending of how well the company does that quarter they have as much as a 100% match ! They raise money for employees facing hardships, they offer scholarships and amazing opportunies for growth within the company. They are an equal opportuniy employer and at the time i worked there, you recieved a bonus every year that you remained with the company. Im not talking about a couple hundred bucks or a cheap watch, Ive seen yearly bonuses as much as $1000. I understand that isnt a fortune, but does your company give you $1000 just for hanging around another 12 months?

    With that being said, I admit most companies, nearly none actually, offer any type of benefits like this. So as unreal as it may seem , many hardworking americans are living on $2.13 an hour. Plus tips if your feeling generous. So please, dont forget to tip your waiter.
  18. Sharon biddle
    Thursday, July 27th, 2017
    This has got to end!
  19. Sharon biddle
    Thursday, July 27th, 2017
    I have worked as a server all my life.i never really paid attention to this.but when I started serving, in the60s,I made good money serving.now I struggle to make ends meet every week.how can I help to change this?
  20. n_slash_a
    Monday, August 21st, 2017
    I'm confused, if you make 2.13 / hr (not including tips), how do you make a $0 paycheck?
  21. Janet Hudgins
    Tuesday, October 10th, 2017
    The old and incredible deprivation of proper recompense for genuine and hard work is right out of centuries past. A decent citizen in England exposed the level of payment for the poorest earners all over 19th Century England to find that, just as has been happening all over Canada as far back as anyone can remember, food industry staff eg., have always been woefully and shamefully underpaid. The perpetrators of this injustice, of forcing the lowest paid workers to subsidize this huge business on the pretence that it won't survive otherwise, ought to be made to account in some kind of court. If the food business can't survive without half and more of the pay of its workers, then the business is managing itself that badly that it, too, needs to be exposed for the miserable situation it created for, mainly, young women. "The [restaurant] industry has found a way to pay women in particular about a third of what they pay everybody else," said an advocate for fair wages, and it's the most egregious and largest theft in history. And that's not to mention the common harassment and sexual abuse that goes with the job.
  22. Caroline Haenel
    Sunday, November 19th, 2017
    I am 49 and when applying for server jobs many ask for a photo. If they don't when I go on an interview even though I have experience and the other applicants don't I don't get the job. Just because you are older doesn't mean you can't handle the position. I think it makes me better. There is a lot of age discrimination in the service industry. The last resteraunt I had an interview at was for a coat check attendant it asked for a young girl for coat check. I have experience with this as well +You really don't need a brain to do this job but I need some extra money so I went. The manager said he has other interviews scheduled and he will contact me regardless. He was just looking for a younger girl. I am not ugly I am very presentable and I definitely don't dress old and don't have grandma hair I am quite stylish (I have been in the accessories and jewelry industry for more then a few years) and I have experience ! I don't want to give up. It's not me. I really like the service industry because of the tips.I can't make as much as my last job but I am freelancing now and I really need the extra income. Any suggestions for NYC.
  23. kkatx
    Wednesday, December 27th, 2017
    I know this is an old article but wanted to chime in. It is beyond ridiculous that an entire industry is subsidized by taxpayers (increased use of public assistance by poorly paid workers) and that wages come solely from tips. Capitalists that defend the practice cannot truly be called capitalists - after all, this practice depends on a huge government structure to fund it. So which is it, capitalists? Pay a fair market wage or create a giant government agency to take care of all the underpaid workers? Oh wait, you want also to get rid of public assistance but yet you want workers who work for free... I think it is finally becoming clear. What you capitalists really want is a return to the days of slavery - acutal, real slaves who literally work for the scraps the owners care to cast out to them. And who literally have no choices or options (these having been closed by said capitalists), and also no recourse (legal options unaffordable for most workers). What a paradise for owners! And yes I do know that restaurants are expensive to run - yet I see high-priced builds in high dollar areas with owners driving late model Teslas - but these same people "can't afford" to pay their employees a market wage?!? Cognitive dissonance at its finest. Yet Americans fall for the lies. Stop and apply the same standards and arguments the capitalists like use to defend their thievery, on the restaurant industry, and the whole scheme quickly falls apart. I won't hold my breath, though.