Pay In Cash

In my darkest moments, I settle on one particular thought: that the restaurant industry exists proves that the Left doesn't.

Yes. Too reductive.

And really, only applicable in the USA. Well, not "only", but it's worse here.

Tips are emotional blackmail. Sexual harassment is common. I'm a guy, so I have it easy. Not that sexual harassment is easy, well, ever, but, assuming we are talking circles of hell, well, if you get sexually harassed at a job where you get paid a wage or a salary, you get paid for the time up to and including the moment when that harassment happens. When you work for tips, you have to decide whether it's worth standing up for yourself, which means risking losing compensation for labor you have already performed. There's more. Maybe I'll get to it. I mean.


I've been trying and failing to write something substantial about my time in restaurants for a while now. There's something addictive about them. Sadly, what's addictive, is, well, the sadness. I've never met so many brilliant people for whom, seemingly, there is so little use. It's amazing, really. There's this odd repository of witty, passionate, intellectual, compassionate people who have decided, for whatever reason, to sacrifice themselves to you. So that you may persist in being less.

But that's for another day.

Let's try this instead.

Here's how I get paid.

The way in which restaurants handle money is always sketchy. Always.

Here's how the place I am at does it as of now.

When you choose to pay, I bring you a check. That check, of course, is a list of all of the items I have served you, their prices, and the total cost of those items, including tax. This is the amount you are expected to pay. Obvious, so far. I won't even go into what happens when you don't pay. It doesn't happen often, and it doesn't happen for malicious reasons often, either. But it does. I've worked at places where I've had to pay. But we won't go there now. Or maybe, we will.

At the bar I worked in last year, if you started a tab and left without paying, it was my responsibility to pay the house back. So, if your tab was $100, and I made $120 in tips, well, I would walk with $20. Which is why I took your card, and why I never let that happen. But I was one of the lucky ones. Yes. If you walk out on a tab, not only are you not compensating me for your labor, but you are actually, literally, negating the compensation of others.

I'm not in the situation now. And, as I said, it didn't actually happen to me. I took your card. Just understand that that is a possibility. And while we're at it, I'll say that, although I have never worked at one, there are restaurants that... Sorry. You know, right, that whenever you pay via debit or credit card, the business has to pay a fee. There are some restaurants that take that money out of the server's or bartender's tips. So that person is actually paying, well, probably only a small amount, yes, but, nevertheless, paying to let you use your card.

I've never worked in a place like that. Just know that those places do exist.

Here's how my place works. 

At the end of the night, I add up my credit card sales, my credit card tips, and my cash sales. 

If the cash sales are equal to the credit card tips, I take all the cash home. If the cash sales are higher than the credit card tips, then I owe the house money. Money that's not mine because that money is not from tips. That's fine.

It gets tricker if my credit tips are higher than my cash sales. In the case, the house owes me money. That money is the difference between my cash sales and my credit tips.

An example. I do, let's say, $1,000 in sales. $900 in credit sales and $100 in cash sales. I earn 20% tips on this particular night, which means that I receive $180 in credit card tips on my $900 in credit card sales. Since I did $100 in cash sales, I get to keep that $100 and the house owes me $80. Fair enough. Of course, since those $180 in credit card sales are declared automatically to the IRS, they take their cut. I don't get to see all of that $80. Fine. Taxes. We all pay them. I guess I could be a bit, well, the more cash, the easier to hide the money from the taxman. But I'm moral and let's assume I am too. I digress.

But I said it would get tricky, and here's where it does.

In the restaurant industry, we tip one another at the end of the night.

Rationally, it makes sense. If I am waiting tables, and you are bartending, you pour the drinks I need to take to my tables. You work for tips, I work for tips. You are making me drinks. I should pay you, and I do. I accept this. How could I wait tables successfully if I couldn't bring drinks to my tables? How could you bartend successfully if you were not going to get paid for making those drinks, especially if making those drinks takes away time you could be spending helping customers who are ready and willing to compensate you for your efforts?

So I tip you out.

And other people, too.

At my particular restaurant, on a weekend night, I tip the bartender and the host.

Now let's go back to the end of the night. Credit cards versus cash.

Let's say, for fun, that I do $1,000 in sales and get my 20% and therefore earn $200 in tips. Here's the catch. It's all credit cards. So I have $200 in credit card tips. None of which I will walk home with, and none of which I can hide from the IRS. Blah. I don't want to hide anything from the IRS. I want them to know everything.

Everything, though?

Since the credit card records are official, the IRS knows I have made $200. Except, well, I haven't. The total amount of my tips that I tip to other employees varies from restaurant to restaurant, but, in the present case at least, the percentage is close to, amusingly enough, 20%. So, hmm, what's 20% of $200? $40. So the actual money I have made is $160, with the other of the $40 going to others. Except that's not how the accounting works. I was tipped $200, and that's what I have to declare. Even if $40 is getting paid to someone else.

Stated clearly: I am paying taxes on income I don't actually receive. But only on my credit card tips. Since cash tips are reported voluntarily, cash gives me the chance to lie, which I don't do. But cash also give me the chance to report the money I am actually taking home, as opposed to the amount I am paid. which is not the same.

Does this seem like a big deal to you? Are you outraged? Probably not.

This is why I'm having a hard time really writing about the industry.

Until I figure it out, until I can write the words that make your feet hurt as much as mine, all I'll say is, pay in cash.

1 comment:

:-p said...

I dunno, I dunno. There's more to say and better ways to say it.

But the facts:
- that compensation is not ensured even after work is performed
- that paying the bill but not tipping means that ownership and management get paid and employees don't
- that paying the bill but not tipping due to your anger at something that the server or bartender can't do anything about, especially something that is a policy that the server must follow or risk termination means that ownership and management get paid regardless
- that we routinely have to choose between paying rent or being fully human
- that women routinely make this choice when encountering behavior from customers that would get those customers terminated and even sued if they were co-workers instead
- that the fetish for small business on the part of a certain kind of educated, liberal consumer has nothing at all to do with how employees are treated and everything to do with their own self-regard and a romanticization of small business ownership

there's more.

obviously this is not as important as cops shooting black men or the preponderance of childhood poverty.

on the one hand, it makes sense: those who feel they are being treated like shit must say so in order to have a chance of preventing that treatment from continuing. that being said, it bothers me a lot that the onus isn't on those who are doing the mistreatment. and again, it's especially tricky when pay is not guaranteed.

just to confirm: the tipping system is evil. you have to continue to do so until there is another system in place.