When a 20-year-old Rutgers student and restaurant server looked to the tip line for a $112.03 bill at a local bar and grill in Belmar, New Jersey last week, she was looking, as most tipped service workers do, for gratuity.
Instead, Jess Jones, a waitress at D'Jais Bar & Grill found snark: "LOL," read the tip line. "1 hour for food," read an apparent explanation scrawled nearby. Jones posted a picture of the receipt to her Facebook, where she lamented the discrepancy between hard-working servers, backlogged kitchens, and impatient diners, according to local news reports.
"Last night, I was stunned by this receipt that was left for me by a party of eight people," she wrote. "I would have preferred a '$0' tip than a 'LOL' tip, but as a waitress, bad tips and harsh notes are all part of the job. Even though they did wait an hour to eat, they remained satisfied with filled drinks and proper notice that the kitchen was a bit busier than normal. I've worked in the service industry for five years and I take pride in providing great service to my customers."
Jones' post was picked up on social media, and garnered the attention of the city's mayor, Matt Doherty, who wrote that it was "ridiculous" for a customer not to show the respect they might expect in their own job.
The "LOL" comment was especially hurtful, Jones wrote, because she is paid a wage of just $2.50 an hour—hardly a living wage by any standard—and rely on tips to make ends meet. Moreover, after taxes on tips, she wrote, "paychecks are less than pocket change... I need tips to pay my bills. All waiters do." Minimum wage in the state for non-tipped workers is $8.38, and $2.13 for tipped workers, though employers are supposed to make up the difference if an employee's tips do not equal at least the minimum wage, according to state law.
Jones' case hinges on a grievance shared by many service industry workers nationwide—tipped or otherwise—who must supplement their income from low-paying service jobs with external support structures. As ATTN: has reported, those often come in the form of public support programs.
At the federal level, the tipped minimum wage sits at $2.13, where it has rested since 1991. But because tips are often inconsistent, if existent in cases such as Jones', many workers turn to public support programs to stay afloat. According to one recent report, tip reliance and low wages amount to a huge cost for American taxpayers who in turn subsidize both public programs and employers who pay workers poorly—an estimated $9.4 billion each year. That report notes that the families of nearly half of all full-service restaurant workers—at restaurants such as Olive Garden, Applebee's, IHOP, etc.—rely on at least one public assistance program. Many full-service workers, the report says, are paid the tipped minimum wage.
The federal tipped minimum wage has been frozen, in part, because of aggressive lobbying on the part of restaurant operators and the trade group that represents them, the National Restaurant Association. According to the report, the five largest operators (Darden, Dine Equity, Bloomin' Brands, Brinker International, and Cracker Barrel), have spent more than a combined $3.2 million on federal lobbying activities fighting against higher wages.
As the movement to raise wages has grown across the country, some restaurants in places such as Seattle, where the minimum wage is now $15 an hour, have opted to raise prices and eschew tipping altogether to manage higher labor costs. Grassroots campaigns seeking to raise the wage in New Jersey hope to catch some of the momentum of successful movements across the country, but service workers will continue to work with the system they are used to until that time.
"I know it's annoying when things aren't right. I know how aggravating it is to receive a hefty bill when all night you've been wondering why the table that came in after you was served before you," Jones wrote. "But waiters are mere messengers most of the time, and it's wrong to shoot them, however bad the news."