Donnie Wahlberg's Generous Tip Proves Why Tipping Has to Go

July 13th 2017

Mike Rothschild

This week Donnie Wahlberg likely made a friend for life when he left a huge tip on an $82 bill.

The actor and singer posted on Facebook Wednesday that while paying for his group at a Waffle House in Charlotte, North Carolina, he decided to leave a hefty tip because of his own personal experiences.

"My mom waited tables, and my dad tended bars-- for years! So, when I walk into a #WaffleHouse, and the staff treats me like a king, you better believe I treat them like queens! Thanks to the team at @wafflehouseofficial Charlotte, NC!" he wrote in the caption of the photo, which has over 5,700 shares and 76,000 reactions.

Wahlberg was lauded for his generosity, and it's not even the first time he's done it. Currently on tour with the New Kids on the Block, Wahlberg left a $500 tip for the staff at a Waffle House in Maryland. People on Facebook expressed how much they appreciated his good deed:

But while Wahlberg's tips will mean a lot to the employees of those particular restaurants, in the vast majority of countries, they wouldn't have been necessary.

Virtually no other industrialized nation forces food service workers to subsist on tips like the United States, a practice that originated when Civil War-era railroad magnates and restaurant owners embraced what had been a European trend, "because it enabled them to save money by hiring newly freed slaves to work for tips alone," wrote Maddie Oatman in Mother Jones.

While most other nations include gratuities in restaurant prices and checks, with a small tip being given for exceptional service, the U.S. has a "tipped minimum wage." This amount, $2.13 per hour at the federal level, is meant to provide a baseline for servers, with tips making up the rest. Even though federal law requires servers to be compensated if the two numbers don't equal that state's minimum wage, enforcement of these laws is virtually impossible, and many owners don't bother doing it.

This leaves restaurant employees almost entirely dependent on the largesse of customers to meet their basic expenses.

According to data from the Economic Policy Institute, a staggering 40 percent of restaurant employees live in poverty, and that "restaurant workers have hourly wages that are 17.2 percent lower than those of similar workers." Beyond that, most get little or no vacation and sick time, little in the way of benefits, and they rarely get a consistent schedule.

The tipped minimum wage was introduced in 1996, when pay for restaurant servers was uncoupled from the federal minimum wage. While that number has at least increased to $7.25, the tipped minimum wage hasn't gone up at all. Many states have increased their minimum wage, but Tennessee, where Wahlberg left his huge tip, is still at the federal level.

And because of inflation, the real value of restaurant workers wages is actually lower now than it was in 1966. That means that the waitstaff Wahlberg tipped likely have less buying power than his mom did when she waited tables.

While some high-end restaurants are experimenting with ending tipping and simply including gratuities in a check, this has led to layoffs and price increases. Some studies even show that ending tipping would hurt low-wage restaurant staff.

So in states with a low minimum wage, servers will have to continue depending on the largesse of their customers, and not on labor practices catching up to their need.

Read Donnie Wahlberg's full Facebook post below: