© Tara Moore

It all depends where they work.

March 14, 2017

No matter how you feel about tipping, the practice’s inherent issue is pretty clear: It’s unpredictable. One day you could serve a bunch of jerks who don’t leave you a dime; the next day you could serve Warren Buffett after a successful trip to the craps table. An argument made in favor of tipping tends to be that in the long run, it all balances out. But as the website FiveThirtyEight recently pointed out – balance out or not – not all jobs waiting tables are created equal.

In their research titled “How Hard Is Your Server Working To Earn Minimum Wage?” the data-driven site tries to visually convey how many tables per hour servers have to work to make minimum wage at restaurants with four different price points. Needless to say, we expect a waiter working at a seafood restaurant like Eddie V’s, where the average check per customer is $91, will make more money than someone schlepping over tables at Denny’s where the average guest racks up a bill that clocks in at just under $10. But we rarely think about just how many more tables or how many more customers that worker has to serve to make a living – sometimes even just to get their earnings up to minimum wage. 

The site’s graph allows people to tweak a number of variables including state, average tip and average people per table. As a result, you can see that in a state like Pennsylvania, where tipped employees get a base salary of $2.83, a server at Denny’s has to attend to 1.5 tables of two per hour just to reach the $7.25 minimum wage (assuming they tip 15 percent). Meanwhile, the Eddie V’s employee hits that same rate after just one fifth of a table of two.

FiveThirtyEight admits that these charts and calculations simplify a lot of complex variables and fail to take a number of factors into account. Still, in a broad sense, it’s  an interesting reminder of the disparity between different serving jobs and might leave you a little more sympathetic the next time you hit an eatery where cheaper prices mean you’re getting a good deal, but the person taking care of you might not.