Spaeth: The Starbucks scandal is breaking the silence about racial discrimination

Starbucks Coffee logo (wikimedia)

Even though COVID-19 has shut down indoor seating at restaurants, delivery and pick-up services continue. The employees that are keeping these restaurants alive are risking their health and well-being by working with the public and coworkers, cleaning more areas with more frequency and handling hostile customer encounters. With the new challenges these workers are facing, the least we can do is tip them.

Although Oregon is among the handful of states that requires tipped employees to be paid the same minimum wage as everyone else, these individuals still rely on tips to make up their total income. With hours being cut down in response to the pandemic, the number of tips employees can collect per week has become limited.

With the decrease of hours comes the decrease of scheduled workers, making it take longer for employees to prep food and clean areas. But not all customers are willing to understand this chain of events. Those who lack empathy for restaurant workers’ position demand the same level and speed of service despite the wildly different conditions. To these diners, workers should be happy to risk their health and safety, and if they aren’t, their tip will reflect it.

Workers across the board have faced hostile encounters specifically after enforcing mask and social distancing policies. A Gothamist report, “Service Workers’ Experience of Health & Harassment During COVID-19,” showed that 67% of workers said they received smaller tips after enforcing public health protocols among customers.

Women workers, in particular, have reported a spike in harassment and a decrease in tips. A report from One Fair Wage found that “more than 80% of workers are seeing a decline in tips and over 40% say they’re facing an increase in sexual harassment from customers.” The phrase “take off your mask so I know how much to tip you” is among the sickening comments made to women workers.

And tolerance is expected from these workers. Gratuity is rarely the outcome of confrontations – especially when confronting someone who has already flaunted their self-righteousness.

While facing disrespectful customers, employees have also had to adapt to a new cleaning cycle. In April 2020, the FDA put out a guide for the best cleaning practices for retail food stores, restaurants and food pick-up/delivery in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19. It’s three pages of new and existing cleaning methods and workplace practices that are meant to reduce the risk of transmission among employees and customers. Many restaurants adopted this guide, adding additional cleaning duties to employees’ workloads. But, unfortunately, a pay raise doesn’t follow the execution of these new guidelines.

The pandemic has hurt a lot of people financially — not just restaurant workers. There are going to be individuals who can’t afford to tip. And while not tipping every once in a while is okay, skipping the tip shouldn’t become a habit.

Jodi RR Smith, president of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting, acknowledged this reality and offered some advice in a HuffPost article: “If you know your budget is tight, choose a restaurant with a lower price point so that you can still be generous in your tip.” She also suggested that activities like going to a salon or to a bar should be placed on the back burner until your budget can accommodate them.

Getting food at a local restaurant to help keep the local economy alive is a great idea. I encourage it! But, before you go out, think about if you have enough to tip. These employees deserve the recognition of being essential workers. They work through health and safety risks just so you can get your craving satisfied. Essential workers are taking care of us, and tipping is a step towards taking care of them.