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Featured Column: Tipping: No kidding, livelihoods depend on it

I have two daughters who work in the restaurant business as servers. They’re both putting themselves through college this way.

I was the one who encouraged them to give this part-time work a shot -- even though it’s hard work and they’d have to put up with difficult, rude, and obnoxious customers once in a while. I reasoned serving is a much more profitable part-time job than retail.

One of my daughters works in a restaurant in Hudson, the other in Woodbury, Minn.

On Christmas Eve, the daughter who works in Hudson came home about 10 p.m. crying and collapsed in my arms.

“I had so many tables that didn’t tip,” she sobbed. “Don’t they know this is how I make my living and pay my bills?”.

I don’t understand people who don’t tip -- especially on a night like Christmas Eve -- when most people who serve you would rather be home with their families, as my daughter lamented.

This daughter makes $2.30/hour in wages. That’s pretty much nothing. That’s why tips are so important to her.

These young people who serve your food and fill up your beer glass use their tip money for car payments, rent and college textbooks.

Or they may be single moms like my daughter working in Woodbury. She supports my granddaughter with the tips she makes.

Servers are on their toes to give the best possible service. They know they have to earn those tips.

That’s the incentive that motivates them to keep smiling even when they encounter a rude customer, or chat with a 2-year old as she throws food on the floor, or cheerfully make sure your pop and coffee are always full and your food comes hot.

If you’re a non-tipper, you may not like the way this tipping system works -- but it’s not likely going to change. This is the way we do things in our culture.

A few weeks ago, I was eating in the Hudson restaurant where my daughter works. There was a table in her section with about 10 boys -- they looked to be 8th or 9th graders.

Later that night, my daughter told me their bill was $144. And the tip? About $3.

Parents, do you remind your kids that when they eat out, they should their server? Do you show them how to calculate a 15 or 20% tip if they don’t know how?

Kids, if you can’t afford a tip, don’t eat out. Don’t take up a table in a servers section that could have been occupied by people who know to tip.

Don’t expect an hour or more of a server’s time and not compensate him or her for it.

Servers aren’t the only ones we tip -- there’re hairdressers and barbers and the kids who wash your car. But servers are the only ones whose living depends almost entirely on that tip income.

Case closed.

Editor’s note: Deb Eliason is a reporter/news clerk for the River Falls Journal.