This Viral TikTok Exposed What Paychecks In The Restaurant Industry Really Look Like

Before the pandemic — before food service workers had to worry about mass unemployment or patrons who resist the mask mandates — there was still the issue with tipping. At the end of January 2020, Aaliyah Cortez, a bartender in Texas, showed TikTok that the 70 hours she worked only earned her $9.20 after taxes. However, even before the government took its share, Cortez would only have made around $150 as her pay rate was $2.13 per hour, the absolute minimum required by federal law. "This is why you tip," she explained.

The idea, as detailed by the U.S. Department of Labor, is that tips can be used by an employer as a means to pay below the federal minimum wage, provided that the amount the worker receives in tips covers the discrepancy. 

There are, as you might imagine, many issues involved with tying the majority of your pay to the good graces of a stranger, especially when the job consists of being as pleasant as possible to that person. It enables both sexual harassment and racist discrimination, as well as forcing the worker to live without any financial certainty. The difficulty these workers face can be summed up by one of the comments to the video on TikTok: "No we tip when we're given good service. We don't tip because you are being paid $2 an hour. That's a you problem tbh." Thus, workers — already having proven themselves to their employer — must also excel in the variable that is "good service."

They tried to get rid of tipping once and now they are trying again

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, said wages were considered an issue. In fact, some restaurants did try to remove tipping from their operation. These establishments, however, ran into issues fast and had to abandon course.

Eater explains that the major issue businesses faced with having workers that did not survive on tips was that customers were not ready for the visceral shock of food prices. Even though they might have intellectually understood that the higher prices accounted for a gratuity they then would not have to tack on later, the sight of a $30 menu item instead of a $20 one drove customers away.

Still, The Chicago Tribune reported in March that the pandemic has emboldened restaurants to try again, with some saying that they should be able to pay their workers the Chicago minimum wage of $14 an hour. Moreover, customers do not seem to mind this time, a fact that some owners have attributed to the aftereffects of the pandemic. However, this is far from a universal stance, nor has said experiment lasted long enough to prove to work. Until then, be generous with your tips, as that is what pays your server's rent.