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My girlfriend says I should tip in restaurants. I say waitstaff are just like construction and fast-food workers. Who’s right?

Dear Quentin,

Today my partner spoke to me for the third time about why she disagrees with my belief and practice of not tipping waitresses.

To me, as long as all service staff are doing their job and getting paid an hourly wage, there is no reason to tip anyone, whether they mess up on my order or give me great service. 

I don’t understand why waitresses need to be tipped when they’re like all other service staff, such as construction workers, cleaners, fast-food attendees, etc. 

I’m not expected to tip all other service staff, so why is she bothering me with tipping the waitress every single time we go to a restaurant? They are doing their job like everyone else.

She keeps telling me it’s the right thing to do — but why? 

Please explain.

A Confused Non-Tipper

You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at qfottrell@marketwatch.com, and follow Quentin Fottrell on Twitter.

Dear Non-Tipper,

I assume you choose not to tip waiters too. There are several reasons why you should tip waitstaff. The first among them is that restaurants expect you to tip, they leave a blank space on the bill for you to tip, and if you don’t want to tip, you can not tip in your own kitchen.

It’s part of a social contract — whether you like it or not — every time you go to a restaurant. Every time you leave without tipping, you are not only insulting the person who waited on your table, but you are breaking that social contract. So you do have a choice: Stay home and don’t tip, or go to a restaurant and tip. 

Second, and most importantly, it’s an economic justice issue. Waitstaff are not like the other workers you have mentioned. The federal minimum wage for tipped employees like waitstaff and bartenders is $2.13, a figure that has not budged in 30 years, versus $7.25 per hour for non-tipped workers.

It’s left up to the states as to how to deal with that: Some states require employers to pay tipped employees full state minimum wage before tips, while others require employers to pay tipped employees a minimum cash wage above the minimum cash wage required as per the federal Fair Labor Standards Act.

If anything, we should be tipping our wait staff and delivery people as much as we can afford during these uncertain times.

Service workers have taken the brunt of the financial and health ramifications during the pandemic. They deal with the public’s questions and mood swings — along with the added threat of coronavirus exposure. Listen to one person decide what they want — not wait, they’ve another question! — now do it 20 times a day.

“In 2021, with the onset of the COVID variants and the end of most pandemic relief programs, tipped workers report finding themselves facing more risks and even worse conditions than the first year of the pandemic,” according to a recent report by the nonprofit organization One Fair Wage.

“Not only have health and safety risks remained prevalent in 2021, but workers also report that wage theft has increased, even while tips have reduced even further and sexual harassment has increased since last year,” the organization, which seeks to improve wages and working conditions in the service sector, added.

Tip wait staff and delivery people as much as you can afford during these uncertain times. Restaurant workers have an unemployment rate of 7.5%, above pre-pandemic levels and higher than the overall 4.8% unemployment rate. Many venues closed down, while other workers have decided it’s not worth it anymore.

And third, of all the issues to make your cause célèbre, this one is a doozy. Did you tip on your first date with your girlfriend in order to ensure smooth passage to a second date? Because this would be one sure way to prove a petty point, and nix any chances of a follow-up date.

In other words, is it not easier and more gracious to leave an extra 15% to 20% for a meal — a few dollars here and a few there — to help someone else put food on the table? Is that not the best practice of all capitalists and socialists — spread the wealth, keep the economy chugging along?

By emailing your questions, you agree to having them published anonymously on MarketWatch. By submitting your story to Dow Jones & Company, the publisher of MarketWatch, you understand and agree that we may use your story, or versions of it, in all media and platforms, including via third parties.

Check out the Moneyist private Facebook group, where we look for answers to life’s thorniest money issues. Readers write in to me with all sorts of dilemmas. Post your questions, tell me what you want to know more about, or weigh in on the latest Moneyist columns.

The Moneyist regrets he cannot reply to questions individually.

More from Quentin Fottrell:

• ‘I’m getting compassion fatigue’: My parents said they’d rather quit their jobs and lose everything than get the COVID-19 vaccine

• ‘I don’t want a permanent freeloader as a boyfriend’: We met during the pandemic — and he moved 900 miles to be with me

• My mother-in-law changed her will and left everything to her second husband. Can her children contest the will?

• My brother-in-law died, leaving his house in a mess. His landlord wants me to repaint and replace the carpet. What should we do?

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