There’s a Dark History Behind Why We Tip at Restaurants

Tipping for service is a norm in the restaurant industry in America, but many don’t know that the gesture originated from the country’s racist past with slavery.

Leaving a tip for someone based on the quality of service provided is something Americans have grown accustomed to do. Some may have questioned where this habit came from — this tradition was inherited from feudal Europe when aristocratic lords gave indentured servants a little extra money for going above and beyond their responsibilities.

According to the Ford Foundation, the act was brought to the United States during the 19th century and it made the American people uneasy at first. The public saw the practice as undemocratic and un-American and people argued that employers should be paying workers rather than customers. However, the restaurant industry and railway companies fought back to keep tipping so they wouldn’t have to pay recently emancipated black slaves who were now working for them.

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Anyone who has traveled to Europe might know that Europe has gradually gotten rid of tipping, but corporate interests in America have strongly reinforced it. The result was a two-tiered wage system that distinguishes tipped from non-tipped workers. The first minimum wage law was officiated in 1938 as part of the New Deal that stated employers weren’t obligated to pay a base wage to workers whose minimum wage was made from tips.

Today, the workers who suffer from this system are women and people of color who are employed at casual dining establishments and earn a median wage of $8.75 an hour including tips. The restaurant industry is pushing to have it their way so they wouldn’t have to pay minimum wage to workers who earn tips. They argue that tipped workers make up to $100,000, but others say that applies to fine dining servers who are usually white and male.

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