For a few waiters and waitresses, it’s turning out to be a very happy holiday.
One waitress at a TGI Fridays in North Attleboro, Massachusetts, received a $236.67 tip from a family of four on a $60 dinner bill.
Another waitress at a Denny’s in Ellsworth, Maine, received a $500 tip from three men who ran up a $35 bill.
And at a diner in Scottsdale, Arizona, a customer left a $2,000 tip on a $17 breakfast bill, with a note that it should be shared by the entire wait staff.
“All the staff here thanks our secret Santa,” one of the waitresses told a local TV station.
These are just a few examples of unexpected generosity at restaurants taking place this holiday season. And such tales, happily, aren’t all that unusual. Indeed, each year there are tales of “secret Santas” and generous strangers leaving large tips for their servers.
And for most in that position, it’s probably a big help. There are about 2.5 million waitresses and waiters in the United States, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The average wage is $11.73 an hour with an annual wage of roughly $24,000 a year.1(For reference, that’s around the poverty threshold set by the U.S. government for a family of four.)
Of course, there is wide variation in the economics of waiting, depending on the type of establishment and its location. As a result, a server at a four-star restaurant in Manhattan is probably making more than a waiter hustling coffee at a roadside diner.
And the people who make up the wait staff population vary widely as well. There are those for whom it is a profession and take pride in their skill at service. For others, like students getting through school or writers and actors looking for a big break, it’s a stepping stone. And for some, it’s the job that’s available.
But despite all the different circumstances, the job is basically consistent at its core. It’s about helping people on a basic level – getting them food and drink. For most customers, the tip is about how well that job was done.
But a tip can also be about more than grading a level of service. It can be about recognizing people that are working hard to attend to other people’s comfort and often getting very little reward in return.
Those holiday tipsters are making that situation a little better. They are an example of people helping people in a direct, meaningful way that flows with the holiday spirit. And MassMutual salutes them.
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1 Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2016: 35-3031 Waiters and Waitresses,” March 31, 2017.