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The pandemic has raised existential questions about tipping. | Press "Enter" to skip to content

The pandemic has raised existential questions about tipping.

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During two enormous crises — a public health emergency and an economic crash — restaurant service workers have found themselves double-exposed.

Many say their average tips have declined, while they’ve been saddled with the added work of policing patrons who aren’t social distancing, or as one service worker put it, “babysitting for the greater good,” Emma Goldberg reports for The New York Times.

On top of this, women, who make up more than two-thirds of servers, say they are facing “maskual harassment” — a term coined by the nonprofit organization One Fair Wage to describe demands that servers remove their masks to receive a tip.

The economic challenges have raised existential questions: Could this crisis herald the end of tipping, or a raise in the minimum wage for tipped workers? Depending on subjective gratuities has long been a fraught issue, but rarely has it had the safety consequences that it does now, when workers are struggling to enforce public health compliance from the customers whose tips they depend on.

Natasha Van Duser, 27, who tended bar in Manhattan, had never thought to show up to work with pepper spray. That was before last spring, when, she said, a customer dining outside spat on her and threatened to kill her when she asked him to put on a mask before walking to the bathroom; there were others who shouted expletives at her or suggested she take the temperature of their behinds instead of their foreheads.

In a recent national study of more than 1,600 workers, conducted by One Fair Wage and the Food Labor Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley, over three-quarters of workers reported “witnessing hostile behavior” from customers who were asked to comply with coronavirus protocols, more than 40 percent reported a change in the frequency of unwanted sexual comments during the pandemic and more than 80 percent reported that their tips had declined.


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