Stop 'Paying It Forward' And Do This Instead

by Amber Leventry
Originally Published: 
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During a recent conversation with a friend, she reminded me to do something just for myself once in a while and suggested I treat myself to a favorite caffeinated beverage at Starbucks. I was out recently and decided to listen to her words of wisdom. But as I sat in line at Starbucks, I felt a little guilty. Since the pandemic started I have been pretty strict about my purchases, and this was an unnecessary expense. I also felt a bit uncomfortable with my privilege to be able to spend $5 on a latte knowing others are struggling. I know, I know; it was just a cup of coffee, but this is how my brain works.

My brain quickly shifted gears, though, and I saw an opportunity to pay my friend’s kindness forward. I wanted to put a little good into the universe. I considered paying for the order of the person in line behind me, but then I told myself they were in line because they had the extra $5-$10 to spend on fancy coffee or a cake pop. The person who needed the kindness and generosity was the person who took my order.

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I’m a service provider, but not on the front lines like the people who deal with the general public all day every day. The food servers, baristas, grocery store workers, delivery drivers, and so many other person-to-person providers have shown up day after day during this pandemic to keep businesses open and the economy running. They show up so we can get the things we need and the luxuries we want. Yes, they do this for the paycheck—which isn’t nearly enough—and their need to pay the bills, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t thank and tip the hell out of these workers. They deserve above minimum wage, and a whole lot more than the rudeness from customers who expect to be treated like royalty while treating their server like shit. And while working unvaccinated for a year, the last thing they should have to deal with are the maskholes who refuse to put a piece of cloth over their face to protect others.

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Servers and service workers deserve more appreciation and more tips because only seven states require tipped workers to be paid minimum wage before tips. Tipped employees depend on tips to get their hourly pay to minimum wage, which is an embarrassing $7.25/hour in the United States. Based on the way the guy at Starbucks responded to the $5 I put in the near empty tip jar, he wasn’t used to getting one. He was grateful and almost embarrassed, and asked if I was sure. I counted at least five other people working with him and told him that it wouldn’t go far and I should give him more. I don’t know this guy’s story, and I know I’m not solely responsible for his income, but it was a reminder to do better when it comes to extending tips and kindness to the folks who make sure we have the luxury of our flat whites, take-out meals, and delivered groceries.

I wasn’t trying to be a hero or perform kindness for attention’s sake. I just wanted to do something nice, and was reminded that the folks who work so hard to make our days easier don’t get noticed or appreciated the way they should. Since the pandemic started, the majority of the people who do tip are tipping less, while others aren’t tipping at all. I have experienced this in my work, but I don’t depend on tips to bring up my hourly wages. I have been impacted, but not like the folks in the food service and hospitality industries.

The Uber and Lyft drivers and food delivery drivers deserve to be tipped well too, and if it’s raining or snowing tip them more. Give your hairdresser, manicurist, lawn person, housekeeper, and nanny or babysitter worthy tips too.

If you’re not sure how much to tip, go with at least 15-20%. To calculate a 20% tip, use this trick: Move the decimal in the pre-tax total one place to the left and double that amount. If your pre-tax total for pizza and wings was $47.25 then you would move the decimal to get $4.725. Double $4.7 to make it easy $9.4 and you have your tip. To make it real easy, round that up to $5 and leave a $10 tip. If you can afford pizza and wings, you can afford the $10 for the three people working a hot kitchen on a busy Friday night.

Another way to tip within the 15-20% range is to round the tax up to the nearest dollar amount and double it.

As more people become vaccinated and move more freely through the day, it’s important for all of us to thank the folks who have been showing up every day even when a vaccine wasn’t available. Many folks had the privilege of never leaving the house. They relied on people to bring what they needed and wanted right to their door; our inability or lack of desire to leave the house means we are asking others to risk their health so we don’t have to. And if you do pick up takeout or roll up to the drive thru, you still need to tip.

Show some appreciation and acknowledgment of how hard service providers have worked throughout this pandemic — and do it with cash.

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