According to the Department of Labor, the national minimum wage for tipped workers in the US is $2.13. That's not a whole lot of scratch, and if one eight-hour shift is all you have to rake in tips, then time is absolutely of the essence.
Yet many members of this underpaid guild get pulled aside to perform more menial tasks, meaning that for an hour of, say, making salad or washing dishes, all they get is $2.13 and, subsequently, no gratuity because they aren't serving guests.
While this may sound inherently unfair and absurd, it's the reality that many servers on the front lines of restaurant industry are forced to contend with if they want to keep their bosses happy.
But that may change in the near future, if one defiant Ruby Tuesday's waitress gets her way. According to the Associated Press, the Ruby Tuesday's server is hoping to roll her lawsuit into a class action that could involve thousands of workers at 658 restaurants across the US who are asked to do tipless side work.
The reason why the national average of $2.13 exists is that those hard-earned tips are considered part of servers' wage, but the economic incentive of getting a few hours of untipped work is apparently too tempting for some restaurant chains to resist.
"These cases are not new and they're not uncommon," David Lichter, an attorney representing 4,000 workers from Olive Garden, Longhorn Steakhouse, and Red Lobster in a separate lawsuit, told AP. "Unfortunately, it seems to be a common practice in the restaurant industry. If you can pay sub-minimum wage for a job that would otherwise pay minimum wage you can make more money."
In response to the pending lawsuit from one of their servers, Ruby Tuesday's issued a rather bland statement defending both its corporate position and its employees. "While we cannot comment on pending litigation, we are committed to our Ruby Tuesday team members, and we will be providing a vigorous defense of the company on this matter in the appropriate forum," it said.
One New York City waiter who spoke with AP said that being forced to do side jobs for what amounts to virtually no money is par for the course in the restaurant industry. "You just suck it up," he said. "If you complain too much, maybe you won't get as good a shift next week, or maybe you'll get sent home early."
The Ruby Tuesday's lawsuit comes four years after the Supreme Court refused to hear Applebee's appeal in a case that involved 5,500 bartenders and servers who accused the chain of underpaying them and forcing them to unrelated tasks like cleaning and kitchen prep. That case ended with Applebee's forking over an undisclosed settlement.
Whether the same fate awaits workers at Ruby Tuesday's, or any other of the chains engaged in similar lawsuits, remains to be seen. But this case is a salient reminder that tipping generously is never a waste of money.