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Stefanie Williams Headshot

The Death of Auto Grat; How the IRS is Turning Servers Into Slaves

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Last year, I remember seeing some meme on Facebook -- in between all the pictures of new babies and engagement rings -- about the IRS changing the rule regarding auto grat in restaurants. It was big, cheesy text and looked like it had been copied from The Onion, so I gave it little thought. In this day and age, with all the shit going on in the world and in particular, the economy, why would the IRS go after servers?

Wlep, guess I overestimated the IRS's priority list, because today in my midtown restaurant, I got "the talk."

"No more adding service. To any check."

Apparently, the IRS is treating auto grats as wages. Which means a lot of new rules regarding payroll and whatnot. Long story short, the days of feeling confident that even if that party of 12 that has made you run your ass off seems like the type of people who have never tipped, even in the collection plate, you'll still get paid are over.

I'm assuming the guy who came up with this rule for the IRS has never worked in the service industry. Or simply works for the pure joy of getting out of the house and wants everyone else to be that way too.

Why is this a big deal? If you've ever worked in a restaurant, you'll get it. It's five simple words:

We don't work for free.

Let me break it down real quick for those who have never had the pleasure of serving beers, burgers, steaks or sushi and praying the person paying isn't the British guy. Servers get paid less than minimum wage -- $2.13 an hour in some states -- because we get tips. It is expected that we make up that deficit by way of good people who understand how the world and industry works. And while there are some terrible assholes in the world (and foreigners) who have no concept of tipping, most of the time it all evens out and we can all afford to pay rent at the beginning of the month. Case in point? I've worked at my place for nearly six years and done quite well for myself.

Tipping is not -- as some cheap dickweeds will try to argue - an extra "perk" of our job. That is our paycheck. That is our salary. We live on tips, not minimum wage. No, I don't know why we're not salaried. No, that isn't you, the customer's fault. But it is the way of the world, and arguing about it or telling me "not to work in the service industry then" won't change it. If you can't accept that, don't go out to eat. Trust me, none of us will miss you or your two dollar tip that can't even buy me a one way on the subway. My job is a job, and I expect to get paid for it, and 90% of the people in this country understand the fact that servers work for tips. If you are one of the few people who argues this the same way anti-gay people argue against gay marriage, your desperate attempt to refuse to accept the reality of the world doesn't make you right. It mass you a cheap asshole who one day will end up with something that isn't entirely edible in their food. I guarantee it.

And it's six to one half dozen to the other. You're paying for us to work -- as you should, because don't you pay EVERYONE who does work for you? -- whether it's by tipping us or the restaurant hiking up the prices of a burger to accommodate its work force. And if you're the type of person who bitches about tipping 20 percent like it's the worst thing since the Holocaust, you're probably the type of person who would bitch about a $30 burger too if the prices were hiked to pay the servers. So either way you'd be a grumpy fuck and that's not my problem.

For me, it will hit hard during the holidays. In our establishment, situated somewhere between Time Square and Radio City, the throngs of tourists from Kentucky to Cameroon come through between November and December. We bust ass harder in those two months than any other time of the year. And if it weren't for autograt, I'd be working twelve hour shifts on Christmas Day basically for free. Because most Europeans either don't know they are supposed to or choose not to tip if left up to their own devices. Auto gratuity is put on the check -- and if argued, can be removed of course -- to ensure I get paid for the work I do. Period. And if you don't know what it's like to serve a table of six in the middle of December and get tipped nine dollars on a four hundred dollar check because the family from Mississippi gets sticker shocked in the big city and screws you over, consider yourself lucky. Autograt exists to ensure servers get paid for the work they do because some people just suck and you can't always expect people to do the right thing. It's that simple. And the IRS is stripping us of that guarantee.

Sit there and tell me to stop telling you how to tip, to stop feeling entitled, to get a "real job". I've heard it all from people who think servers -- unlike everyone else in the country -- are supposed to work for free and like it. But the reality is, the IRS is fucking over the service industry and the god knows how many people who rely on tips to make a living. I don't know why people seem to think serving is a job that deserves less respect or worse, less than minim wage. If we didn't exist, you wouldn't be going out to eat or drink. You need us just as much as we need you, unless you want to clean up after your five kids who all had burgers and fries with extra ketchup after you destroy the table. We provide a service just like people who work at a bank, a clothing store, on an airplane or anywhere else people work. Would you ask the to work for free? No? Then why do it to us? The tragedy is we are just in an industry that relies on the kindness of strangers. Literally. That's not our fault, it's just the reality and servers hope we can coexist in this reality with our customers.

But sometimes customers need a push, an encouragement, a firm reminder that no one waits on a table of 20 with a seven hundred dollar check for five dollars and the pleasure of your company. I don't like getting five sides of ranch for foreigners in the middle of a busy December for the 87 cents you left in pennies on your ninety dollar check. I'm a sever, not a coin star machine. Taking away autocrat takes away our safety net. It takes away our livelihood. And unfortunately, anyone in the service industry can tell you that solely relying on the kindness of strangers has the potential for us to end up as indentured servants instead of servers.