By Gia Pilgrim Charles, Editor
It’s a Thursday night at The Homestead Kitchen, Bar, and Bakery. Downtown Farmington is busy, because of the popular live band that’s playing at the restaurant, but the crowd is also very hungry and thirsty. After four years of working for The Homestead, I always try my hardest to provide the best service I can offer for the family-run restaurant. I arrive at my newest table, a group of five with some professors I recognize. “Good Evening!” one of the professors says. “This is going to be a UMF Charge.”
I groan inside, but still keep my smile cheery and understanding.
“No problem!” I say, because that’s what I do, I’m a waitress.
But in my opinion, it is a problem. In fact, UMF only allows a 15% gratuity tip to their checks. With the proximity of our UMF campus to the downtown community, it isn’t a coincidence that much of UMF’s business is conducted over sandwiches and entrees at local restaurants. Not only business meetings, but UMF clubs use the advantage of the school’s allowed budget to indulge in a tasty bite or two in town. Who can blame them?
It also isn’t a coincidence that students who are paying to attend UMF work part-time in the community to afford their tuition payments. According to a very recent article in the Chicago Tribune, one half of college students work in food service and sales. I have personally witnessed countless peers of mine trying to earn tips on the side. The Chicago Tribune also states that in the last decade, the cost of attending college has climbed 56 percent, more than double the inflation rate. So why would UMF stiff the students who work so hard, both in their studies and outside of class, and only provide a meager 15%? Who even decided on this percentage, and when?
The standard of 15% spans the entire UMaine System, meaning that every one of the UMaine colleges are stiffing their waitresses throughout Maine. Ouch. There are only two exceptions to the 15% rule stated in the Administrative Practice Letter of Travel, Expense, and Travel Card Procedures: “Travelers may round tips up to the next dollar.” (Score! Not.) And “In the rare instance where a restaurant requires a tip greater than 15%, the traveler may pay the required amount.” This “rare instance” sounds rather begrudgingly accepted to me. But according to recent news studies, adding a gratuity higher than 15% is not a “rare instance” any longer.
Tipping percentages have been on the rise for a long time now. The Wall Street Journal reports that, “During the 1950s, people commonly tipped 10% of the bill, says Michael Lynn of the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration. By the 1970s and 1980s, the standard tip had risen to 15% of the tab. Nowadays, people commonly tip 15% to 20%, with the average tip about 18%.” That was written in 2008.
More recently, in 2015 where there are new mobile pay technologies and restaurant systems, the required percentages have risen even higher. An article on CBS MoneyWatch states that, “Aside from adding tip lines to receipts, mobile pay options present customers with pre-set gratuity suggestions. NCR’s default options are to suggest tips of 18 percent, 20 percent and 22 percent. If it seems as if 15 percent has disappeared as a tipping choice, that’s because 20 percent is considered by many to be the baseline gratuity for waiters and other tipped workers.”
Those who work in the UMF Financial and Human Resources Department admitted that they’ve had to call local businesses who mistakenly have added 18% or 20% gratuity instead, and told them it wouldn’t be accepted. “When The Granary was open, they would call and ask for 20% gratuity but we couldn’t accept it because of UMaine’s gratuity standards,” said Diane Smith, Administrative Assistant at UMF. In the staff’s 11+ years of working for the school, they’ve said it’s always been a strict standard of 15%.
So isn’t it about time to raise your standard, UMaine? After a long night of providing hard-earned service to my professors, they leave me an extra ten dollar bill on the table before leaving. Even they know, 15% isn’t enough.