My name is Kirsten and I work as a server in Cambridge, MA. I have worked in the restaurant industry for four years. I support myself working as a server while I also pursue work as an actor in Boston. What I love about the industry is the social aspect of providing hospitality: getting to know my customers and talking to new people all day. I also love being active and busy all day when I’m at work.
Living off tips can also be unpredictable because your income depends on many factors. Which shift you get changes your income, and there is always a calculation about whether to switch shifts with others based on what you can make. At one restaurant I worked at, servers had to pay $100 per set for our uniforms and we were forced to dry-clean our shirts and aprons before every shift. Then I might make only $30 in tips on a lunch shift and end up losing money. The whole system of tipping is taboo to talk about with customers, so I don’t feel comfortable saying anything if people do the math wrong on their receipt or don’t leave me a tip, but all of this impacts my income.
One of the challenges I have faced as a woman in the restaurant industry is dealing with sexual harassment from customers, coworkers, and management. When a manager flirts with me or a customer tries to give me their phone number, I have to think of a way to say “no” that doesn’t sound like “no,” because my tip could depend on it or my job could even depend on it. I have been told by management in the past that I needed to come to work with a “first date look”—with makeup on and my hair done. In other industries you are told to come to work looking clean and professional. This implies that my appearance is what gets me my tips, and that I didn’t earn them because I’m an experienced server who is good at my job. Situations like this get written off as “just part of the restaurant industry,” but this culture of sexual harassment brings us down to a level like none of us are even worthy of rights or respect at work.
Having One Fair Wage would help me to make financial decisions with a lot more confidence. I budget every month but I have to guess what I’m going to make because I rely on tips for my income. I don’t understand why our industry doesn’t invest in employees with good performance or more experience. One Fair Wage would also help to empower workers when we encounter sexual harassment. If we didn’t depend on tips for our income, we wouldn’t have to worry about risking our tips to stand up for ourselves at work.