Tales From Minnesota 1

You’ll have to forgive the relative brevity of this post — I’m writing it on my desktop, and after years of using my laptop almost exclusively to do my blogging, this feels somehow unnatural. I’ve never liked doing it those few other times I’ve been forced to, but, well, you know, boo hoo. Such a first-world problem, huh? Anyway, this is the first post in a whenever-I-remember-something-cool series about our trip to Minnesota. I promise not to fill it with tales of how amazing our hosts were (because I could do a whole blog of paeans to the Zvans, though that might get old quickly for them), and I’ll try to keep it to the more interesting points.

With Minnesota being so close to Canada not only in temperament, but in general climate, I wasn’t expecting too many culture shock moments. One hit us on the first night out, though, when we went to eat at a pub that serves poutine — Ben and Stephanie’s way of easing us into the trip, and a tasty one at that. The poutine was good, the clubhouse sandwich on rye was amazing, and the coffee-beer hybrid they served from their microbrews was a surprising and epic cap to the meal. So, all around, the first pub-in-Minnesota experience was net positive.

When we were on our way out the door, though, the wait staff that had been waiting on us the whole time approached and asked if he’d did anything wrong — because we had left the tip field blank on the bill, which we’d paid by Visa. He had a kicked puppy dog face on, and while at first I thought maybe he was wheedling for a tip out of some sense that he’d somehow gone above and beyond, I picked up on the cues from Ben and Stephanie that this was out of the ordinary. I quickly made some apologies, called myself a douchebag, and handed him a bill from my wallet — pretty sure it was a twenty, as at that point I don’t think we’d broken any of the bills for our spending money yet. On our way out to the car, Ben explained that wait staff in the States apparently makes LESS than minimum wage. There’s a special hourly rate that businesses have to pay staff that otherwise gets tipped, and most businesses are happy to pay exactly that minimum, with the expectation that they will get 18% gratuity on every single transaction.

That’s right, here in Canada, it’s much different. Minimum wage is minimum wage, and wait staff in places like pubs will make the same as people working at McDonald’s. Tips are generally given in Canada as a way to reward the staff for a good meal and good service, rather than an expectation set by the government as a way of externalizing cost-sinks for businesses. And yet, there are pubs and restaurants throughout Canada. They don’t “go under” just because they have to pay their staff a fair wage. Granted, there are some cases where wait staff will just “phone it in” and won’t do anything to earn any tips, but still, at least they can pay the rent even if they’re just scraping by on the service side of things. I’m seriously surprised that a country as big on keeping money flowing, completely forgets that a higher minimum wage actually benefits everyone in the pyramid, because more wages in the lower-middle class means more money spent on Playstations and fancy clothing and regular trips to have beer at pubs. That’s, thankfully, something Canada seems to have gotten. There’s no discrepancy between tipped places and non-tipped for the minimum wage, and the economy works itself out just fine. No businesses are dying as a result, and nobody’s hurting for cash on the lower tiers of the income scale. Nova Scotia’s minimum wage is $9.20 right now, which is $8.92 USD (yeah, we’re almost on par). In Minnesota, it’s $5.25USD, which is far and away higher than the $2.13/hr USD federally mandated minimum for tipped workers. And the Republicans are slavering to cut it further. Capitalism at its finest.

I can’t emphasize how weird this is to me. I mean, some really fancy sit-down restaurants around here generally expect tips, which go to the chefs or are split amongst all the wait staff, rather than the specific person who got tipped. But I’ve never had anyone chase me on my way out the door because my inattention to the minor culture-difference details may have meant the difference between eating fresh fruit and veggies this week, and eating Kraft Dinner. Which I suppose in that case would be Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. Truly a jarring moment. Maybe not the best way to start the trip, but our benefactors went out of their way to help fix that over the week we spent with them.

More on that, as they say, some other time!

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Tales From Minnesota 1
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21 thoughts on “Tales From Minnesota 1

  1. 1

    That’s the weird thing about American business. They are incredibly quick to complain and whine how their labor costs are “killing them” and making it impossible to survive as a business; that in order to continue paying their workers the outrageous wages that the government and the unions force them to pay they will probably have to cut their labor force.

    But not sell their second house at the lake.

    Had a boss tell me that one time, just after he got back from Florida where he had his “third home.” “Money doesn’t buy happiness” is something that only the wealthy and the Zen Buddhists will say.

    Yes, it is true. Tom Emmer has proposed that the way to boost the economy in Minnesota and restore us to our former greatness is to cut the minimum wage for wait staff, “because with tips they make about 100K.”

    He’s running for governor.

    http://minnesotaindependent.com/58393/gop-linked-punk-rock-ministry-says-executing-gays-is-moral

  2. 3

    Personally, I don’t tip unless the service is very good. Just showing up with my food and coming back later with the check isn’t tip-worthy. If you want a tip, you have to earn it IMO and if you choose to have a job where part of your income is based on tips, you’d better be good at your job. Otherwise, you get what you deserve.

  3. 4

    That truly sickens me. I can’t believe there would be an exception to minimum wage. That’s unreal. And as someone who has worked many years in the food service industry (admittedly here in Canada and not in the states) I never came anywhere close to making 100k with tips. The person who came up with that number must have gotten it from the unicorn who told the leprecauns at the end of the rainbow. Maybe he’ll share his pot of gold with the wait staff and help them get to that magical 100k.
    Ok, rant over now.

  4. 5

    Hmm, one correction, Jason. The U.S. federal minimum wage is now $7.25. Minnesota used to have a minimum wage above the national minimum, but federal law outstripped it. It’s not really relevant for this post, however, as the minimum wage for those tipped is still $2.13.

    Miranda, the idiot Republican candidate for governor who was spouting the $100K claimed to have gotten it from the owner of one of the state’s swankiest restaurants, meaning some servers could make that much. However, when the owner was interviewed, he said that figure was a theoretical amount that some restaurant employees could make if everything worked just right. No one in the restaurant has ever made that much, and the servers were definitely not among the people he was talking about. As I said, this guy’s an idiot.

    Cephus, you’re also an idiot, on a similar scale, if you think all servers are in that job because they have a choice. Additionally, you appear to have missed the point of Jason’s story entirely. Way to go. Care to speculate on what you “deserve” for that?

  5. 6

    That attitude would be acceptable (and the default, in fact) in Canada, but is deplorable in the States. Like I said, the government is allowing businesses to externalize costs onto the patrons — you’re expected to pay for your food, and also for the wait staff’s ability to pay rent and buy food of their own. The problem is not with your attitude but with your government’s ideas of equitable treatment and minimum wage. $2.13 an hour is fucking slave labour, period. I don’t expect a slave to dance for his supper, and neither should you.

  6. 7

    I think I got mixed up with the numbers on that linked article. It claimed that wait staff in Minnesota has a minimum of “between 5.25 and 7.25”, which is fuzzy and strange. Since you’re saying tip-earners are still at the federal minimum, and the high-end of that range sounds like what the current minimum is, I suspect there’s some wacky conflation of numbers to sow confusion in the matter on purpose in that article.

  7. 8

    In Ontario we have a separate minimum wage that applies to employees serving liquor, although the difference between the General minimum wage and the servers minimum wage is less than the entire wage of servers in Minnesota. Servers in Ontario make $1.35 less than the $10.25 minimum wage, or $8.90/hr. This makes them the lowest paid employees in Ontario, making 13% less per hour when compared to our minimum wage.
    Making 70% less than minimum wage like they do in MN is just plain wrong. I always tip min. 10% at a sit-down table service restaurant; next time I find myself cross-border I’ll make sure to make it more like 20%.

  8. 9

    Great note, Jason!

    Imagine if every food service worker in America made this a voting issue? I hate the encouraged culture of apathy in the states. I looked into it, and restaurant failure and bankruptcy rates have been going DOWN in the states and yet the “90%” failure rate” myth is still part of popular culture, thus enabling the owners to go “oh, me, this business is hard!”. At some point, the people suffering against this at the very least have to stop believing the lies, even if they feel are not in a position to fight against them locally.

    http://www.businessweek.com/smallbiz/content/apr2007/sb20070416_296932.htm

  9. 10

    I guess this must also be a Canadian provincial difference, not just a Canada/US difference. Here in (Ottawa) Ontario, the expectation is for a 10-15% tip at any sit down restaurant, unless the service is bad. And, looking at it from that server’s perspective, other than needing the money, it might very well have been a case of taking pride in his work and wanting to understand what he had done wrong to cause the tiplessness.

  10. 12

    It’s not slave labor, they choose to do it. Nobody is stopping them from going out and getting a better-paying job. Slaves don’t have a choice, free Americans (and Canadians) do. If they choose to take poorly-paying jobs, based upon tips, then perform badly in their jobs so that they do not earn said tips, I refuse to feel guilty for not subsidizing their chosen method of compensation.

    Me, I’d never work for tips. That’s my choice.

  11. 14

    I suspect that’s the case, it is very regional. And that’s just the thing — in Canada, the expectation might be there, but that expectation is set by regional social conventions rather than the government. You’re not directly paying the bulk of their salary, even if you DO pay 15% every time you sit down. That’s still less than the 18% gratuity that the government calculated out as being the minimum a person should get.

    And as it stands, pubs don’t generally get tips around here, but restaurants generally do. And if it’s pocket change, it’s still considered above and beyond your normal salary, which is anything but the peanuts they get in the States. That server may well have had a personal pride moment, but it was not JUST a personal pride moment — it was also effectively me robbing him of his expected salary, all because I didn’t know that salary had been externalized from the business by the government. Tips in that case aren’t tips — they’re your core livelihood. If your business has a slow day through no fault of your own, you might not be able to pay rent. If your business has a slow day through no fault of your own, you might have a child that goes hungry. The business can survive those lulls since it makes tons of profit and has a huge safety net, but individual humans are less equipped for that kind of thing. Especially in a country so anti-socialism.

  12. 15

    Here in Australia it is normal to leave a tip only for exceptionally good service. Waiting staff earn sufficient in their base pay that they can afford to patronise the sort of restaurant they work in, not every night, of course, but often enough that they see the job from both sides.

  13. 16

    Cephus: You are very lucky that you have such a choice. I also consider myself very lucky that I have had the abilities and opportunities that have enabled me to have such a choice, and that I have been able to assist my kids to have similar choices. I have no illusions that my success is all due to my own efforts. Many factors are stopping people who work in food service from getting better jobs. How about physical, mental, or psychological disabilities? Or lack of education? Of course, one might argue that this is a person’s choice, but in many cases it is next to impossible to get an education without money, and when it is hard to get money without an education, the vicious circle is obvious.

  14. 17

    Christ you’re a fucking asshole. Jobs that actually pay aren’t exactly in large supply in the U.S. And beyond that there are thousands of reasons that someone might be working in a restaurant. Including reasons that can even end up applying to fucking asshats who don’t like to tip and who choose not to work for tips.

  15. 18

    I am glad you guys had the big fun and absolutely horrified that I was unable to make it. Unfortunately I am still fucking stuck under a mountain of homework, though I seem to be managing to distract myself at Greg’s rather nicely.

    Sock puppetry fucking rules!!!1!111!!!

  16. 19

    While I do wish you were there, “Kermit”, I totally understand the whole “real life” thing. It’s probably going to keep us from very many future cons. It’s all good though… we actually missed out on an opportunity to meet Mike Haubrich as well. There’s a distinct possibility that would have made TWO regrets.

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