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Respect: a Little Bit Goes a Long Way

Op-ed

A recent New York Times article, “To Tip, Or Not to Tip” recounts how people are frustrated by being asked to tip at every location, even when they are not being served as seated customers. Many customers at coffee shops or take-out restaurants expressed annoyance at this new expectation, particularly because the tips are now digital. That means the employee can usually see the payment screen in front of them.

But, is to tip or not to tip really about a larger problem?

It’s not about the dollar. It’s about the lack of respect.

Several people in the New York Times article complained that every dollar adds up. That’s true. If I budget $5 a day for coffee five days a week, that’s about $100 a month for coffee. But, if I have to tip a dollar every time, that is about $120 a month for coffee. OK. On a budget, that can really add up! But, those who serve coffee also need to make ends meet. What if I considered getting coffee four days a week, so that the people who serve me, who are also likely on a budget, can earn a living?

Service industry jobs are essential. They are valuable. If we degrade service industry workers, then no one wants to do the jobs. On the flip-side of the problem remains the workers themselves. Those who can afford to go out for coffee, take-out, or other on-the-go amenities should consider the value of those who make that convenience possible. What if everyone who serves take-out never earns a tip? Who will make our food? Who will pack the shelves at our grocery stores? What would we do if nobody served us food at restaurants? How would our lives be different if nobody made our coffee while we drove to work? What if no one collected our garbage or filled up our gas tanks? (I know, I know. This is a NJ/PA thing.)

When we think of essential workers, we think of doctors or police officers, and these are often the people that receive our gratitude. However, essential workers also include the garbage collector, the barista, the fast food worker, and the mailman. The people in these roles are often overlooked, degraded, and disrespected. Yet, their value to society is essential.

Making Fun of Service Jobs: Where the Disrespect Begins

Serving people well is not easy; however, it is critical for a profitable business. Yet, even many teachers mock these jobs, often telling someone they can flip burgers as a type of insult. As a society, we have learned to lack respect for those perceived to be socially or economically below us. This is even true when it comes to teaching as a profession, which is seen as a less-than-desirable job.

When I was younger, I wanted to be a pre-school teacher. The response?

People would say “What, do you want to finger paint for the rest of your life?” While being a teacher may seem very different than a fast food worker, as one requires a college degree and the other doesn’t, the treatment is often the same. Why? Because both are in the service industry. Whether it’s providing a warm cup of coffee or teaching kids how to read and write, both of these jobs are providing something in order to benefit others. So, if these roles make others’ lives easier, why are they so looked down upon?

The main reason for this is due to the economic status that comes with these professions. Fast food workers or baristas often make minimum wage, and, in many states, teachers barely make enough to live above the poverty line. While a degree is not required to serve people food, the job does require manners and decorum, especially at nicer establishments. In both cases, the pay does not accurately reflect the benefit or the skills needed. These roles bring many benefits to society, but their treatment is based solely upon their economic status.

How Should We Determine Who We Value?

In American society, we tend to value people based on their earning power. Therefore, our treatment of others is often based on how much they make because we tend to associate higher-earning jobs with making people “worthy” of our respect. However, we should value all people equally.

Those who make the world better and allow our days to run slightly smoother have just as much value and importance as someone earning an eight-figure salary. Sometimes even more. After a long day of work, we likely appreciate the barista making our coffee far more than an upper-class CEO on the other side of the world.

Sammy Kelner
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Sammy Kelner is a high school junior who is very passionate about politics and social justice issues. She is the founder and president of her school’s Key Club and has a podcast called Politically Blonde. She is also a contributing editor for the Marginalia Review of Books and was awarded a 2021-2022 internship with the Writing College at The Women's Writing Institute. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with friends and family, traveling, and going to the beach.