Tipped off: A look at college students’ tipping habits

by Laura Wiersema, News Editor

INDIANOLA, Iowa — Let’s face it: As a college student at a private school, chances are you’re tight on cash. You work a minimum-wage, work-study job only to have most of your paycheck go right back to the institution paying you.

With the little bit you’ve got left, you follow the motto of Tom Haverford from “Parks and Recreation” — treat yo’ self — and enjoy a rare dinner off campus. With a stomach full of wings and a smile on your face, the check arrives and a question arises: How much do you tip?

Though there are no laws in the United States requiring tipping for services, but it’s socially expected. You’re a poor college student after all. Servers can’t expect too much from you. Just keep in mind, those servers may be poor college students sitting next to you in class.

“College students, if they have the money, are usually very good about it,” said sophomore Rachel Riley, a sophomore at the Sports Page Bar & Grill. “But I get it, sometimes you just can’t give more than a little bit.”

But the motto in the Sports Page kitchen is, “If you can’t afford to tip us, don’t go out.”

Working for tips often means employers can pay servers less than minimum wage. Riley works for an hourly wage of $4.35, but she also knows how much of a difference tipping can make.

On a busy Friday night, Riley can work for four hours and make around $100 in tips, equating to $25 per hour, not counting her hourly pay.

As much as she said making tips motivates her to do a good job, she’s not blind to the fact that the tip is often independent of her service.

“Regardless of the job that I do, usually people do it based on their bill,” she said. “As a customer, you notice little things — if your drink is always full, if you never have to ask for an extra napkin.”

It can reflect in what customers leave her.

Riley said she evaluates her performance based on how people tip her. If they tipped her poorly, what could she have done better? Did she do anything wrong? What did she do well to earn a good tip?

“The tips are what I rely on as a waitress,” Riley said.

“I think our generation is used to inflation and understands the struggles.”

That doesn’t mean all college students are that way, however, and not every waitress has the same experience with them either.

Senior Ally Goins is a server at the Hy-Vee Market Grille in Indianola and said students can also be some of the worst tippers. She said that one time, a student left her a penny on a credit card bill.

No stranger to the experience, Goins makes sure she gives her servers more than what they deserve.

“I definitely tip more than the average college kid because I know that waiting tables can be a thankless job and people don’t understand how hard it is unless they’ve done it,” she said.