Waitress' One Cent Pay Check Sparks Viral Debate Over U.S. Tipping Culture

A server's display of her low pay checks has split opinion online and caused debate over the usefulness of tipping culture after going viral.

Nashville server Liny, @lvndsmac, took to TikTok to show her last three pay checks she received over the previous six weeks. Each one was notably low, with one paying just $0.01, and the others containing nothing at all.

"Life of a server. This is six weeks of 'pay.' Tip your servers," she wrote on-screen. The video has gained over 1.9 million views.

Despite the video showing such low wages, and shocking many online, this doesn't actually mean Liny worked for just that money. Instead, most states across the U.S. use a tip credit system, which requires restaurants to top up their wage to reach the hourly minimum if their tips don't reach it.

In Tennessee, where Liny works, employers follow the federal minimum wage which is $7.25. Restaurants are required to pay $2.13 of that as a "cash wage," and the rest if the server doesn't make it in tips.

Thus, Liny's low pay checks mean she earned at least minimum wage in tips, while taxes on those tips are automatically taken from the cash wage.

Liny confirmed that this was the case in response to comments on the video, but it didn't stop an ongoing debate over tipping culture in the comments.

An overwhelming influx of comments disagreed with the entire premise of tipping culture, which is commonplace in the U.S. Instead, many felt it should be down to restaurants to pay the wages of its servers rather than customers.

"I always tip, but restaurants need to pay you guys," commented one user.

"Tipping culture is trash. Blame these corporations for not paying you," wrote another.

"It's not my job to pay your bills, I got my own to pay," notes a TikTok viewer.

The idea of a non-tipping system is different from what is the norm across the U.S., but many other countries across the world already follow it. In many European countries, the protocol is that servers receive a regular wage directly from the employer, and customers tip simply as an extra if they want to.

In many cases, restaurants add a service charge to the bill.

For some though, there are concerns about restaurants upping menu prices hugely to cover paying for full wages, but it's not necessarily true. In the past, no-tipping restaurants have claimed to only increase prices by around what customers would have tipped anyway.

According to Eater, non-tipping restaurants in the Union Square Hospitality Group, needed to raise their menu prices by 21-25 percent, but most tipped 15-20 percent, meaning customers paid around five percent more than what they did previously.

One sports bar owner claimed online that raising menu prices to pay wages could actually result in a lower bill for customers.

"To make up for additional wages the prices need to go up about 15 percent to offset the additional cost. Interestingly this is less that most people tip, so food at a restaurant could actually cost the consumer less when the tip is included in the total cost to the customer," he analyzed.

As noted by others in response to the viral video though, tipping culture often means servers can make considerably more money in tips than a regular salary, especially in busy restaurants, just like Liny did.

"I've easily made $4,400 a month being a server. Don't let those empty checks fool you if you're serving and making so much more than you get as an hourly rate," wrote one user.

"She got '0' because she made more money in tips than what they pay, that's how it goes. So her showing her checks saying to tip is misleading," added another.

Some were left offended by the TikTok user's request to tip waiters, knowing that she made more than minimum wage with her tips already. However, others felt it was simply a reminder that getting a comfortable wage depends on those tips for servers.

"These comments saying they refuse to ever tip and still complain about the labor shortage, like it isn't because people aren't paid enough to deal with your BS," wrote one user.

Research by Black Box Intelligence and Snagajob found low wages to be one of the main causes for restaurant workers deciding to quit, after August saw record high numbers of workers quitting, especially in customer-facing roles.

Newsweek has contacted Liny for comment.

Pack check and waitress
Left: Stock image of a pay check. Right: Stock image of a waitress. Getty Images