This is the time of year when I try to remind patrons of restaurants and coffee shops to tip generously, in the spirt of the season. I want us to tip well all year long, of course, but December can pack a special wallop of motivation for people whipping out their charge cards in celebration of the Christ Child.
Or so I want to believe.
This year, we're in the throes of a pandemic, and so the message of the season is less jolly. Coronavirus-related deaths are on the rise pretty much everywhere, and unless you have to go out to work, we're all safer if you stay home and limit your in-person contact to the people already putting up with you. However, there will always be those people who are special in their own minds and therefore feel entitled to put others at risk. As NPR reported in September, a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that "adults who had contracted COVID-19 were twice as likely as virus-free adults to have recently dined at a restaurant."
That was before this post-Thanksgiving spike.
How I quibble.
Anyway, if you're insisting on eating in a restaurant, regardless of the significant risks, there's at least one thing we'd like you not to do: Don't ask the women waiting on you to remove their face masks to determine their tips.
You may think I'm making this situation up. Who would do that, right? How I wish I were you, or at least the me I used to be before I heard Sunday's NPR story about a study titled Take Off Your Mask So I Know How Much to Tip You.
The title is a direct quote from a male customer. Apparently, the one thing even COVID can't kill is misogyny.
Count me surprised, say so few women living in this century.
The study is by One Fair Wage, and isn't it nice when the name of an organization makes clear its mission? Two quick stats, from its survey of about 1,600 restaurant workers in New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C.:
— 80 percent of servers are seeing a decline in tips.
— 40 percent report an increase in sexual harassment from customers.
"We were really shocked with how horrific the situation truly is," Saru Jayaraman, president of One Fair Wage, told NPR. "But I think the most horrific thing, that honestly all of us who are involved in the study were all blown away by, was the huge increase in hostility and sexual harassment."
And this: "Women across the country who work in restaurants are being asked to remove their masks so that male customers can judge their looks and therefore their tips on that basis."
Never have I been more certain that you already know what I'm thinking.
It is an ongoing tragedy that restaurants in the United States are allowed to pay tipped employees as little as $2.13 an hour. Only seven states have banned this practice: Alaska, California, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, Oregon and Washington.
Not remotely coincidentally, One Fair Wage reports that tipped workers in those seven states say they experience half the rate of sexual harassment.
Once again, I quote the advice of my mother, Janey Schultz, to her three young daughters: "Don't marry him until you see how he treats the waitress." What she meant was how we treat the people we're allowed to mistreat is the measure of who we are.
Aside from her expectation that we would all be heterosexual, her warning holds. Most of us have known at least one of those men who feel free to inflict their insecurities on women paid to put up with them. If we see it happen, we are called to speak out.
As the Rev. William Sloane Coffin put it, "Not to take sides is effectively to weigh in on the side of the stronger."
For additional instruction, see: Jesus.
One more thing: For those who, every December, hitch their Christian faith to the design of the Starbucks holiday cup, the message remains the same.
If you want to put the Christ in Christmas, leave a bigger tip.
Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and professional in residence at Kent State University's school of journalism. She is the author of two non-fiction books, including ...and His Lovely Wife, which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. She is also the author of The New York Times bestselling novel, The Daughters of Erietown. To find out more about Connie Schultz (firstname.lastname@example.org) and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.