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Is This the End of Tipping?

Though Ms. Van Duser was mortified, she said she knew she had to quietly sweep away the mess. She needed the tip.

She said she used to make $150 to $300 during an eight-hour shift. In the spring and summer, she said she often made as little as $25. She has since left service work, because she did not feel safe with indoor dining, and has done some contract outreach work for One Fair Wage.

In a recent national study of more than 1,600 workers, conducted by One Fair Wage and the Food Labor Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley, over three-quarters of workers reported “witnessing hostile behavior” from customers who were asked to comply with Covid-19 protocols, more than 40 percent reported a change in the frequency of unwanted sexual comments during the pandemic and over 80 percent reported that their tips had declined.

A national analysis of payments made through the app Square, by Mr. Lynn, showed that the average customer is tipping 1 to 2 percent less on dine-in orders than they did pre-pandemic — but with overall demand for dine-in services down substantially, it’s likely that workers are taking less money home in tips per shift, he said.

In interviews with nearly a dozen service workers, all said they had encountered customers who asked them to take off their masks and show their smiles. Many added that not only do they worry for their health, but they question their sense of self-worth when deciding whether to placate a threatening customer.

“You have a 10-second talk with yourself like, ‘this tab is pretty big, how badly do I want this tip?’” said Francesca Palmisano, 22, a server at a gastropub in Phoenix. “They’re trying to make it sexy like ‘oh yeah are you going to take off your mask for me?’ It makes you question your integrity.”

The impact of the current economic crisis, which some economists have labeled the first “services-led recession,” has been highly concentrated among low-wage workers and especially those in food service. Many white-collar workers have been relatively insulated. An analysis from the Federal Reserve found that unemployment is most likely over 20 percent for workers in the lowest wage quartile, while in the top wage quartile it has dipped lower than 5 percent.

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