An Outback server gets no tip on a $735 takeout order, complains -- and gets fired

 
 
Updated 2/12/2018 1:32 PM
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A huge order came in to an Outback Steakhouse in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, on Wednesday: 25 steaks, 25 chickens and 25 potatoes. The total was $735. Server Tamlynn Yoder, 25, spent most of her shift getting it packaged, making sure it was correct and then carrying it out to the car.

But when the Christian megachurch that ordered it didn't leave a tip, Yoder spoke out in frustration on Facebook -- and promptly lost her job, the Palm Beach Post reported. The firing has reignited a long-fought debate over whether tipping on carryout orders is compulsory -- and how much money a person is expected to leave.

Servers, especially at casual chain restaurants, typically make less than the minimum wage, and the difference is made up by tips. Florida's minimum wage is $8.25 an hour, but the tipped minimum wage is $5.23. Yoder said that because she spent so much time working on the carryout order, she couldn't tend to other tables, and made only $18 in tips that day.

"We take the order over the phone, we put the order together, take payment and then take [the] order to the car," Yoder told the Palm Beach Post. "It's a lot of work, just as much as serving."

When she wasn't tipped for the order, she posted a rant on Facebook without mentioning her employer's name. A friend who saw it told her he would call the church, Christ Fellowship, to ask it to make amends. Instead, Yoder arrived at work the next day to learn that the church had been refunded for its order, and that she had been terminated. A spokeswoman for Outback Steakhouse told the Palm Beach Post that company policy prohibits employees from posting about customers on social media.

The code of etiquette around tipping has evolved over time. For table service in a restaurant, the 10 percent tip that was the average in the 1940s has increased to a standard 20 percent. And it's not your imagination: We're tipping more money, and for more services, than we used to. It's a phenomenon called "tip creep," where social pressure (and services such as Square, which prompt us to leave a buck or two for our coffee when we pay by credit card), encourage us to tip for counter-service interactions where a tip was formerly not compulsory. But those tips are the lifeblood for low-wage service industry workers, whose wages have remained stagnant for decades. (Whether the price of service should be shouldered by the company or the consumer is a whole other debate.)

Many authorities on the subject agree that leaving a tip for takeout is a nice thing to do, but there are mixed messages about whether it is obligatory. The Emily Post Institute, our nation's instruction manual for arbitrating awkward social disputes, says that there is "no obligation" to tip for takeout, but that it's customary to leave "10 percent for extra service (curb delivery) or a large, complicated order," putting the church squarely in the wrong. But other guides to tipping -- including The Washington Post's own -- encourage people to leave 10 to 15 percent on all orders, or at least a few dollars -- a nod to the person like Yoder, who took time away from more lucrative sit-down tables to prepare your order.

As the story went viral, it drew fire from four factions: 1. people outraged that people don't tip on takeout; 2. people outraged that someone would expect a tip for takeout; 3. people who wanted to boycott Outback for firing the server; and 4. people who were eager to call out what they viewed as hypocrisy from the church.

The church told the Palm Beach Post that the lack of tip was an oversight from a church employee who was in a rush to pick up the order, and that the church called Outback to try to get a tip to her -- not to get her fired.

The church posted a comment on its Facebook page: "Thank you all very much for expressing your concerns. We are sorry to hear about this situation and our leaders have been notified about it. We value our local business partners and those who work in their establishments -- many of whom are members of our church -- and it is customary for us to leave a generous tip whenever we pick up a carryout order. They will be looking into what happened in this instance. We are reaching out directly to the people affected."

Yoder said that after the incident, a few families from the church gave her a sum totaling "more than the tip." But she's still out of a job.

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