Student servers rely on tips to pay the bills

North Dakota allows less than minimum wage for tipped restaurant employees

Student waiter Luke Sosniecki takes diner Margret Fedje’s order on Tuesday at Mamma Maria’s in East Grand Forks. Photo by Jennifer Freise/The Dakota Student.

UND students waiting tables rely heavily on tips instead of wages because of the option available to North Dakota restaurant managers to reduce minimum wage to $4.86 per hour for tipped employees.

UND junior Amber Schuler is one of many college students who works as a server in Grand Forks who doesn’t get paid North Dakota’s normal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.

“I am a server at Olive Garden and make about $4 (an hour) after taxes,” Schuler said.

Schuler makes enough in tips to reach the minimum requirement.

“Tips average between $30 to $100 a shift, or about $12 an hour,” Schuler said. “It depends if I am working lunch or dinner, and how busy the restaurant is.”

According to the North Dakota minimum wage and work conditions summary, employers may apply a tip credit of 33 percent of the minimum wage for tipped employees. This means minimum wage for tipped employees is $4.86 per hour.

It is the employer’s responsibility to maintain written records verifying that tipped employees receive at least the full minimum wage for all hours worked when the direct wage and tips are combined.

“With our servers here, we don’t break up minimum wage by hour, we do it by the whole day that an employee has worked,” general manager of Olive Garden Donald Szutenbach said. “If a server makes at least $7.25 average an hour with tips and the $4.86 an hour, then we don’t have to pay them any extra.”

Szutenbach said that even though the minimum wage for servers in North Dakota is $4.86, it varies for other states.

“Some states only pay servers two something an hour — some pay them $8,” Szutenbach said. “I would say that in our experience (only paying $4.86) isn’t something that happens on a regular basis.”

Schuler said she has never made less than the required average of $7.25 per hour.

“I personally believe that Grand Forks citizens are good tippers,” Schuler said. “And I say that because I have worked at other Olive Gardens, and I have found a much more negative experience in regards to guests.”

Schuler said serving is her only job, but it isn’t always enough to pay for everything she needs — school, car insurance, gas, groceries, rent, clothing and household supplies — however, there are perks.

“Serving is fast cash and a good job for a college student,” Schuler said. “The let downs are getting only $4 an hour, and dealing with rude people. It is a hard job (that’s) not for everyone.”


Schuler said that customers in Grand Forks normally tip well, but there are exceptions.

“We (may) get tables who may be a younger crowd, who may not have a lot of money and may barely leave a tip or nothing at all,” Schuler said. “Canadians are also notorious for not tipping, or ‘not knowing’ to tip.”

UND student Connor Johnson said he tips as frequently as possible, even after poor dining experiences.

“People who do not tip are rude and do not recognize the workings of service employment,” Johnson said. “In many cases that I’ve heard, servers are paid below minimum wage and then the rest is made up in tips. This idea is ludicrous and you cannot depend on external sources for income.”

However, not everyone agrees with Johnson that servers should always be tipped.

“I normally tip 15 percent and then round the total up to the next dollar,” customer Cassandra Barger said. “I don’t feel obligated to, and I don’t tip if the experience is bad. I’ll sometimes even leave a coin with the head down.”

Restaurant-goer Kyle Dupont also agreed with Barger when it comes to tipping.

“As a customer I do tip, and it normally depends on the overall bill and the quality of service provided by the server for how much I tip,” Dupont said. “I’ve had a bad experience where I had to wait on a waitress to finish gossiping before she even greeted us. Overall it took three hours from walking in to leaving, all direct fault from the waitress who was either constantly on her phone or chatting with other employees.”

Schuler said she understands both sides of the argument, and realizes that some people believe that serving is just like any other occupation that is untipped.

“People do not need to tip other services that they are receiving such as the garbage services for the city, or cooks at a restaurant,” Schuler said. “So why tip servers because their employer will not pay them enough or even close to minimum wage? They rather believe that we should get paid enough in our wages like any other job. And I would be happy with that.”

Misti Meads is a staff writer for The Dakota Student. She can be reached at [email protected].