The NY Times reports that six waiters at Jing Fong, the dim sum palace in Chinatown, have sued the restaurant over their tips, claiming that the money is actually going towards paying the dim sum cart ladies. Plus, the 35% service charge that Jing Fong charges for parties over 30 has also not made it back to the wait staff. Tips make up the bulk of servers' wages (even Times food critic Frank Bruni seemed to think tips under 15% were terrible when he moonlighted as a waiter for a week) and the article points out that NY State law allows waiters to be paid under the $6.75 minimum wage, but they must keep all their tip money "though it can be redistributed among the waiters." Jing Fong denies the charges, saying their workers (waiters and dim sum ladies alike) get a base salary plus tips; owner Ming Lam says, "Our way of practice is 100 percent legal, otherwise my attorney wouldn't let me do it." That's a good one!
Leaving a tip is an interesting thing in Chinese culture - some people leave smaller tips in line with 10% (whereas a server at a restaurant most anywhere else would sneer at that) but the reason may be that tips aren't left in China. Have you noticed a different dynamic with tipping at Chinatown restaurants? And since we know it'll come, let's just get "Tipping is not a city in China" out of the way.
Photograph from Adam Kuban on Flickr