Anna Savittieri is an undergraduate student at McGill University in Canada and a young filmmaker. After listening to a Freakonomics episode about the economics of working at a restaurant, she began to look more closely a the politics of the tipped wage. As a political science major, this part was easy. But to bring her thoughts to the masses, she’d have to make her first documentary short. Though she’d done smaller projects before, nothing had taken quite so much time.
Savittieri herself was a restaurant employee – working as a host or bussing tables – though she’d never worked as a waitress or in another position where her salary relied entirely off tips. Despite the struggle of working for $2.13 an hour plus tips, it was hard for Savittieri to find people who were willing to speak openly about their experiences. “Originally the project was intended to be a less academic look and feature a lot more servers and be a lot more personal but it was really hard to get servers to participate,” she says.
Because Canada doesn’t have tipped wage or the same racial politics, Savittieri had to come to the United States to film. She funded the project through a Kickstarter campaign in April 2014.
Despite all the people she spoke with over the course of filming “The Tipping Point,” Savittieri isn’t sure of the best solution. “The wage should not fall below the poverty level and raise people out of poverty,” she says. But tipped wage jobs allow some people – particularly minorities and women – to at least have some form of employment. “There are ways that people make money that are problematic but that’s still how they make a living. Taking that away would have its own issues,” Savittieri says.
-Tove K. Danovich