The Mary Kay convention has been gracing Dallas for the last 40 years, and by now the lipsticked ladies have become a staple of the Dallas summer, known for pumping millions into the local economy.
The money just doesn't spill into servers' wallets. Over the decades, the Mary Kay attendees have acquired a reputation for getting severe alligator arms when the tabs are settled at downtown restaurants and, less frequently, bars. Reports of abysmally low tips, no tips at all and cloying non-tip tips leave local servers frustrated and broker than usual.
A bartender at City Tavern, who asked not to give her name, spoke to Unfair Park about the Convention ladies' reputation. Initially hesitant to talk, when hearing the word "Mary Kay," a slow, conspiratorial smile spread across her face and she leaned forward. "So what do you want to know?"
At City Tavern, downtown waiters will often convene for a post-work drink and gripe about the low-tipping Mary Kay customers. "Some of the Mary Kay people are here and really can't afford it, so a lot of them just don't tip," she said. "They leave a lot of makeup samples as tips, which doesn't really work out."
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Mary Kay spokesman Crayton Webb sympathized with the tight budgeted attendees. "Some have just started their businesses," he told CultureMap. "They are coming on their own dime and their own time. They're trying to figure out how to do the seminar and still be economical."
But with their own financial worries, downtown servers are less sympathetic to the cash-strapped attendees. "If you say 'Mary Kay' to anyone that is a server downtown, they'll get so upset," the City Tavern bartender said. "All the servers at the other places come here to hang out, and I hear horror stories every day, all week long."
And it's no small loss for downtown waiters. Some 30,000 people attend the convention, and it lasts from July 16 to August 2. Expected revenue generated by the convention is down, too: Just $32 million is projected for this year, from $49 million last year.
"They leave makeup for everyone, it's not just because I'm a girl. I can't pay rent with makeup," the City Tavern bartender said. "Or sometimes they'll leave little cards that say, 'You made my day!' I also can't pay rent with that. It's not something we look forward to."