More readers chip in:
The tipping debate seems to rear its head somewhere online every year or so now, and I’ve never understood what the big fucking deal is. I’m a former server, bartender, and front-of-house manager; I’ve worked at family restaurants and bars in the Midwest and a tourist trap in New York City (which was probably the most fun job I’ve ever had). My experience is far from exhaustive – there are plenty of people who’ve been in the industry longer and worked at more places in more parts of the country – but I have some idea what I’m talking about, and I am staunchly pro-tipping. Here’s why:
1. I’ve never heard a server complain they weren’t making enough. Whenever I hear some concerned soul expressing anxiety over how servers need to stop getting tipped and be paid a real minimum wage, I’m reminded of the activists who want to stamp out all sex work without asking any sex workers how they feel about it. There were a lot of things that bugged me about waiting tables, but the money I made was never one of them. Yes, you can have a bad shift. Generally speaking, though, my coworkers and I came out making substantially more per hour in tips than we would have getting paid minimum wage. (I will absolutely grant that this may not be the case at every establishment, especially right now – but I would guess that’s more a function of the economy than of tipping itself.)
2. Tipping gives everyone more freedom and flexibility. As you rightly noted, if restaurants have to pay higher hourly wages, they are going to build that additional expense into the cost of the meal. So the customer will still end up spending the money. As a customer, wouldn’t you rather be able to exercise control over where your money goes? With tipping, if you get crappy service, you pay for your food and can leave your server what little or none they deserve. Without tipping, you’re paying for your food and you’re paying a premium for the service, regardless of quality. (Also: If the anti-tipping crowd really thinks all the additional money from raising prices would make its way into servers’ pockets, I think they’re deluding themselves about how businesses work.)
3. Tips are fun!
I never see anyone talk about this, but tips are largely what makes waiting tables fun. It’s a little game – I think I’m doing a good job. How much are they gonna leave me? Tipping encourages upselling, which is good for the business, good for the economy, and, frankly, a plus for diners. (I’ve never seen anyone uncomfortably coerced into ordering dessert or another drink; I have known hundreds of customers who just needed a little nudge and were very glad for it.) And it’s so much fun to pick up the cash or the credit card slip after they leave. Plus, for all the cheap jerks out there, there are also many people who overtip, especially on special occasions. Sure, hypothetically they still could do so if we abolished tipping as a general practice – but in reality, it wouldn’t happen nearly as often.
Waiting tables is a sales business, and salespeople tend to be motivated by commission. Tips are our commission. Why do people want to take that away, just so (1) we can make less money, (2) they can be forced to pay more for bad service, and (3) we can enjoy our jobs less?
Another is less enthusiastic about the practice:
I wish tipping would go away. It would level the playing field in other ways.
Currently, I overtip because I drink water with restaurant meals – no soda, no alcohol, no coffee or tea, no milkshake. So my check is smaller even though I’m in the seat for the same amount of time as a person having a glass of wine with the meal. I feel I shouldn’t shortchange the waitstaff for my abstinence.
The thing is, I’ve noticed some places the tips appear to be dumped into a common container and pooled. This may help reduce fraud and split the money equally, but it doesn’t reward the server who recognizes me and gives good service. Furthermore, it means my more generous tips just subsidize someone else’s cheapness.
Set the price based on what running the restaurant costs. Stop tipping in all but the really high-end restaurants, and consider stopping it there. Tipping in restaurants is kind of like John Oliver’s “America Ball” lottery, where the servers in high-end venues get richer, but servers at all other restaurants don’t receive increases consonant with the cost of living because people refuse to tip generously, can’t afford to tip, or are living so long their ingrained tipping habits result in undertipping. There are also teens who go on group trips – say, a sports clinic at a nearby college – eat someplace where they are waited on, and totally stiff the servers because either they’re poor, short of money or ignorant because they’re used to paying for fast food, where the labor cost is part of the posted prices.
I hope this would mean that places like sandwich shops and bagel stores, which never had tipping but have to pay minimum wage, would stop with the tip jar by the register, too. Delis and doughnut shops never used to do that kind of begging until the minimum wage stagnated and someone decided taking your order was the same as providing table service. I guess that proves I’ve become an old fogey, too, if not a jackass in one respect.
(Photo by Flickr user Lightsight)