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When you get your bill at a restaurant, it's almost an automatic response to calculate the 15 or 20 percent to add to the top as a tip.
“To insure promptitude” — T.I.P., or at least that's the lore behind the practice brought over from Europe during the Civil War. Europe has since abandoned restaurant tipping, but Americans have stuck to it as a way to show appreciation for good service, even if it's an almost required addition to your bill.
But what if restaurants decide to ban tipping? Would they survive such a drastic change in policy?
On banning tipping in restaurants:
Tom Keane: “Restaurants should consider banning tipping, and instead just put in either an increase in prices or a fixed service charge…. It’s kind of an antiquated custom...it was really an aristocratic kind of custom...the aristocrats versus the servants. There was a lot of opposition to the practice when it came over to the United States. Many people decrying it as anti-democratic. The real question now is does it actually even work? We give the tip at the end of the meal, after everything has been done. Either the service has been great or is hasn’t been great. It actually doesn’t function as an incentive.
On the difference between tipped and non-tipped restaurant staff:
Bob Luz: “If you look at the dynamics of an individual who works at the heart of the house and an individual who works at the front of the house, they’re vastly different. Line cooks would not want to work in the front of the house and the front of the house team — whether it’s a bartender or a server — really doesn’t want to work in the back of the house. But together, they work really, really well.”
On minimum wage for tipped employees:
Lisa Mullins: “In Massachusetts, we have one of the highest minimum wages in the country at 8 dollars an hour. And that will start going up on January 1. But Massachusetts is one of the many states that has a separate and much lower base wage for 'tipped employees' such as wait staff in a restaurant. In short, if a waitress in Massachusetts has a job that tips, then her employer must pay her at least $2.63 an hour. That's the lowest tipped wage in New England. If her tips don't bring her salary up to 8 dollars an hour, then her employer has to make up the difference.”
TK: “This is not a minimum wage profession. You will typically see a waiter or a waitress at a good restaurant making at a range around $25 an hour...not even at a fine dining restaurant, just a middle-of-the-road restaurant. It’s actually pretty good wages for a full time position...This is less a discussion about minimum wage and more a discussion about whether or not tips themselves are a great way to compensate.”
On tipping as incentive for good performance:
Bob Luz: “If you think about corporate America, they talk about pay for performance. [Tipping] is actually the best example of paying for performance. Someone walks in, they’re waited on, honorably dealt with and handled, and at the end of the meal we give them some remuneration for that. America has grasped this, enjoys this. They enjoy the interaction with the servers, the servers enjoy the interaction, and they make a very, very good living out of it…. When you give a server a section in a restaurant...it’s like their own piece of real estate. They’re entrepreneurs, if you will.”
TK: “Tips really are not an incentive performance thing. For one thing, the meal I get is as much dependent upon the people at the back of the house...as it is upon my particular server. So why shouldn't those people be also tipped? In fact, we don’t tip them and yet restaurateurs acknowledge that they can do a pretty good job. My argument is that we should actually treat waitstaff the same way we treat all other employees. Treat them as professionals and give them a fixed salary.”
On customer discrimination based on tipping:
TK: “The other thing that’s really unfair about tipping is that it encourages waiters and waitresses to kind of try to figure out who’s going to be a good tipper, and who’s not. And there’s a lot of stereotypes that are out there. You know, the senior citizen who’s only going to tip 10% versus, say, a white middle-aged guy who’s going to tip 20% - 25%...If I were a restaurateur, I really don’t want my staff discriminating amongst people on the basis of the tip. In fact, that sort of becomes the problem here, which is do I really think it’s good to have a system in place that actually has my waiter staff try to treat some customers better than others, trying to figure out who’s going to give the biggest tip.”
- "In truth, waiters will treat you well for the same reason that every other non-tipped worker treats you well: That’s their job and they take pride in their work. If not, just leave a comment on Yelp."
- "Granted, dish prices are only a small factor amongst a slew of others that pique our interest in one locale as opposed to another, but restaurants post their menu outside their door for a reason: to draw in customers based on the excellence and dexterity of their food items, coupled with affordable costs."
This article was originally published on December 16, 2014.
This segment aired on December 16, 2014.
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