Tipping Forward…

03 Apr

The New Republic has a piece about a potential movement away from tipping in restaurants.

It’s too soon to know whether The Public Option, a new brewpub set to open in D.C. by early fall, will serve good beer, but it does promise patrons a less awkward experience than its competitors: Customers won’t have to fret over how much money to add to the bill, because waiters won’t accept tips. The Public Option may be part of a trend: Earlier this month, Manhattan’s Restaurant Riki joined a growing list of New York restaurants that don’t take tips. The Public Option’s founder says he hopes the no-tipping policy will encourage a better dynamic among waiters, kitchen staff and customers.

I’ve never found tipping all that awkward. It’s basic math. I usually always tipped 20 percent of the bill. If the service is awful, I’ll usually speak with the manager rather the stiff and leave. Wait staff are often blamed for anything that goes wrong with a meal, when it’s sometimes rarely their fault. If the owner decides to save money by having one waitress handle the entire lunch rush, she’s being set up to fail. She is stressed for the entire shift and winds up making less than she would if she had help. Sure, sometimes waiters suck — the one thing that irks me is when a waiter won’t just admit that they just forgot to put in my table’s order, which is why the meal is so delayed, but the manager deserves to know in order to improve performance. Once, some friends took my wife and I to a favorite local spot and the service was so bad, they were clearly embarrassed for having suggested the place. I explained this calmly to the manager, who wisely didn’t want to lose regular customers, and she was apologetic and comped a round of drinks. I don’t only do this for freebies, though, or to scream and moan. I just value open communication.

Neither the New Republic article nor the one about Restaurant Riki in Manhattan actually mention what the wait staff will make in a no-tipping structure. Legally, it would have to be at least minimum wage, but that’s far less than what a good waitress of waiter could earn. Riki has raised its prices about 15 percent, which would still factor out to less than most wait staff make in tips, and that’s allowing for a direct line from the price increase to the labor compensation.

When I was in Europe, I noticed that tipping is not required because waiters earn a living wage, but interestingly enough, the prices — even in Paris — were about the same as what you’d pay at a similar restaurant in a major U.S. city, and even allowing for the exchange rate, overall meals were cheaper.

I do agree with The New Republic‘s larger point about the bias in tipping. I’ve witnessed it myself and I find it odious when a guy gives an attractive young woman a 50% tip for service equal to what a middle-aged, less conventionally attractive woman provided but in her case, he begrudgingly gave he 15%.

I rarely tip extravagant amounts for this reason. I have when waiters have gone truly above and beyond. I recall truly great and attentive service at my wife’s birthday dinner a few years ago. Those can be tough for waiters because people linger for a while and demand a lot of attention.


Posted by on April 3, 2014 in Social Commentary


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3 responses to “Tipping Forward…

  1. observeratlarge

    April 3, 2014 at 9:23 am

    I do think it will be hard to break the tipping habit, because there are people who always want to get over and they think by tipping generously they’ll get better service. And they generally do.

    I don’t disagree with tipping for exceptional service, but I do think it’s reprehensible for employers to take the attitude wait staff should earn their livings with tips. There is just no guarantee. I have seen working people tip well, and professionals who made good money and should know better leave paltry sums. They should pay their staff a living wage and factor it into the cost of the meal.

    I worked a short period of time as a waitress the summer I graduated from college. The amount I made in tips was less than pathetic, every thing that went wrong was blamed on the service staff. Including that the AC didn’t work reliably the entire summer, and we had customers who objected to the personalities of the owners. In Indiana then, our hourly wage was 1/2 minimum wage.

    I also didn’t have a good personality for a waitress. Good looking enough, but I am just not the flirtatious, chatty type that makes good tips. An interesting experience, though. Everybody should do it once, then they might tip better.

    • Adriana Pena

      April 29, 2014 at 4:20 pm

      Tipping is left over from the old European custom of paying female servants next to nothing, letting them make up the difference through prostitution. That’s why I dislike it. But until food business stop paying starvation wages I will tip.

      I remember how theSpanish Dictator Primo de Rivera tried to abolish tips as they were in his opinion “contrary to human dignity”

      • observeratlarge

        April 30, 2014 at 11:28 am

        “Contary to human dignity” — that’s exactly right. And a way to continue the practice of indentured servitude.


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