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I Hate Tipping

I really wish we’d just get rid of tipping in restaurants and go to paying servers an actual, living wage. I haven’t been a fan of the practice ever since I went to other countries where tipping isn’t the norm or isn’t the main source of income and saw that it’s something that actually works. And I just got thinking about it more today because of this article from Slate.

As an aside, I’ve often been informed that our service is superior in America because our servers have to hustle for tips. Having eaten out in Japan (no tipping), Germany, Australia, and England (places where tipping happens but is not the primary source of income), my totally anecdotal experience says: not really. I’ve had both good service and bad service in every country in which I’ve ever had a meal. I’ve had courteous servers and rude ones, dedicated servers and ones who obviously could not give less of a shit. The only true difference I’ve noticed is the pacing of the meal varies quite a bit outside of America. And when I mentioned that, I was informed by my German coworkers that it has nothing to do with servers not hustling. They just think Americans are fucking mental (I’m paraphrasing here) for making our meals as short and fast as we do. So there’s that.

Anyway, I’ve now had a waitress as a housemate for nearly half a year, and that’s only served to increase my complete dislike for the way we deal with tipping in America. Here’s why I don’t like it:

1) It makes budgeting very difficult for the people who have to live on tips. With no set hourly wage (beyond the laughable tipped employee minimum that is generally under or way under $5/hour) servers don’t know exactly how much money they’re going to bring in on a given day, let alone a given week or month. If you bring in enough that any fluctuations are just gravy, that’s probably not so bad. But I get the distinct impression that’s not the case across the board.

1a) As a side note, since servers are paid so little hourly, that makes it relatively low cost for managers to overstaff their servers, which means that each server has fewer tables, gets fewer tips, makes less money. So it may be good for you because you’re the server’s only table so she’s very attentive, but it sucks a lot for your waitress.

2) It punishes servers for things outside their control. Okay, sure, if you see your server ignoring your empty iced tea glasses for twenty minutes while he stands by the kitchen and texts his friends, I suppose that’s fair enough. But I’ve seen servers get shorted on tips because the food came out slowly (generally the kitchen’s fault), because a hamburger/steak/etc wasn’t cooked to the desired degree (also quite possibly the kitchen’s fault), or because the server was slow because she was trying to run the entire floor herself (likely the manager’s fault for not scheduling properly). Which functionally means the server is getting screwed out of money for mistakes made by someone who is paid hourly wages or a salary. That feels profoundly unfair to me.

3) People just don’t tip enough, period. It appalls me that today, in 2013, there are still people who think it’s acceptable to go to a restaurant if they can pay for their meal but not for the tip. There is no excuse for that. But on the other hand, it would be wonderful if all prices just automatically included a decent tip (hm, like a service charge!) so you knew exactly how much you’d be paying before you went into a meal.

4) I don’t buy that it makes service better or motivates servers. If nothing else, if your server has busted their ass and still gotten fucked out of a couple of tips by a misbehaving kitchen or stingy diners, I would be seriously shocked if they felt any motivation to hustle after that. Which will then just perpetuate a viscious cycle of bad service and bad tips and bad service and bad tips.

5) It does something weird to the power dynamic. The server is employed by the restaurant owner. They should be getting paid the majority of their wages by the restaurant owner. By having them work for tips, in a way that puts the server in a position of being more employed by the customers than by the owner. Which puts them in an incredibly bad position, say, if a customer asks them to break the restaurant rules. Maintain the rules and piss off the customer and then get a bad tip? Or break the rules, maybe get a good tip, but risk being fired or causing trouble for your employer? Yikes.

6) Basically, what that article said about tip disparities along lines of gender, race, etc. It’s shitty and unfair to put someone’s livelihood in the hands of people who might be on a power trip or let their personal prejudices determine how far they’ll open their wallets. At least when you decide you’re going to be an artist, unless you’re totally blind you go in under the full knowledge you’ll be depending upon the kindness of strangers. Servers are supposedly people with regular jobs. (And often, hah, they are artists trying to supplement their kindness of strangers income with more kindness of strangers income. Awesome.)

7) Frankly, I think it sucks for consumers as well. While I like the feeling of leaving a big tip and hoping I’ve made someone’s day, you know what I don’t like? Feeling horrible and guilty about all the assholes that tip like shit. Particularly if I’m in a big party. I’ve been forced to make up for what I feel is the stinginess of friends and acquaintances more times than I’d like to recall.

For fuck’s sake, just pay these people a living wage and let me eat my hamburger without wondering if my server is going to make enough money tonight to justify the gas he spent to get to the restaurant.

(Until then, I’m still going to keep tipping 20% minimum. It makes the math easier.)

Originally published at The sound and nerdery of Rachael Acks. You can comment here or there.


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 16th, 2013 04:00 pm (UTC)
I've heard somewhere that the US treats people in any kind of service position very differently than other countries. We expect them to bend over backwards for customers, and in Europe there is more of a presumed equal dynamic. I don't know. That's what somebody or other on livejournal who lived in the UK told m.

I've heard it argued that paying servers a living wage would cause food prices to go up, and I don't really understand this argument, because why is that so terrible? Presuming they go up by around 15-20%, the amount we ought to be tipping anyway, it shouldn't make a very big difference, should it? Except people won't be able to go and decide, oops, they ordered more than they should've, and don't have enough money to leave a tip, so oh well. I've really seen the last one brought up, in thequestionclub. And when people argued that you shouldn't be going to restaurants where tipping is expected if you can't afford to tip, the person called everybody classist. The irony and hypocrisy made many heads explode.

So, yes. I'm all in favor of just increasing restaurant costs by enough to pay servers a living wage, and doing away with the tipping practice as anything other than an above and beyond reward for being awesome.
Aug. 16th, 2013 04:24 pm (UTC)
Paying a living wage wouldn't even make food prices that much I think, because the cost gets spread out across all customers, who then don't have to tip. Say you pay your servers $20 per hour, which would be a $18/hour raise basically. Let's say a server will have 5-8 tables in an hour if it's a pretty busy time. You'd basically need to charge each table between $2.25 and $3.60 more to recoup that cost. Which I would assume is less than they would be tipping. Now I imagine that the service charge would be higher since there are slow times and maybe the owner wants to be even more awesome and actually offer health insurance, but I would bet you anything it would end up costing less in the long run. Hell, even if the restaurant just added a flat 18% service charge to the bill and passing that directly along, the only customers it would screw would be the lousy tippers.

Though who knows maybe my math is off or I'm missing something.

Hm. I wonder if that would also increase tax revenue because then all wages would definitely be reported...

Japan is actually crazier about customer device than we are, I think. But then again, I think the customers tend to be more polite as well? (Guessing, here.) And they don't work for tips and it's a very cultural thing.
Aug. 25th, 2013 04:47 pm (UTC)
I think the problem is assuming anyone who doesn't tip over 18% is a lousy tipper. That's tip creep.

From what I recall when I was a kid, 10% was minimum, 15% was a decent tip, and 20% was a very good tip. Now, prices might have gone up, but the percentage of tipping should not have risen from that - but yet it has, if 18% can be considered minimum.

But the mathematical factor you're also not considering is slow eaters.

Let's suppose someone is on a date or out to eat with a friend. Let's say, to make it a nice even number, dinner for two is $30, including drinks.

A ten percent - minimum unless the waitress actively slaps you in the face or spits in your food - would be $3.00.
A fifteen percent - normal - would be $4.50

Your proposed charge is 2.25-3.60 an hour.

Now, if the date lasted only an hour, this hypothetical couple is ahead of the game.

But if the date lasts two hours, they are behind the game - two hour costs being between 4.50 and 7.20.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )

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