Tipping in Restaurants Reaches a Tipping Point...Will 2014 Be the Year It's Abolished?

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Photo by Marya
Tipping after meals is no longer as universally accepted as it once was.
Next time you hear a waiter or waitress complain about his or her tips, remember that the United States and Canada have the biggest tippers in the world (but maybe don't tell them that fact, 'cause it probably won't help). In many other countries, service is included in the bill, and tipping is reserved for truly exceptional service. People in the service industry also make higher wages than waiters in the United States, who rely on tips to bring their salaries up to minimum wage.

Lately, though, there's been a lot of talk about abolishing tipping in America altogether. A Slate article from last July called tipping an "abomination." The author, Brian Palmer, wrote, "Tipping is a repugnant custom. It's bad for consumers and terrible for workers. It perpetuates racism. Tipping isn't even good for restaurants, because the legal morass surrounding gratuities results in scores of expensive lawsuits."

He brings up some good points about the practice. So good, in fact, that others are starting to echo his concerns. In September, Pete Wells, restaurant critic for The New York Times, highlighted a number of restaurants that are moving away from tipping and toward surcharges or higher-priced menu items. The money made from these practices would then go toward paying servers a fair wage -- as in, more than $2.13 an hour, the amount many servers make before their "tip credit."

But what about our right as consumers to let service staff know we're pissed by leaving a small tip? How are we supposed to express gratitude if not monetarily? And how are misguided teenagers going to elicit donations after they're stiffed for being gay (but not really)?

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Photo by Sean R
Is 20 percent the norm? Fifteen? Should we tip at all?
As tipping has risen to 20 percent in the last few decades, a greater income division has emerged between the front of house and the kitchen staff. Some restaurants note that all tips are to be split among all employees, but in general, waiters are tipped and line cooks, dishwashers and janitorial staff are not.

An issue arises when restaurant managers ask servers to pool tips to share among the staff though: Servers have been suing restaurants for sharing their hard-earned tips with ineligible staff (i.e. anyone who makes at least minimum wage before tips) and for being forced to clean bathrooms or fold napkins with their tip-able time (since obviously those toilets aren't congratulating their fine work). Most notably, 5,500 bartenders and servers sued Applebee's, claiming that they should be paid at least minimum wage for hours they spent performing non-tip-able duties.

The only way around this is to charge a service fee up front, but this eliminates the tax credit on income from tips. Just last week, the IRS added to the issue by enacting a ruling that an automatic gratuity for large parties must be considered a service charge not a tip. This went into effect January 1, which means that now, restaurants will either have to add the gratuities on to servers' taxable wages or do away with them altogether. Neither option is great for the restaurant or the servers, but the group at your next birthday party will be pleased.

So why the recent re-examination of tipping anyway? Well, tipping isn't a longstanding American custom. In fact, we picked it up from the Europeans when we started going on fancy vacations to Paris and Rome in the 1800s. Tipping in the United States initially faced a lot of backlash from patrons who felt it was akin to bribing staff for decent service. Eventually, as we all know, Americans came around. And now we tip, on average, 20 percent of the post-tax total.

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19 comments
MarkinTex
MarkinTex

Having waited tables in college, I used to be what I thought was a very generous server - 20% post-tax. But in the last 5 years or so, I have come across a lot of blogs by waiters (eg. The Bitchy Waiter) that insist 20% should be the bare minimum, with 25% for good service. They do this as they complain they should not be expected to provide diners with honest recommendations of which dishes are the kitchen's strong suit, and as they complain about diners who don't just eat quickly and run so they can turn the table. It's left a bad taste in my mouth, seems waiters these days have a very strong sense of entitlement, and overtippers like me probably enabled that. If we don't start pushing back, pretty soon they will be saying that 25% should be the bare minimum for doing their job adequately. That's why I have gone back to a standard rate of 15% pretax, but will go up to 20% for exceptional service.

James Hoang
James Hoang

No. Tipping encourages good service. It's positive reinforcement. My rule has always been 0% awful, 10 for trying, 15 avg/good, 20 excellent, 30 exceptional. Generally, most are 15-20. Tipping is courteous and rewards your servers, but it should never be an entitlement for those that suck!

paval
paval

I like the mix you see in some countries of Europe. Waiters earn a salary for their work (which includes carrying dirty dishes, clean floors if necessary, take out trash, etc.), as do all others in the restaurant. Then diners give a little recognition for the service of about 5-10%. This tips are pooled and divided between the waiters, the bartenders, the kitchen and runners/busboys. Because a good service is a result of properly executed team work, it is only fair to include the kitchen and other Back of the house personnel in the tip pool (where I worked the kitchen and BOH would get 20% of the daily tip pool).

With the current model, waiters:

- are dependent also on management to make a successful place that allows them to live from it

- waiters rush you off their tables asap so they can turn over the table and milk the next diners for tips

- restaurants use diners to pay the wages of service personnel

- waiters go to the extent of brown nosing in order to get good tips

- the profession of service has turned into a pool of part timers, good for nothings, etc.mixed in with people that still take their job serious and have to endure the lack of recognition that working in service entails.

- are often idle because the restaurant has much more reason to have a lot of staff as they do not pay for them almost anything. Less staff would keep the personnel on their toes, allow owners to pay more, allow for better control of the staff by management, and the staff would have to earn their additional tips by taking customers serious and treating them respectfully and not as a cash cow. 


Ideally I try to enjoy the few times a year I go out to eat. I do not want twenty people swirling around my table, do not want to be brown nosed by an overeager or desperate waiter, do not want to feel sorry for a waiters because they are trying to do the best they can, but have an impending payment to do before the car gets impounded or alike and finally do not want to be chased off my table as soon as I put the last bite into my mouth and the fork on the table.

gossamersixteen
gossamersixteen topcommenter

At the very least; just double the tax.  If math is your issue, that's about 17%; 20% is 1/5th your bill if you have a better sense for math. I'm not sure why certain people don't tip, probably because it's not mandatory and they're just plain greedy (typical Republican).

Jimi Austin
Jimi Austin

It's your money, give to whoever you want. If you're making minimum wage or above though, don't expect it. I'm looking at you Starbucks, Sonic, and Subway.

Vianello
Vianello

"today’s service economy is in many ways like the Edwardian-era economy in which a small number of wealthy people employed a large number of servants — except that we tend to outsource the service, relying on restaurants and cleaning services instead of cooks and maids. And our outsourced servants are, he notes, arguably paid and treated worse than the in-house servants of the past, even in absolute terms — let alone relative to per capita GDP."


Thought that was an interesting thought from David Cay Johnston, especially after watching last night's season opener of Downton Abbey.

erichenao
erichenao

If you got a smart phone, those math problems at the end of the meal are easily solved with a simple app. And there are hundreds to choose from. Honestly I've been paying more than 15% these days, mostly because I KNOW about the wages that waitstaff get. Personally, i'm all for the price to be included into the meal. And even if they don't do that and decide to pay waiters minimum wage and it does increase the overall cost of going out, i'm for it. If you can't afford to pay it, then you might want to revisit the reason you're going out in the first place.

hlewis9
hlewis9

There are actually multiple minimum wages and when tips are added into the mix, it becomes more complex.  $7.25/hour is the Federal NON TIPPED Minimum wage rate.  $2.14/hour is the Federal TIPPED minimum wage rate.  I have talked to multiple Houston servers who tell me they get "no paycheck" because of the IRS requiring a report of 8% on all their tickets as tips on $2.14 an hour (the tipped minimum wage rate), though they are tipped more.  Nobody in Houston that is tipped makes $7.25 per hour minimum wage rate, the non-tipped minimum wage rate.  You need to make this clearer in your article.  

Kylejack
Kylejack topcommenter

Restaurants should pay a decent wage and offer benefits. Prices would necessarily increase. The only way it's going to happen is with coordinated pressure, though. Right now organizations that do so are punished in the market for being too expensive.

Anse
Anse

I always tip mainly because I know how crappy a waiter's wages tend to be, and I try always to avoid being "that" asshole. But I feel better about it if I'm in a real fancy joint with waitstaff that is highly trained and knowledgeable about the food. For those few remaining waiters and waitresses where food service is an actual career choice, knowing your stuff and providing that knowledge in a thoughtful and non-intrusive way (as in, knowing when to stop talking and get lost so the diners can get on with their meal) is a real service that is worthy of extra consideration. It's different when you're at a Chili's with a menu that's identical to every other Chili's on earth and the kid serving you is in high school and just trying to make a little gas money. I tip those guys, too, but it would be much better for them and everybody else in the industry if they just got paid a decent wage.

Sam Samson
Sam Samson

The waiter at Chimmy Changas in Deer Park was altering receipts to give himself a few extra dollars. I say 15% is good enough.

Dane Bigner
Dane Bigner

I think there are arguments on both sides. When I was in beverage business, we tipped more than 20% but I know many folks don't even tip 15%.

BobbyFreshpants
BobbyFreshpants

Whilst you're at it, include the price of tax on the tag when shopping retail!

popatop
popatop

@gossamersixteen

I am pretty sure any waiter would tell you that Republicans tip better than Democrats.

Vianello
Vianello

@gossamersixteen 

How dare you! 

We Republicans sponsor the fundraisers when a restaurant employee is injured and has no benefits! We get our pictures taken, get to drink and eat and show off our latest clothes, while the service worker gets a trifle toward his medical bill.

gossamersixteen
gossamersixteen topcommenter

@popatop@gossamersixteenGreedy old people (GOP) tip, haha you must still believe in trickle down economics you naive soul. Republicans in large part why people in service jobs don't have insurance or benefits, profit over people it's the Republican way.  How dare I tell the truth, how dare you be such a ignorant sheep.

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