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July 31, 2014

To Tip Or Not To Tip? That Is The Question.

It’s a given that those of us who have charm and personality (ahem), should have no trouble making fabulous tips as waiters or waitresses. Unless, of course, that four-top who sat for three hours was not amused by your charm and personality and left you a $2 tip. Or that four-top was amused by your charm and personality – and still left you a $2 tip.

The practice of tipping has long been debated in the industry, so controversial that some people formed anti-tipping groups in the 1920s to protest the elitist practice. Nevertheless the practice caught on and the federal government stepped in to set an hourly minimum. The rate is $2.13 an hour, although the states may – and many have set it higher.

Still the practice of tipping rankles some. A year ago, high profile New York City restaurant Sushi Yasuda made headlines when it eliminated tipping altogether (a practice that Black  Star Co-op in Austin instituted earlier). Instead the servers are paid a salary, with benefits. 

Other restaurants, like Chez Panisse, have eliminated tipping but have gone to a straight 17 percent service fee, similar to the gratuity that’s automatically tacked on for parties of six or more. Some restaurants have instituted that policy, but still allow diners to tip on top of that.

But will others follow suit? In all likelihood, no, given that few restaurants have successfully followed either of these models through the years. But the debate goes on as we chronicle here:

Arguments In Favor of Tipping

  • Survey says: Consumers like to tip. Why? We divide the reasons into three types of customers:
    • The nice ones: Feel good rewarding the server and/or like being generous.
    • The nefarious ones: Like being in control, wielding the tip like the blade of a knife – “give me good service or else”.
    • The cheapskate ones: Think they’re getting away with something, by tipping less “because prices are already too high at this place.”
  • A server can make a very good living in tips if he or she is working at a high end/very busy restaurant.
  • Servers have more incentive to treat people right if their tip depends on it.
  • Surveys show that customers tip almost exactly the same whether they like the service or not.
  • If the server isn’t happy with his tips, because of the kind of restaurant, he/she will still have skills to move up in the industry. Restaurants are always looking for good people.

Arguments Against Tipping:

  • The customer can be fickle. One customer’s nonchalance at “Hello, I’m Bob, I’ll be your server”; is another customer’s nails on a blackboard. Bob, no tip for you.
  • A server at a less expensive/non-busy restaurant can make an underwhelming amount of money. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the mean wage is $10.04 an hour.
  • Tipping can be unfair. Some servers complain that a favored waiter or waitress will be given the better tables, and so they’re at a disadvantage right from the start. Some resent tipping out to other employees.
  • From a business perspective, prices would have to be raised significantly to pay a waiter enough to make up for no tipping, not a quarter here and a quarter there. And customers would notice.
  • Sometimes tipping is a grey area. Do we need to reward service people - hair stylists, manicurists, hotel employees - for doing their job? Or can we open a car door without help?  

We’d love to hear from you on the subject. Is tipping going the way of the Dodo bird? And what is a Dodo bird anyway? 


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