Maybe We Should Quit Tipping Our Front-End Staff Altogether

Categories: Food News

Waiter Flickr.jpg
Should we ditch tips?
First, let's slow down. Every time I write about the service industry, I catch the ire of bartenders and waitstaff who want me tarred and feathered for my thoughts on issues like bottle popping, steak cutting and valet parking. Let's frame this blog post by saying this idea assumes that whatever new system replaces the common tipping convention will ensure all front end staff will be paid what they're used to. What we're trying to examine is how that income is calculated and distributed among a restaurant's staff, and if it's really the best system.

See also:
-Valet Parking Is For Pussies
- No, I Won't Cut My Steak and Tell You if It's Cooked Right. That's Your Kitchen's Job.

I'm prompted by a recent TEDx talk given by Bruce McAdams, a Canadian restaurateur-turned-professor who advocates the end of the North American tipping system that dominates our restaurant culture.

McAdams opens with a salient point. Tipping got started in Europe, but most European countries have long abandoned the system in favor of paying staff a fair wage. It's only in North America that tipping has become such a dominant part of our restaurant economy. And even though the system has been abandoned in other countries, we're still hanging on to some old myths about tipping here in the States.

For instance, do you really tip to reward front-end staff for their services? I'll admit to tipping 20 percent far more often then not. I don't sit at the table and calculate a sliding percentage based on quality of service. Oops, this coffee is a little tepid, let's take it down to 17 percent. McAdams says research indicates I'm in the norm. Most people tip based on an arbitrary number they've set up for themselves, and rarely do they tip outside that value.

McAdams challenges other inconsistencies in the tipping system. Diners tip more on a $50 steak than they do on a $12 salad at a steakhouse, but have they really received more service? A trip to the register, and then to the kitchen to retrieve a meal is the same no matter what the restaurant charges for an item. There are more inconsistencies too.

While you think your big tip ensures big service, the quality of service you get from many in the service industry is based more on their perceptions of you as a diner. Certain ethnic groups are perceived as poor tippers in the industry, and large groups have been proven to be crappy tippers to such a degree that parties of six and more are often charged a certain tip regardless of the service they receive. Ladies, how would you feel if the same practice was applied to you based on sex? Women tip less than men according to McAdams' research, too.

There's more that makes tipping seem like a clunky and archaic income distribution system when you take a closer look.

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85 comments
Graygrrrl
Graygrrrl

A living wage for all people would be awesome, but I don't see it happening anytime soon. That being said, most places add a gratuity to large parties and many people still feel the need to tip on top of that percentage. How would that be different from rewarding a server already earning minimum wage? You can always tip above 15 % if you feel the experience was warranted.

I do agree with the math that people tip more on steaks, etc. than if they spent the same or a bit less on just drinks or appetizers. Why is that? A custom cocktail is worth more than the usual $1 tip you might leave for a beer.

J.W.Tate
J.W.Tate

First thing, if you feel that strongly about something that has a material impact on your finances it would behoove you to start voting with your pocketbook. 

This means either preparing, serving and cleaning up after yourself in the comfort of your own home. The alternative? Find your favorite restaurant, get to know a server who provides a level of service that you're comfortable with and tip in the way that you feel is appropriate. Visit back every couple weeks and ask for the same server. Now you can feel secure in knowing what kind of experience you'll get when you walk in the door and that the 15-20% investment will be justified.  You won't have to do anything extravagant but by fully leveraging your purchasing power with regular visits I can promise you that you'll see better service than a business group on an expense account dropping 25% on a $400+ tab.

Oh yeah, and don't be a royal pain in the ass, that helps too. You have every right in the world to expect a restaurant and its staff to be accommodating as long as you're reasonable.

espinozajoni.je
espinozajoni.je

What happened to $2 a person for lunch and $4 a person for dinner, a time when life was simpler and cheaper.

espinozajoni.je
espinozajoni.je

The best waiters in DFW metro are in one location...have been and always will be...El Fenix downtown. Just serve, no chit chat. Only speak when spoken to first. Years of experience....all items I gladly pay extra.

Waitingforyou12
Waitingforyou12

What would be an appropriate salary for a server? $30k? $45k? Would it be dictated by the type of place your were employed at?

Sara Ashley Mesler
Sara Ashley Mesler

Nope-bartenders can make $400 in just 8 hours- it's extremely rare that most college graduates will make that even after they graduate. In fact, a lot of the people I know stayed in the service industry after they graduated. The cost of dining would have to go up significantly to equal the kind of pay service industry people are making now. And you can't really compare European jobs to here- door to door sales is also considered a legitimate career choice in some areas- and I don't hear anyone trying to pitch that as a good idea.

Al Carpio
Al Carpio

Agreed. Though its easier said than done considering how many people use waiting as fast cash to keep them afloat in between jobs, or school, ect. Then the question becomes how do these restaurants owners adjust? I've known owners of good restaurants who had to put bartenders from $8/ hourly to tip just to stay profitable nevermind having to pay a wait staff a salary on nights where your dead or some event forced you to be dead. I think the high end successful spots would do fine but its the mid level spots trying to build a base and a name that couldn't survive in such a system or may have never tried knowing the addition costs tied to starting up a restaurant in a non-tip environment. Just something I that came to mind.

Jeff Simons
Jeff Simons

Agreed Matthew, when it costs less to go to McDonalds then it does to actually make your dinner at home, something's wrong.

Matthew Vanecek
Matthew Vanecek

I would love to see servers and bartenders paid a living wage, food portion sizes reduced (WTH? Do we really *need* 1Lb burgers??) in favor of quality food, and meal prices adjusted accordingly. The work is hard, and the pay uncertain. Been there, done that.

Dallas Foodie
Dallas Foodie

I posted your story earlier today, and myself and all the commenters agreed!

mk36
mk36

Having been raised in Germany I've always found the tipping system here weird. It makes for a less secure earnings for the server and it makes it harder for the customer to figure out how much they'll be spending (same issue with displaying prices everywhere without tax). Also, trying to figure out how a restaurant splits tips shouldn't be up to me. I usually give 20% base and then go up (rarely down unless it's really bad) depending on the service. However when exactly it switched from 15% to 20% isn't quite clear to me. And in future, will it be 30%???

The salary plus a small tip for appreciation makes more sense to me, but I doubt it'll ever change here.

MattL11
MattL11

Are there any restaurants out there who have done this of their own volition? I certainly haven't been to one.

20YrSvcIndVet
20YrSvcIndVet

Owners would never accept a salary based compensation model for FOH employees. Their return on investment is too great. For example, a good server at an upscale Dallas restaurant could easily ring $3k during a busy 5-6hr weekend shift. So, the owner gets $3k in gross revenue for $12 labor investment plus SS tax? Sounds like a deal. Multiply that by 6 servers per shift and owners can generate $18k in revenue for a couple hundred bucks or so in labor dollars? 

The system is flawed and it's all predicated on the general consensus(made up mostly of people who've never worked in the business) that the service industry isn't a "real job" or that just anyone can do it. The biggest critics of  service industry employees and their resulting dining experiences are those who've never worked in the business.

CitizenKane
CitizenKane

And I bet that 20% norm includes the 8.25% tax...am I right ?

todd
todd

I'm an outside the norm tipper.   Baseline is 20% and the scale slides up or down depending on the level of service.

Scruffygeist
Scruffygeist

I love how service employees are the ONLY ones telling people the norm is 20% now. 

No, it's not. You just want it to be.

SewardsLolly
SewardsLolly

First of all, have you ever worked in the service industry or are you determining your opinions purely from a consumer point of view? I'd like to bet that you have not or you wouldn't make such conclusions.I am a server and have worked in a variety of restaurants across the United States. My biggest issue with you is that you fail to realize that servers are not merely drones, bringing and taking away plates and other items from your table. Although the manual labor aspect of it is about half of the job itself.. It is not the most important part. I know I am crucial to the "experience" of the diner.. And partly because of the knowledge I have had to acquire in this industry.Let's say you want to order a bottle of wine to compliment your dinner AND to your own tastes. Well, sir, I would love to help you. It is my JOB and pleasure to know what bottles we possess, where they come from, what variances in taste from varietal to vintage, and how they compliment the meal.. Which I have also answered your questions about and guided you into the right fit. We are required to have extensive knowledge on an aptitude of food, beverage and wine. It is not just opening and pouring and bringing and taking away and cleaning. It's an "experience". It's a craft. It's a hospitality.Now as a server, I also know a bad experience for a guest can result in the termination of a repeat customer. As it should. That is why it is imperative to reward those who do provide a great service. That is where the initiative lies in the server to provide and the consumer to pay for services rendered. And by the way, some social norms are there for a reason. It's not 15 percent anymore. It has been 20 percent. And if you cannot afford the "experience" in its entirety, the meal and the service, go to a drive thru.

SewardsLolly
SewardsLolly

@espinozajoni.je

Please tell me you don't still do this. The math is pretty easy now.

SewardsLolly
SewardsLolly

@espinozajoni.je

Oh how nice, I'm sure you treat your slaves at home with the same respect as well. "Speak when you are spoken to.. "Are you fucking kidding me?!

MK36
MK36

@Al Carpio How come then that in Europe you find mostly independent and family owned restaurants unlike here where chains dominate? That contradicts your theory that the system would destroy mid or small level spots.


okkaden
okkaden

@SinceYouAsked
Alcoholic drinks usually are not taxed. This method is horrible. Calculating 10, 15 or 20% shouldn't be a difficult task for people old enough to be going out to dinner and paying the bill.

taln.sg
taln.sg

Exactly the probelm with the current system.  The only thing you left out are the managers and often bartenders who steal from the rest of the waitstaff by taking their "share" after the night's take in tips is totalled (and not always honestly - no matter who does it).

And aside from whether the set wages are ethical, its quite common for owners/corps to find ways around even paying the hourly wage they set.

SewardsLolly
SewardsLolly

@Scruffygeist

I was a consumer before I was server. It has been taught to me from other non-servers, like my parents, that 20 percent was the norm now. They used to be 15% people as well. Thirty years ago!! Most people of any class or respect recognize that as well. The industry and craft has evolved and deserves to be rewarded. But then again I guess you need to write about something you know nothing about personally.

ScottsMerkin
ScottsMerkin topcommenter

@laurens0421 why should you expect 20%, just curious, what makes that the number and not 15%?  

taln.sg
taln.sg

There would be sizeable closures among mid-level restaurants here if this were implimented, but would that really be a loss.  There is a glut of mediocre (or worse) establishments that need to be weeded out.  The small and mid size places that were good at both product and service would not only survive, but have a market to thrive in.

Scruffygeist
Scruffygeist

@laurens0421 I know quite well about what I tip. And I'm pretty much an 18-20% tipper. More when it comes to bellboys, taxi drivers, barbers, and housekeepers at hotels. Do you tip housekeeping at a hotel? I'll find it quite amusing if you stiff them, but have an expected tip, which is NOT required at all, to be a certain percentage. 

I also know that when I worked fast food in high school I would've loved getting some tips. And that 20% of what a combo meal cost then was less than 20% of what a combo meal is now. Which means that waiters receive more in tips as food prices respond to inflation, and the extra 5% that is "the norm" is an income boost compared to the cost of living. For which I don't fault anyone, but I'll admit I'm much more likely to tip 20-30% on a $15 bill than I am on my $30 dish--because very rarely has the service been that much more outstanding just because the food costs more. The server at the lower-cost restaurant deserves more in my eyes because of stupid-ass percentage assumptions.

scott.reitz
scott.reitz moderator

@laurens0421 What specifically has changed to warrant a 5 percent increase when price increases on menus have, at least in theory, been giving servers a raise on a regular basis?

SewardsLolly
SewardsLolly

@ScottsMerkin @laurens0421

The base price of living has gone up since 1980. When 15% tips were acceptable. Not only that, but I think there is more awareness now about the way a tip is distributed then has been in the past. Lets say you tip a server $7.50 on a $50 dollar tab. The server has to tip out to bussers and bartenders, based on what the restaurant has decided, around 5% of that tab. So for each 20% tip, the server is actually getting less than 10%.

clevertrousers
clevertrousers

@SewardsLolly IF YOU KNEW ANYTHING ABOUT TIPS IN THE BATHROOM....

oh wait, you do..

Scruffygeist
Scruffygeist

@SewardsLolly You don't read well, do you? 

I DON'T HAVE TO KNOW ABOUT WAITING TABLES. I know about dining. That's it. I also said tips would've been nice when I worked fast food. To spell it out for you, it means not everyone in food gets tips. And it means that the cost of food has gone up proportionally with the costs of everything else in the past 20 years, so a 15%% tip in 1990 is less than a 15%% tip in 2013. I also know that tips are at my discretion. Look up discretion, since you don't even know it's "moot." 

Now tell me why I'm a bad tipper. I'd love to hear it, if you can get past the giant chip on your shoulder and read for comprehension without being an asshole. And if you're that same kind of asshole serving me, you're not getting 15%%, much less 20. 

SewardsLolly
SewardsLolly

@1dailyreader @Scruffygeist @SewardsLolly

Actually, I agree with you on this. I always bring cash back. I never assume. I think it is absolutely rude to ask.

1dailyreader
1dailyreader

@Scruffygeist @SewardsLolly And don't ask me if I need change back when I give the server cash.  Yes, I want my change.  If you think that's all you need for a tip, go ahead and keep it.  I would have left more if you just brought my change.  Asking is very presumptuous.

SewardsLolly
SewardsLolly

@Scruffygeist @laurens0421

Please stop trying to argue something that you know nothing about. I have also worked in fast food, and now a more higher end restaurant. They require some similar aspects, but are still a great juxtaposition when it comes to level of service. IF YOU KNEW ANYTHING ABOUT WAITING TABLES, you would know this point is mute. How many young teenagers do you see working at Al Biernat's or Stephan Pyle's?

Sometimes I forget how generally stupid people like you are.

So presumptuous.

"Oh, I had a summer job washing cars.. I know what it's like to work in a restaurant." - said the clueless man.

And my fault being a server for many years, is I do tend to tip very gratuitously, to everyone. Servers, bell hops, bartenders, valets.. Because I PERSONALLY know what they go through and I find that we all support ourselves since they are many out there who don't recognize that this is a REAL JOB.

taln.sg
taln.sg

The "norm" of 15% didn't change.  The public got lazy and realized it was easier for their lame brains to calculate and even 20%.

However, the tips I leave tend to range from just enough so the jerk who waited on me know I didn't forget, to 40% when the service has been exceptional.

SewardsLolly
SewardsLolly

@BabyArm

I agree with you. As a server, I am also can be the hardest but most patient critic. I cannot stand seeing a server on their phone in front of me when the guests are suffering. Their IS a difference between good service and bad service. Those that have respect for what they do, and those that don't. We are NOT all the same.

And if someone told you to quit bitching and bring me a copy of something, I'd bet it would get under your skin too. Don't you hear how demeaning you sound? If you have never worked in the service industry, it would be extremely difficult to know what it requires to do the job.

SewardsLolly
SewardsLolly

@1dailyreader @okkaden

If their money is so limited, chose your destination accordingly. Order accordingly. 200$ is more than enougj to find a decent meal and include gratuity, presuming the service was worthy. That is the main issue. People want to spend what they don't have, and servers still have to tip out on their total sales regardless of how someone tipped. I understand you want to go out, but why should the server suffer because you don't want to pay for the "whole experience".

BabyArm
BabyArm

I love the default argument from "service industry" people that customers don't appreciate how hard they have it. Time has surely evolved the restaurant service profession. It makes me rejoice when I see my server checking their freakin cell phone for text messages or facebook updates while the enchilada's are getting a suntan under that warming light. Quit bitching and bring me another beer.

SewardsLolly
SewardsLolly

@scott.reitz

Have you ever worked in the service industry? That will be my determining factor of whether or not your opinion holds any clout.

I wouldn't presume to judge a person's vocational worth without having any idea what that job is like to have.

And if you are normally a 20% tipper.. Then why even ask where the 5% came from? I am confused.

1dailyreader
1dailyreader

@okkaden Then you wouldn't make any money if everyone did as you're suggesting.  Some people want to enjoy a night out but have a limited amount of money to spend; you're saying they stay home and then you lose out on your tip.  What if they spend $200.00?  You would rather lose the  (15% tip) plus what ever they add for you your good service?

okkaden
okkaden

@scott.reitz Calculate a 10% tip and multiply it by 2. I know, I know.. it gets really difficult. At this point, I think you'd be better off sitting at home and cooking your own meals and cleaning your own dishes. Then you won't have to worry about tipping anyone!

scott.reitz
scott.reitz moderator

@SewardsLolly How am I ungrateful if I willingly tip 20%% regardless of the service I receive. As a person who dines out nearly every night, and often twice a day, smart professional service is something I think I might appreciate more than the average diner.

And in the age of smart phones the ease of calculating a tip is a pretty soft argument. I'd say 10 percent is easier to calculate than 20. Not that I'm suggesting anyone (not even my Grandmother) tip that low.

Obviously the wine and steak comment was sarcasm...

SewardsLolly
SewardsLolly

@scott.reitz @laurens0421

Also, I like to add consumers are always expecting more. Better products, better service... The industry is changing.

I think if you appreciated the people who make the service industry run or at least had an shred of an idea what is required to do the job as expected by "today's diner".. You wouldn't argue over 5%. I guarantee that.

SewardsLolly
SewardsLolly

@scott.reitz @laurens0421

People have become more aware of the effort and labor that is put into it. Like I stated before, it's not just drone work. It requires a lot of patience, respect, and knowledge. It is a craft worth 20 percent. Most patrons I have waited on have accepted this and appreciate it. Those who are stuck in the past, tip 15%. And frankly, you seem very ungrateful of hard work that many of us go through.

And also, isn't the math a little easier for you to figure out? I find that is mentioned frequently with patrons.

CitizenKane
CitizenKane

@laurens0421 


This reads like Obama math....

ScottsMerkin
ScottsMerkin topcommenter

@laurens0421 the price of living has gone up but so has the food price so 15% is more now that it was in 1980?  Just saying,  Im a 20% tipper but to expect it is rediculous.  And since the rules vary from restaurant to restaurant the diner never knows how many people you have to tip out

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