Some people think we are in the last decade or two of tipping at restaurants. That’s quite a stretch, given that I don’t know of many restaurants with no-tipping policies—other than the ones helmed by hyperpopular chefs with uberexpensive menu prices.
But I just spent the past two weeks interviewing chefs and industry experts on no-tipping policies for a magazine article, and I heard some pretty compelling facts that lead me to agree. We could, and perhaps should, soon be on the tipless edge.
It will take a few blog posts to say what needs to be said about tipping, but I feel compelled as a writer to synthesize the reality that these industry experts live with.
The server’s employer may technically be the restaurant owner, but with tipping, customers are equally the boss by virtue of their role in paying part of server’s salary. Each table presents a new boss. If that customer boss wants to pinch a cute female server’s rear, oh well. He wields the financial power to do it. Servers often don’t complain to the manager because it’s just part of the territory if they want to get paid well. Does anyone hear “sexual harassment lawsuit” in this?
One restaurant owner told me that going tipless eliminates this type of lawsuit because now the customer no longer has the financial control that can lead to abuse. Servers in tipless restaurants feel empowered to tell the boss about these types of incidents, and this owner does not hesitate to tell customers to knock it off.
Tipping issues also lend to drama in the background and brings out the racist in people who would not otherwise classify themselves that way.
There is no tipping in some European countries. What happens when a European visits a U.S. restaurant? Astute, experienced servers know that they likely won’t get a tip. Thus ensues grumble matches in the background over who will wait on those people. The problem is compounded if the restaurant has a shared-tipping policy as some do. For example, servers may be required to give a certain percentage of their tips to the hostess, busser and runner. If the guest doesn’t leave a tip, the server still has to dole out those percentages to these front-of-the-house co-workers. More understandable grumbling.
It’s not just judgment against foreigners. Certain other demographics are well known among servers to either pay very well or very poorly. One restaurant owner told me that customers like to think they can size up servers pretty well. But the truth is, servers size up customers as soon as they walk in the door. It can bring out the worst in people.
Who can blame servers for the attitudes that arise from having innumerable paying (or non-paying) bosses? It’s a broken system that has never worked well, said some of my sources.
But it’s scary to consider upsetting the whole system. Face it, on Friday and Saturday nights, waiting tables is lucrative, which poses another problem. What about those lucky enough to work just those nights and make off like bandits while it takes others the entire rest of the week of slow nights to make that much money? Again, it’s not ideal.
All that aside, there is one thing that is making the entire restaurant industry willing to ponder going tipless. I will share that in my next blog post.
For now, tell me what you think.