Are We in The Twilight of Tipping?

Oak Park restaurateurs, maybe you should try it

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By David Hammond

If you've seen Quentin Tarantino's "Reservoir Dogs," you probably remember a discourse lead by Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi) on tipping: 

"All right, if someone deserves a tip, if they really put forth an effort, I'll give them something, a little something extra. But this tipping automatically, it's for the birds. As far as I'm concerned, they're just doing their job."

Tipping is not automatic everywhere. In Britain, they don't tip. In Australia, they don't tip. In lots of places, they don't tip.

In the United States, however, we always tip (even for a cup of coffee at Starbucks). One of the reasons we do that is because restaurants rarely pay servers a living wage: instead, they off-load to customers the burden of paying their employees' wages. As Mr. Pink observes, however, tipping is usually automatic. 

I've received excellent service in Britain, Australia and many other countries where tipping is virtually nonexistent. The whole American practice of tipping to help restaurants cover their costs of doing business is being called into question by renowned New York restaurateur Danny Meyer, who is abolishing tipping at his restaurants. Last week, Meyer sent out a letter to restaurant industry professionals, which included the following sentiments:

Recently, our entire company has been engaged in a robust conversation about how we can provide even more meaningful career opportunities and advancement for our 1,800 employees. It has become increasingly clear to us that a major obstacle in this endeavor is the practice of tipping. 

There are countless laws and regulations that determine which positions in a restaurant may, and may not share in gratuities. We believe hospitality is a team sport, and that it takes an entire team to provide you with the experiences you have come to expect from us. Unfortunately, many of our colleagues—our cooks, reservationists, and dishwashers to name a few—aren't able to share in our guests' generosity, even though their contributions are just as vital to the outcome of your experience at one of our restaurants.

After a thoughtful, company-wide dialogue, I'm proud to let you know that Union Square Hospitality Group will eliminate tipping throughout our family of restaurants. Starting at The Modern in late November, you will no longer find a tip line on your check, and there will be no need to leave additional cash at the table, the coat check, or the bar. Our other New York restaurants will make this change over the course of the next year.

This is a bold, one might almost say revolutionary, stand on the issue of tipping. I would welcome it. I'd be fine with paying a little more, knowing that the gratuity will be shared among all service staff. Not having to calculate the tip will also make it possible to walk away from the table without any potential awkwardness (some of which arises from doing fast math in the head).

One potential downside is that if restaurants add the tip into the meal cost, there could be an unintentional inflationary effect on restaurant prices. General menu prices might rise as the practice of raising prices might be cynically copied by restaurants that neither actually allocate part of a meal's cost to staff nor abolish tipping. They would just let customer continue to tip while they pocket the increased food costs.

I imagine some servers will also have a problem with the no tipping policy because it will mean that they will have to declare – and pay tax – on tips they get.  Most of us pay tax on all our income, so now servers will have to as well.

Nonetheless, I like the idea of never tipping again, though it will undoubtedly take some time for this to approach to ripple throughout the restaurant industry and become a feature of everyday dining. It's about time we started that process.

It should be noted that other restaurants dropped the tipping concept before Meyer did. For instance, Zazies in San Francisco dropped tips and now all employees receive a living wage ($15-20/hour), paid sick leave, fully funded health and dental insurance, paid maternity/paternity leave, and a 401(k) plan."

To Oak Park restaurant owners, if you were to act now, and put Meyer's innovative no tipping policy into action, the likelihood is very high that you would be featured in local and perhaps regional/national news outlets. I say that not because I want to secure some low-cost publicity for you, but because I think it's the right thing to do. Why don't you try it?

 

 

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