A story that has captured the headlines of most major media outlets recently is New York City restaurateur, Danny Meyer’s decision to end the practice of tipping in his many well-known dining establishments in the city. Unsurprisingly, this caused a bit of an uproar as some people praised him for this decision while others fumed about how this would cause poorer service and lead to higher food prices when dining out at a restaurant. This small decision could eventually gain momentum and cause dining establishments around the country to end an outdated cultural practice here that has been prevalent since the early 1900’s but has been absent in most European countries, Japan, China, and elsewhere.
Both viewpoints hold valid concerns, however, I believe that the overall culture of tipping while helpful to servers, waiters, bartenders, hairdressers in helping them to make a living now is not the best that our society can do for them in the long run. When the minimum wage for tipped workers federally is still an extremely $2.13 per hour, and you have to fight and scrap for tips to make up the difference to crack the $7.25 per hour minimum wage that is in place for non-tipped workers, I believe we have a problem.
More and more U.S. states have taken it upon themselves to raise the minimum wage for both tipped and non-tipped workers, and I applaud those actions. However, eliminating the ‘tipped worker’ minimum wage standard along with the raising the federal wage for both tipped and non-tipped workers to between $15-$20 an hour would be the right and just thing to do. Tipped workers should be able to earn a guaranteed hourly wage that is fair and livable just like every other hard worker in the United States. Yes, with tipping involved, a server and a bartender could make more than $20 an hour especially if they provide great service but that’s not always the case and I can imagine that they could come up short of what they were expecting to make during some hours of their daily shift.
If I were a worker in the service industry, I would rather be paid a $15 or higher wage per hour than have to fight for tips each and every workday. Distribution of tips is not always equal in that not every worker from the dishwasher to the bus boy gets compensated fairly in terms of payment. Cooks and other workers at the back end of the restaurant have to compete with the servers for their tips, which could create an uneasy, and hostile work environment. Also, there are racial and gender biases that come into play as well when it comes to tipping workers that has been a problem in the past and still today.
The argument that by getting rid of tipping, the waiters, bartenders, hairdressers, etc. would then provide mediocre or worse service to their customers is a faulty one. If tipped workers suddenly found themselves making a $15 or $20 minimum wage and had a chance to advance in their business or industry through other incentives like vacation time, health care coverage, sick days off, etc. then they would feel better about their jobs. They would want to provide good service because how much better their employers would be treating them due to the changes in laws and regulations. I have traveled to countries in Europe and the Middle East where there is little to no tipping culture yet the service is still fine. The servers there may not have asked me how my meal was but I got used to it after a while and appreciated that they would let me eat and talk in peace. If I needed something from them, I would just call them over politely as well. I also left them an extra 10% on top of the cost of my meal despite the tip not being mandatory to show my appreciation for their hard work.
Lastly, when the time the bill comes, it’s often a struggle to figure about how much of a percentage out of the total to give the waiter/waitress, whether or not the service charge is already included or not, what is the amount of tax added on to the food, and/or alcohol that was ordered. To me, it’s always been a giant headache to pay the bill at the end of the meal, especially in larger groups. It’s because you end up doing the calculations on your own and you never know how much you’ll be paying in total until the end. I would prefer to have the extra costs of the service and taxes be added onto the costs of the food. This is what type of system that Danny Meyer and others will be implementing in their business. If this change gets implemented on a wide scale, every customer will know exactly what is to be paid at the end of the meal. By the time you sit down and look at the menu, you will know how much everything will cost and how much money you’ll be throwing down to pay without worrying about the added tip and tax.
As it still stands now, the culture of tipping in the United States is heavily entrenched and has been around for over a hundred years now. However, given that some leading restaurant business owners are starting to set their own policies, against using the service/tip charge than maybe a real change is finally going to happen. I believe that these tipped workers in different sectors will be happy with these changes to the industry and will still provide ‘service with a smile.’