Last week, the influential restaurateur Danny Meyer announced plans to eliminate tipping at his 13 restaurants and raise prices sufficiently to cover the cost of paying wait staff a fair wage. Meyer is the owner of some of New York’s most celebrated restaurants including Gramercy Tavern and the Modern at the Museum of Modern Art, so he is well-positioned to influence others in the business.
I hope Meyer’s crusade succeeds because tipping, at least to the extent it is practiced here in the U.S. is a pointless practice that has long allowed restaurants to get away with paying substandard wages. There are a host of fairness issues surrounding tipping. Many people don’t tip at all and whether we tip or not and how much is often influenced by racism, sexism, that attractiveness of the server, how much the diner has had to drink,etc.
in theory, tipping is supposed to motivate better service. But tipping practice is so variable that I doubt it influences the quality of service. Some people make minor adjustments in their tip depending on service while others make major adjustments, while others, like me for instance, tip a straight percentage regardless of service. But wait staff have no way of knowing ahead of time how their service will influence their tip. Given this uncertainty there is little incentive for wait staff to up their game. Under conditions of uncertainty they are better off just turning over as many tables as possible in hopes of getting more customers inclined to tip generously.
I seldom modify my tip based on the quality of service. I don’t feel like punishing a low-income worker because they mixed up an order or were slow getting me the check. And I’m not going to hold the waiter responsible for a slow kitchen over which they have no control. The quality of a dining experience is not wholly controlled by the waiter in any case. I see no reason why front-of-the- house staff deserve tips while cooks slaving away in the kitchen do not. If the cooks are not doing their job, your experience will be poor regardless of the service.
Our tipping culture is irrational. Why do we tip the bellhop, but not the clerk at the reception desk? Why do we tip the hairdresser but not the mechanic and the waitress but not the (sometimes) helpful staff at Home Depot?
I have no idea if this minor trend toward no tips will catch on and if it will in fact raise the wages of restaurant workers. But it is high time all restaurant workers earned a fair and predictable wage.