The fundamental problem with tipping in restaurants is that employers should be paying their workers, not customers. But the practice of tipping is also grossly unfair, especially to servers in less expensive restaurants as this data reported by Eater show:
In small restaurants where the average bill is around $10 per person, servers earning the federal tipped minimum wage have to wait about four tables an hour in order to make the equivalent of a $15/hr hourly wage, data from FiveThirtyEight shows. That’s assuming a 15 percent tip from tables of two. Meanwhile, servers who work at more expensive establishments can get through their shifts barely serving one table of two an hour (0.2 tables to be precise) and still make close to that amount. That means casual workers have to serve nine times as many tables as fine-dining servers to make a comparable amount.
Furthermore, servers in the less expensive restaurants are disproportionately women and people of color.
Part of the solution to these inequities is higher minimum wages and the elimination of tipping, which some restaurants have attempted with varying degrees of success.
But we might also think of changing some of the norms surrounding tipping. Some of the inequities of tipping could be mitigated if it were customary to tip servers in less expensive restaurants at a higher percentage of the cost of the meal. It’s standard to tip everyone 15%-20% for satisfactory service. But perhaps we should be tipping servers in less expensive restaurants 30% and servers in fine dining establishments 10%-15%.
It is true that service in some higher-end restaurants requires more skill—some knowledge of complicated dishes or the wine list, for instance. But in my experience demonstrations of such skill are more the exception than the rule.
I’m in the habit of tipping 20% across the board, in most cases, regardless of the quality of service. But I’m thinking I should be more generous to the person serving my tacos.