I despise the institution of tipping for service.  There’s no practical way to escape it (obviously no decent person will stiff a waiter in the service of a principle), it’s degrading to people who are no more “servants” to me in a restaurant than I am to my students, the “expected” tip has been increasing as a percentage of the tab for no reason (because its a percentage, inflation is automatically covered already), and in some contexts (like New York garages and apartment houses) it’s only slightly above extortion, with a soupçon of positional arms race.  Furthermore, it’s an invitation to tax evasion.

Here’s the beginning of a worthy trend: some high-end restaurants here are just putting a stop to it, and apparently to everyone’s approval.  Now we just need to increase the menu prices 20% and have done with the whole mess.  I like charging extra for checked bags on an airplane; why should people without bags pay to schlep mine across the country?  But having dinner put on your table is not an optional part of dining in a sit-down restaurant.  Roll it all up together and have done with it; let management manage things like salaries, training, and working hours.

[rev 24/X] from the linked (paywall) article:

Citing both pragmatic and philosophical reasons, a small collection of Bay Area restaurateurs are eliminating tipping. Instead of expecting diners to leave a tip, the restaurants will automatically add a 20 percent service charge to all bills — and not accept any additional gratuity beyond the service charge….Rather than relying on tips, the restaurants will compensate staff on merit-based hourly wages and revenue-sharing. It’s a system common abroad….So far, the restaurants’ respective staffs have been largely supportive, according to owners. Camino’s Hopelain estimates that cooks stand to receive an hourly increase of 50 cents to $1, while servers’ pay will remain steady, or perhaps decrease 50 to 75 cents an hour….One major shift will be in reporting tips for tax purposes. Generally speaking, cash tips have a tendency to go unreported among restaurant servers. Once the service charge becomes an official line item on a receipt, people will be accountable. Hoffman [co-owner] said employees at Comal will not see a change in their income if they have been declaring all of their tips.

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.

14 thoughts on “Tipping”

  1. I hate tipping as well. It seems to be a throwback to the old master/serf relationship. Just pay everyone a living wage like every other business. Also, the article is behind a paywall

  2. Well this might be good, if the money is actually fairly distributed. Who is going to be in charge of checking that?

    Of course the current system can be very unfair too, but at least in theory, the waitperson actually gets to keep some of it. How do you know this 20% is actually going where the owner says it will? And are they going to pay the waitstaff the going minimum wage then, not the tipped one? Are people "largely supportive" because they have no choice? Why would someone give themselves a pay cut? I mean, overall in the end you may be right — maybe it will shake out with servers making the same. I'm not so sure though.

  3. I am not fond of tipping either. Most of the economy works adequately with employers setting prices and compensating employees, and so could those that — mostly by tradition — have tipping systems. I would not overlook the tax avoidance element of the persistence of tipping. The rules have tightened up somewhat over time, but there is reason to believe that a lot of tips slip into the underground economy. That is not a good thing.

  4. People over-think tipping, but I fondly recall going to restaurants in France on my honeymoon, and discovering that the prices on the menu were the actual prices one would owe when finished with the mail — none of this adding 15-20 percent for service and another 8.25 percent for sales tax.

  5. “the “expected” tip has been increasing as a percentage of the tab for no reason (because its a percentage, inflation is automatically covered already)”

    Except that the tipped minimum wage has been nominally constant since 1991, so people have recognized that they ought to tip more to make up the difference. Not that I disagree with the rest of your points.

  6. It may be indicative that in private clubs, in which members set things up exactly as they please, tipping is generally not allowed and the servers are salaried.

  7. the waitstaff at some of the highest-end restaurants might not like this very much. i have socialized with a waiter at one of the most expensive restaurants in dallas, texas. his partner owns several fast-food places in the metroplex and suburbs, one of which is managed by my daughter-in-law. the restaurant pays him $15/hour but he brings $150-200,000/year in tips. admittedly, there are few restaurants where this could arise but for those at the top of the heap elimination of tipping would not be welcomed.

    1. Declares it all as taxable income, I hope. I really hate it when $150K guys rip off taxpayers.

      That's the salary of a first chair in a major orchestra. No offense to your friend, but I don't think the best table-waiting in the world requires comparable skills or preparation. I'm OK with your friend's unwelcome…

      1. he declares the statutory 7.5% of his receipts. at $105 for a ribeye a la carte or $185 for the prix fixe, it probably works out about right. on an annual basis.

  8. France got there a long time ago. How long? My experience doesn't go back to the Popular Front or Vichy. Anybody know the social history?

  9. The only problem with this scheme is human nature. We have experience in SF with an added charge meant to benefit the employees. This was the hated healthcare surcharge (Healthy SF). An audit by the city attorney turned up numerous instances of not using the funds as advertised. I'm betting that the city only went after the most blatant offenders.

  10. Of course there are those high-end restaurants that build in the tip into the prices, but when the credit card slip comes for signature there's a place for 'Additional Gratuity'. I'm looking at you, French Laundry. I just paid my monthly mortgage for a meal…

  11. I'm not a fan of tipping either, but it was useful a couple of years ago when my now husband was in the hospital. While going to visit hihm, I stopped at a diner-type place for breakfast. I knew I'd be going there fairly frequently for a while, so I left a $2 tip for my $5.50 breakfast. You better believe the waitress remembered me the next time I came in, and knew I wanted coffee with cream stat.

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