In February of 2015, we discussed the minimum wage and why the practice of tipping should cease to exist. Since then, it appears that restaurant owners have been listening to us — or perhaps we were just reporting on an inevitable trend. An increasing number of restaurants are adopting the practice of going tip-free and raising the wages of their workers to make up the difference.
High profile restaurants that are joining the trend include Per Se in New York; Berkeley, California's Chez Panisse; Bar Marco in Pittsburgh, and Alinea in Chicago. The restaurants of the Union Square Hospitality Group in New York City, including the Gramercy Tavern, Union Square Café, and Blue Smoke, will be transitioning to a tip-free environment with the first restaurants converting in November.
Going tip-free makes the experience simpler for all involved. Restaurant owners do not have to worry about the mechanics of dividing tips among the entire staff and settling up at the end of shifts. Servers do not have to worry about being stiffed or being penalized for things that are not their fault, such as poorly cooked food. Cooks, dishwashers, and other support staff will get equitable compensation. Diners do not have to bother with calculating tips or deciding whether the service warranted more or less than a standard tip.
Wages are lower under the traditional system because it is expected that tips will make up the difference, so patrons who do not tip are arguably pocketing some of the wait staff's rightful salary. Most restaurants assume typical tips in their calculations, but too many Americans do not leave the standard 15-20% tip. A survey from vouchercloud.net found that 75% of respondents tip less than 20% and that 46% are tipping less than they did five years ago.
When tipping amounts are disconnected from the perceived level of service and do not serve their original purpose, it is time for the practice to end. Wages for restaurant staff should be more predictable and reasonable — at least that is our opinion.
With that said, there is one argument that could be made for tipping. If you receive extraordinary service, how do you reflect that if not with a large tip?
You can tell the management, write letters, recommend the restaurant to others — but nothing helps the waiter or waitress like that large direct tip. On the other side of the coin, it is possible that some servers may be demotivated by the lack of tips and question what incentive they have to provide exceptional service — but if servers are demotivated that easily, they may not be taking enough pride in their work.
Non-tipping restaurants will increase prices to cover the extra wages, but establishments that have done their homework will strike the proper balance so that patrons are paying approximately the same overall amount as they would have while making sure the staff is sufficiently compensated. Savvy restaurants will advertise that they are paying their wait staff a better and more predictable wage to show their patrons that they care for their staff.
Like any transition, there will be confusion in the early days. Some restaurants have reported that people either do not understand or simply cannot help themselves from leaving a tip, forcing waiters to chase patrons down to return the cash whenever possible. Diners will eventually understand that the staff is not being underpaid and will get used to the no-tipping philosophy. We expect that most diners, restaurant owners, and staff will come to enjoy it. Who’s next?
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Photo ©iStockphoto.com/Steve Debenport