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Some Restaurants Are Doing Away With Tipping. Is That Good for Workers?

Topics: Current Events
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You might not have noticed it, but many restaurants across the U.S. have been doing away with the practice of tipping. One American Express Restaurant Trade survey from the spring showed that as many as 29 percent of restaurants in the U.S. plan to adopt a no-tipping model. Of course, this is how most restaurants in Europe and elsewhere operate, sans tips. It’s also how most people get paid for their job: $X salary for Y job or Z number of hours worked. There’s no scale to be set by a customer’s whims or variable levels of satisfaction. Some restaurant owners might say it’s a more civilized way of operating, and they might be right, though it’s not without its risks and trials.

Why It’s Good for Employees to Earn a Salary Instead

Tipping is variable. How much waitstaff earns depends on the customer. A recent Quartz article pointed to the practice’s roots in post-Civil War America. Writer Saru Jayaraman says that it was a demeaning practice meant to be patronizing.

“The original workers that were not paid anything by their employers were newly freed slaves,” says Jayaraman. “This whole concept of not paying them anything and letting them live on tips carried over from slavery.”

Tipping can also be a source of division among the staff. You know who doesn’t benefit from tipping? The people actually preparing the food. Kitchen staff like the chef and support staff like bussers often don’t get any of waiters’ tips. While I’ve worked as a waitress and know it’s really demanding work, I would be the first to say that just isn’t fair to the real heavy lifters literally laboring over a hot stove all day and all night. When all workers are on a salary, generally the back-of-house staff gets paid more than with a tipping model.

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Why It’s Bad for Employees (for Now) to Do Without Tips

Of course it’s hard for restaurants to retain employees when there’s a chance for them to earn more (potentially) at an establishment that still offers tips. San Francisco restaurateur Thad Vogler spoke to NPR back in May about how his restaurant had to roll back their no-tip experiment. Many non-tipping restaurants, like Vogler’s, had to increase prices on their menu to bring in more income, or cut staff to make ends meet as a result of their higher payroll.

One East Village restaurant in New York City also found it had to adjust portion sizes to make customers feel better about paying more per dish. And Joe’s Crab Shack, the first national chain to experiment with a “no tipping” policy, recently went back to tipping too, saying that customers and employees didn’t care for it.

Why It’s Good (and Bad) for Customers When There’s No Tipping

Never mind the mathematical headache (or simply fighting over percentage points of good service with your spouse). At the end of the meal, sometimes tipping is downright confusing. Do you tip more with cocktail service so the bartender gets a fair cut? Do you tip for a busboy even if you don’t see one in action? Do you tip on the tax or after the tax?

Some customers hate tipping. They might like to see lower prices for entrees, however, and might grumble about lower numbers of staff on hand to refill their water glasses, but still, doing away with tipping and just having a good meal with a friend would be great. Other customers, however, think that tipping encourages better service, and doing without it makes waitstaff less apt to provide good customer care. That’s what Joe’s Crab Shack claims was the biggest complaint from their customer base, and why they rolled back their policy after less than a year trial.

Tell Us What You Think

How do you feel about tipping at restaurants? Should the U.S. move away from a tipping model? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

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Max Ghenis Recent comment authors
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Max Ghenis
Max Ghenis

“Bad for employees” really means “bad for servers” – cooks have gotten raises in almost all tip-free places. Also, it’s most bad for white blonde female servers, all attributes research finds are correlated with tips.

“Other customers, however, think that tipping encourages better service” these customers are generally wrong. Service quality explains under 4% of the variance in tips, small relative to servers’ physical characteristics. And countries like Japan have excellent service without tipping.

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