Frank Bruni recently posted a piece in his New York Times dining blog about a letter he received from a waiter. The waiter complained about receiving low tips from foreign tourists who do not understand the American tipping system (read it here). Bruni asked the readers of the blog to weigh in on their feelings about the issue.
One point that came up repeatedly was that perhaps it is time for America to banish the antiquated tipping system. I could not agree with this sentiment more.
I worked in fine dining in Ann Arbor at various restaurants for over five years. Yes, part of the reason behind getting a job at one of these places was the expectation of high tips. However, as I became older and my expenses expanded, I realized the value in receiving a regular, steady paycheck and being able to count on a set amount of money each week. The occasional $200 or $300 dollar night were sandwiched between numerous $45 slow summer nights or getting stiffed on stupid parent's day tables (I will not turn this into a rant on the University of Michigan Parents Day - though it is tempting).
While the article focused mainly on European customers who are supposedly unaware of the American tipping system, I found as a waitress that there are many, many ambiguities with well-meaning Americans who should be completely familiar with tipping practices.
For instance, when I go out to eat, I tip on the whole bill. Period. I do not subtract the booze or even the tax (in my case, subtracting the tax would not make much of a difference on the majority of my restaurant bills). However, I have seen some people who do not tip on liquor, or bottles of wine, etc.
I tip on everything because it has been my experience as a server that the person who waits on your table will be tipping out (giving a percentage of their sales to) the person who made your drink or poured your wine. The Earle is a perfect case in point: say you ordered a $100 bottle of wine with your meal. I would not have poured it for you - our sommelier, Stevie G., would have come to your table, guided you through the list, made some recommendations, and ultimately opened and poured your wine. Why should you give me a tip? Because at the end of the night I have to run a report on the amount of bottled wine I sold and tip Stevie G. 6% of that total, that's why. By choosing not to tip on your wine or drinks, you are most likely taking money out of your server's pocket because they will still be expected to tip out their bartender and sommelier (not to mention the busboy).
Still, if you don't work in a restaurant, do you know that? Maybe not. To the non-restaurant employee, it seems like the server is being fairly tipped for the service provided.
That is why tipping needs to go. There are too many ambiguities. Tipping is a way for restaurant owners to keep expenses down by not paying a lot of money to employees. But it is confusing to the customer and not dependable for the server. American restaurants should go to a flat wage. Yes, prices would most likely go up slightly or many restaurant owners would possibly institute a "service fee" (many European restaurants do so) but the upside is you would know exactly what you were paying for ahead of time. The server gets a regular paycheck, which in this economy is not a thing to be discounted. Nobody makes any social faux pas. And if your server really is spectacular, you can always slip them a ten or a twenty, and they'll be appreicative rather than disdainful.
What do you think?
Happy New Year!
3 years ago