Flickr|Sarah Gilbert

Reader Opinion: Tipping

Every server and diner deals with it. Are tips a way to recognize great service, or are they an unfair social construct?

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had heated conversations about tipping. With friends, family, chefs, servers and restaurant owners. Everyone seems to have a strong opinion about it.

From the cultural standpoint, there aren’t a lot of countries who demand tipping like we do in the US. In Japan, tipping can be seen as downright offensive, and many European countries don’t have set expected percentages like we do. The problem with any fixes we might come up with, the way I see it, is that there is no way to implement them. If we came up with a solution, restaurants wouldn’t be able to put it into play on a broad scale. Budgets would have to be revamped, but that inevitable restaurant hierarchy would level out a bit.

Check out this quote from Amanda Cohen’s article on tipping (necessary reading).

“We’re asking our customers to turn a voluntary expression of gratitude into a living wage. On top of that, tipping asks every customer to be a spy. One of the unspoken assumptions of tipping is that it’s impractical for a manager to monitor every server all the time, so tipping outsources that supervision to the customer. A bad tip is a red flag to a manager that a server requires closer supervision, but most customers just want a nice meal, not to be deputized as the owner’s secret HR department.”

Cohen also points out the inequality of tipping today: the color of a server’s shirt, hair or skin has an impact on the money he or she makes. On bad days, servers end up paying out of their pockets to work a shift. On good days, they make almost a week’s worth of wages for a busser or dishwasher.

Although servers might not work as many hours as people in other restaurant positions (you might get cut if the service is slow, for example), wages could be evened out with a service charge instead of tips. But can this work? Base wages would have to be raised for waitstaff. Most servers get $3 – $5 per hour and just hope for the best.

What do you think? Is tipping an immovable social construct? Should we just leave it as it is, since changing the whole system is pretty unlikely?


  • Katy

    If I knew this was a restaurant with a service charge, and the service I received was about average of what I usually get, then, I could do that. Its when there is a forced service charge and the waitstaff knows its coming, good service or not, and they decide to slack off. It hurts all of us. The service staff that wants this job, rather than wants this way station to something better, are the ones I adore at my table. You make great points Nancy, and I don’t know best how to solve it.

  • Mike

    Tipping again? Really? What happened to Side Dish?

  • txmuzik

    It is a crazy practice, and a tough way to make a buck some times, BUT until we/you come up with something better, it is the custom ’round here. That said, there is nothing lower than those who don’t tip. Just yesterday, a party of four, with a $65.oo tab, left a big X on the tip line of their credit card slip. I just happened to be the one at the table picking it up, and couldn’t help but ask the lady if everything was alright? was there anything wrong with her service? and she replied, very vaguely, “yes, I didn’t like our service very much.” ??? really? nothing specific, no clue as to what may have bothered her, just … no, I didn’t like it very much. I’m sorry, but it just seems like she was a bit surprised at her total and decided she wasn’t going to part with any more cash – at the cost to the hard-working server. Seriously, there was absolutely nothing wrong with their service, and this just isn’t fair. Also, there are two kinds of people in the world… those that tip on to-go food, and those that don’t. What side are you on?

  • dallas_paul

    There will always be sad stories on both sides — servers getting shafted by low/no tips, customers feeling fleeced by obligatory tips for bad service, etc. But let’s call tipping for what it is: The U.S. tipping system is a subsidy for restaurant owners. It’s a way to pass off a portion of employer’s wage responsibility to the customer with a veneer of a “consumer feedback” model.

    I would be more than happy for waitstaff to fall under the same minimum wage laws as the kitchen staff, and do away with tipping altogether. Workers in retail or entertainment venues like Six Flags don’t get tipped, and the service quality seems to work out just fine. Let managers manage employees, let customers lodge complaints if problems arise, and let restaurants and bars be a simple pay for goods and service like any other store you visit.

    Of course, this will never happen. Subsidies are defended vehemently by those receiving them.

    • Borborygmus

      On the other hand, it could be that the food and drink one consumes costs less than it would if the pay structure were changed. The consumer always pays the cost, no matter the good or service that you buy at “any other store you visit.”

      McDonald’s employees don’t receive gratuities either, so what is your point? That a server’s “worth” is capped at what an employee at Six Flags makes? I can tell you have missed out on the finer aspects of being served by a true professional.

      This will never happen until every restaurant in the country is forced to change in some manner. And if we can’t even agree on world peace……………

  • KPG

    To Insure Prompt Service, TIP…if you’ve ever traveled to Europe where a small tips included you’ll realize that we have it pretty good here in the US. Not that we’re all in a big hurry or anything? But how many times did you want to jump out of your skin when dining in Europe when the service took for ever? I like the speed when it somes to service , how about you? What’s up with restaurants discontinuing the auto gratuity? Seems severs would rather roll the dice on a large party than to wait and get the auto grat on their pay check? Service charges would never work here.

  • Imabigmess

    Tipping is not a city in China.

  • Dean

    A question to the waitstaff — I always tip in cash, assuming my servers would prefer it. Given the practices of pooled tips, tipping-out , etc., is my cash appreciated? Or would you rather I just roll it into my Credit/debit calculation?

    • Moobs

      It is WAY preferred to being left on credit cards. Please continue tipping in cash.

  • dallas_paul

    “Being served by a true professional”? Maybe for the fraction of a percent who make a career out of restaurant service, or for those working at four- and five-star establishments. Otherwise, the vast majority are young, temporary and unskilled workers. Bit of a wag-the-dog argument, isn’t it?

    And wages aren’t about personal “worth,” for waitstaff or for myself. If that’s your view, it’s a recipe for therapy.