No Tipping Policy for Restaurants – The Wave of the Future?

A recent study says that 46 percent of Americans are leaving less money “on the table” for tips now than they did five years ago, mainly due to changes in their financial situations. The survey reports that many “couldn’t afford to tip on top of the cost of a meal.” Some restaurants are finding creative ways to eliminate tipping altogether by paying a higher living wage to their staff.

Removing tipping from the food service equation is radical enough that it just might work, according to some industry analysts. Some businesses (like Sushi Yasuda and The Linkery) have already dived in and gone ‘tip-free,’ while others (like El Take It Easy) have tried it, but found it wasn’t right for their clientele. As the old saying goes, timing (and location) is everything.

Problems with Tipping

Researchers and restaurant owners have cited a few problems with the current state of tipping:

  • Confusion with the laws around tipping cause expensive lawsuits between staff and management.
  • For restaurant owners, sharing tip money evenly to every worker could be illegal. In some states the tips belong to servers only, and cannot be distributed to any other employees.
  • Some employees make more money than others because of tips, which can cause arguments between servers, bussers, cooks, dishwashers.
  • It’s difficult for restaurants to achieve consistent quality in service.
  • Tipping causes racially charged conclusions for servers about which ethnicities tip the best. By removing these ‘conclusions,’ servers would not need to create an excuse for prioritizing one table over another with the hopes of receiving a better tip.

Tipping and Server Motivation

The thought of a no-tipping policy brings up a good question:

If there’s no tipping, then how will the servers be motivated to do a good job?

Jay Porter, owner of the no-tipping restaurant, The Linkery, writes,

“Servers are motivated to do a good job in the same ways that everyone else is. Servers want to keep their jobs; servers want to get a raise; servers want to be successful and see themselves as professionals and take pride in their work. In any workplace, everyone is required to perform well, and tips have nothing to do with it. The next time you see your doctor, ask her if she wouldn’t do better-quality work if she made minimum wage, with the rest of her income from her patients’ tips. I suspect the answer will be a version of ‘no.’”

Restaurant owners and managers are encouraged to embrace tipping because, supposedly, the customer’s tipping decision holds the server accountable for quality, relieving the restaurant of costs spent on supervising and supporting their servers. But in truth — as shown by the Michael Lynn research — customers largely abdicate that role. Instead the customers give only very weak feedback to the server with their tips, and in my observation even the worst servers take the lack of strong negative feedback as confirmation that they are providing acceptable service.”

Michael Lynn, tipping exert, published a report titled “Tip Levels and Service.” The findings in this report show that despite what everyone thinks motivates how much of a tip they leave, quality of service actually plays a very small role. The amount of the tip is as just as influenced by whether the server drew a smiley face on the check, or knelt down next to the table while interacting with the customer, as by the customers’ happiness with the quality of service. A server whose fundamental desire is to boost their income, will not be focused on the quality of service they provide.

Brief History of Tipping

Tipping originated in the taverns of 17th Century England where patrons would slip money to the waiter “to insure promptitude” or T.I.P.

Tipping reached the United States just after the American Civil War in the late 1800s when wealthy Americans brought tipping to back from their European vacations in order to boast their prestigious education and class. Tipping was not well received, yet Americans eventually learned to accept it.

Clarity for All

It’s time for tipping to gain some clarity and uniformity. Clear rules need to be set, servers should earn a steady income without sacrificing service quality, and customers shouldn’t have to wonder how much to tip at the end of the meal, or if the server approves of how much they left.

For more on tipping, read our other posts.

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