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Reader Opinion: Tipping

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?