The subject of tipping is one of the undercurrents of our day to day life. It affects so many people yet it is hardly ever spoken about because it can be very sensitive. Waiters in particular are ones to strongly, and quite rightly, argue against abolishing tipping as they are under-paid by restaurant owners. So what would a world without tipping look like? It wouldn’t change much actually. There’d just be a service charge instead, or a general increase in menu prices to compensate for the server’s increased pay. But again, this is usually opposed because it takes money from hard-working waiters into the hands of the restaurant owners who may not pay waiters what they deserve.
I’ve decided that I never want to argue about this topic with anyone. I don’t agree with tipping. But if you’re seen to oppose it, you can be accused of being tight, or even stuck-up Conservatism that doesn’t care about the service industry. None of these are labels I associate with, so I’m going to be careful with my reasoning. Here are 4 reasons why it should be stopped, hopefully without these allegations:
1. We, as humans, are bad at tipping by nature.
One of the most obvious arguments in favour of tipping is that it creates good service. If a server does a good job, they’re rewarded with a larger tip, leading to better service in restaurants. Sounds simple.
But this system is flawed because of, well, human nature. Humans are shallow, irrational creatures, and this has important consequences on our judgement of ‘good service’. Or in Michael Lynn’s words, an Associate Professor of Consumer Behaviour at Cornell’s School of Hotel Administration, consumers’ assessments of the quality of service correlate weakly to the amount they tip. Instead, Lynn found in dozens of studies that customers are likely to tip more if they ‘like’ the server’s personality, not when the service is good. Lynn also found that men are more likely to tip women higher and vice versa.
So really what you may refer to as a reward for ‘good service’, statistically you are more likely to be rewarding someone you like.
2. Tipping rewards bad service
The fact the tip is a percentage causes the tip to increase with the price of the bill. This leads to ‘upselling’, a method by which a server pressures you into having another glass of wine because a larger bill is a larger tip for them. More importantly, the culture of tipping rewards servers who are more aggressive with their upselling, and not recognising polite, low-key, quality servers.
You may think that tipping gives the server what they deserve, but really, their tip unduly increases with the bill. Why should they be paid more just because you asked for a fillet steak rather than a rump? They haven’t gone to any extra trouble in their service. Not that either of these points are the servers’ fault. It’s the culture of tipping that is to blame.
3. If ‘tip pooling’ is happening in the restaurant, good servers are punished
What is becoming common practise is tip pooling, a system by which all tips are shared evenly amongst all servers. You may think that tipping rewards good service, or you might think that it is fair to share the rewards equally. It doesn’t matter which you agree with, they’re both wrong. What most people fail to understand about tip pooling is it not only removes your ‘vote’ on the quality of your service, it actually punishes the good servers because the poor servers will bring down the divided shares each gets.
I also think ‘tip pooling’ is proof that tips are merely seen by restaurants as an additional part of their staff’s salaries, and is by no means an indication of good service. In this case, restaurants are getting away with not paying their staff a fairer wage, and simply shifting that responsibility onto consumers under the mask of a ‘tip’.
4. A fixed salary would create better service.
It’s common knowledge that a large chunk of a server’s salary is tips, and that they prefer the system because they do better off it than if they had a fixed salary. This is terribly short-sighted, as the tipping system has no perks of a fixed salary. But a lot of servers believe their jobs to be short-term.
From the perspective of the restaurant owners, they love the system of tipping because it means they don’t have to pay the servers themselves. But for any business, it is better to have a team of trusted employees rather than come-and-go “I’m just paying my way through acting school” staff. Waiters who are loyal to the restaurant with a fixed salary would perform better simply because it would mean more to them. So whereas these acting students may perform a little better with the added bonus of a bit of extra cash, I don’t think that would match the performance of devoted employees who were there long term.
With a fixed salary, there would have to be a general increase in menu prices to compensate for the lost tips. And there shouldn’t be many complaints about this, because this should have been happening all along. We shouldn’t be paying extra for good service. And the restaurants shouldn’t have shoved the responsibility of paying their employees onto consumers. They should be paying them, and that should come out of the money they make.
The only problem is, it doesn’t matter how many reasons there are against tipping, the three major parties – restaurant owners, servers and consumers – all support tipping for flawed reasons. Tipping is a part of our culture; people enjoy the idea of rewarding servers for doing their job regardless of how many other fields of work don’t receive the same rewards. And without a servers’ union, there would be no one to fight for their adequate salaries if it were abolished, running the risk of restaurant owners abusing their pay.
There would need to be a change in the mentality of restaurant owners to want more long-term staff, or at least the creation of a servers’ union to help support the salaries of servers. So people who support tipping are rooting for the right team, but their logic is distorted – it’s more of a stalemate between social norms and logical reform.