Eliminate tipping in restaurants, replace with service charge
Being a server is risky business. With a federal minimum wage of only $2.13, servers rely heavily on tips to make up the majority of their income. Many factors contribute to how much money a server will take home on a given day including how busy the restaurant is at a given time, how many people dine in a server’s section and how generous customers are.
There are servers who find the risk to be worth it, as they have the opportunity to make more money than they would working another service job at minimum wage, but that’s only if the aforementioned factors work in their favor.
Hotel and restaurant management senior Alex Gonzalez said she believes many choose to take that risk for various reasons.
“There are different types of people who are servers: students, people who can’t get a job anywhere else and people that actually enjoy the work. Students are just trying to make some money, and working in a restaurant can work very well with their schedule,” Gonzalez said. “People who can’t get a job anywhere else are just glad to get hired. People who enjoy the work are most likely sociable and are able to connect with guests and can almost guarantee a tip.”
While tipping has been a long-standing tradition in the restaurant industry and has gone up from 10 percent to 15 percent, and most recently 20 percent on average, critics of tip culture are arguing for the abolishment of tipping in restaurants.
Californian restaurant owner Jay Porter has been vocal about his decision to abolish tipping at his old restaurant The Linkery.
In an article for Slate, Porter gives several reasons for his decision to do away with tipping in favor of adopting an 18 percent service charge, which other restaurant owners that forgo tipping have implemented as well.
Through the service charge, Porter was able to rectify the income disparity between the servers and cooks, as the latter did not receive tips. In fact, it is illegal in California to tip cooks even though cooks made a similar base wage.
Porter argues that another problem with tip culture is that compensation becomes a matter between employees and customers, rather than employers.
HRM senior Huynh Nguyen said that tipping is a form of commission.
“Some people’s commission check might be based on the products they sell; ours is based on the service we sell. I’ve never felt obligated to tip; I only base it off the experience I was given,” Nguyen said. “I’ve experienced bad service at restaurants before and I didn’t tip the server. I am for tipping a great experience.”
Nguyen said she also feels that tipping is a way for her to show gratitude for great service.
“I’ve frequented this Thai restaurant on Bellaire for many years now. Some people might not do this, but I tip every time I order takeout there. They treat me no different from people dining in; they take me to a table and give me the menu. They ask me if I need time to look or if I already know what to order. Once they take my order, they ask if they could get me some water while I wait. Because of those gestures, I feel happy to tip $2 to $3 for my takeout.”
UH students who are a part of the Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management are expected to work at Barron’s, the student-run restaurant on campus. In addition to learning what it takes to run the restaurant, students may also gain experience catering various events and working in restaurants.
Gonzalez said she believes that tipping should continue, but believes the minimum wage of servers should be raised as well.
“Wait staff shouldn’t be paid below minimum wage just because they are expected to get tips. Not every patron tips, even if service is flawless,” Gonzalez said. “Some restaurants do pool tips and split them with the busboys and people that work in the back.”
According to The New York Times, restaurant workers have sued owners for having to share tips with those who are ineligible as well as spending too much time on side work such as folding napkins between meals. The Times reports that one of these lawsuits was settled for more than $5 million and that restaurant owners are eliminating tips in order to avoid these lawsuits.
Nick Kokonas, a New York restaurant owner, told the New York Times that he believes that the shift to the service charge is worth it.
“As soon as you grow to a certain size these days, and you’re high-profile, everyone starts examining what you do,” Kokonas said.
It’s generally believed that good service warrants a good tip, which is why this practice has stuck around so long. While the idea of rewarding good service has yet to fade, critics such as Porter question using tips as motivation.
“In any workplace, everyone is required to perform well, and tips have nothing to do with it,” Porter said.
An increasing number of restaurants are choosing to eliminate tipping in favor of service charges and more people are beginning to question the validity of tipping; however, many still support the practice. Servers many go into the field for many reasons, but the possibility of making a lot of money through tips is enticing.
While there are those who want to maintain tip culture, a raise in restaurant workers’ minimum wages and the addition of a service charge can benefit all employees. This will also force restaurant owners to step up and take more responsibility for paying their employees rather than relying on their patrons. Servers also don’t have to spend their shifts worrying about monetary concerns, but focusing on their jobs; tips don’t need to be the greatest motivator to provide customers with a great experience.
Opinion columnist Rama Yousef is a creative writing senior and may be reached at [email protected]