Tipping

Without a doubt, tipping practices are ingrained in our culture. We debate how much our server deserves to get. We fret over the math. We cringe when our large party has to pay the 18% automatic gratuity. The tip can be as much a part of the experience of dining out as the meal itself.

That may change. One San Diego restaurant owner published an editorial advocating tipless restaurants. Jay Porter, former owner of the Linkery, relates his experience running a restaurant free of tips and how both service and employee pay improved:

A couple of years after opening the Linkery restaurant in San Diego, the team and I adopted a policy of adding to each dining-in check a service charge of 18 percent—a little less than our tip average had been. We also refused to accept any payment beyond that service charge. (If someone surreptitiously slipped a twenty or two under a water glass, we donated it to a rotating “charity of the month,” usually selected by a staff member or patron.)

We made this change because we wanted to distribute the “tip” revenue to our cooks as well as our servers, making our pay more equitable.

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When we switched from tipping to a service charge, our food improved, probably because our cooks were being paid more and didn’t feel taken for granted. In turn, business improved, and within a couple of months, our server team was making more money than it had under the tipped system. The quality of our service also improved. In my observation, however, that wasn’t mainly because the servers were making more money (although that helped, too). Instead, our service improved principally because eliminating tips makes it easier to provide good service.

Fox News looked a little deeper into the debate whose waters Porter stirred:

American attitudes towards tipping are not so straightforward.  Researchers say that tipping is one way diners feel in control of mitigating a bad dining experience. But, a recent survey found that 63 percent of Americans felt pressure to tip even when the service was bad.

Porter hasn’t been the only restaurant owner to abandon tipping. In June, Sushi Yasuda, the celebrated Japanese restaurant in New York City, got rid of tips citing Japanese custom:

“Following the custom in Japan, Sushi Yasuda’s service staff are fully compensated by their salary. Therefore gratuities are not accepted. Thank you,” it now says on its receipts and menus.

Most of the chefs mentioned in the Fox News piece shied away from a tipless model because they feared patrons would bristle at the increased costs associated with the change, while others felt that tipping was too much a part of the dining experience to just go away.

What do you think? Would you pay a little more for food if it meant you would never have to leave a tip? Do you think service would be better or worse under a tipless model?