More and more restaurants are following the lead of restauranteur Danny Meyer and doing away with the antiquated system of tipping.
Instead, they are looking at paying servers a living wage and, to make up for the increase in wages, they are adding a service charge to menu items. Many people, both customers and servers, wonder if eliminating tipping will become the new normal for all restaurants. Some people hope that it will while others hope that it won’t. Based on the kinds of restaurants I typically have worked in, I hope that it won’t.
In a Danny Meyer restaurant like Maialino, where an entree for suckling pig is $58, no regular customer is going to care or even notice if the price goes up an additional 15%. These are people who are used to spending a lot of money in a restaurant. However, if Applebee’s did away with tipping and increased their menu prices to pay their servers a living wage, you can bet your bottom dollar that customers will notice when a hamburger goes from $9.99 to $11.48. Customers would revolt, up-ending tables and boycotting the deliciousness of cheeseburger egg rolls and mozzarella sticks. After years of non-tipping customers crying that it isn’t their responsibility to pay the salary of their server, they may quickly change their minds when they see their bill increase. For this reason, I think the the practice of not leaving a tip in restaurants will remain in the upper echelon of fine-dining.
But this brings us to the question of what is an acceptable salary for a server who is expecting a living wage? When I took a poll on my Facebook page asking what servers would expect for an hourly wage if they were not getting tips, I had hundreds and hundred of people reply. Overwhelmingly, most servers expected at least $20-25 an hour and we know that will never happen at Applebee’s. Perhaps we could see that in fine dining restaurants, but would that mean that a seven-hour shift now only pays $175? Decent money, certainly, but not anywhere close to what servers might be used to making on a busy Saturday night at an expensive restaurant. And if I was always going to get $25 an hour, I would want to switch my schedule to lunches and Monday and Tuesday nights. After all, if I’m going to make the same hourly wage, I want to make it on a slower shift where I don’t have to work as hard for my money. That’s not being lazy, that’s being sensible. As it is now, I like knowing that if I give the best service possible and work extremely hard, I can make more money in tips than if skate through and give the bare basics of service. With an hourly wage and my salary not dependent on my level of service, what incentive would I have to try harder?
Only time will tell if this new tipping ban will carry over into more restaurants. With politicians like Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders both expressing that they want to raise the minimum wage for tipped employees from the $2.13 an hour in over a dozen states, maybe tipping will become a thing of the past. Customers have been saying for years they don’t want to pay the salary of their servers and servers have been complaining for years that they deserve more per hour. Now that it looks like it might actually be happening, many people are questioning whether they want it or not. Careful what you wish for.
Darron Cardosa proudly refers to himself as a media whore, and has been known to spend hours at a time linking his blog to every conceivable website that may get him more traffic. The Bitchy Waiter blog now boasts over 10,000 followers on Twitter and 350,000 fans on Facebook. In 2011 he was featured in a New York Post article entitled “Should You Trust Your Server?” He has been a guest on WOR talk radio and also on WNYC public radio. In August 2011 he appeared as a guest on Dr. Phil to discuss children’s behavior in restaurants, and in November 2011 he was a contributing commentator for CBS Sunday Morning, which reached more than five million viewers. In August 2012 his blog was referenced in an article on CNN’s website Eatocracy.com, and most recently he was quoted in an article about tipping for the Wall Street Journal. His first book, The Bitchy Waiter: Tales, Tips & Trials from a Life in Food Service, comes out in April 2016. Darron lives in New York, NY.