Today’s Consumers Get It

Fred Sampson

first became aware of the “consumers’ muscle” about 1965 when a younger lawyer by the name of Ralph Nader wrote his famous book, “Unsafe at Any Speed.” Due to adverse consumer reaction, it ultimately forced General Motors to stop producing the Corvair, a compact car with its engine in the rear. The car’s lousy weight distribution and carelessly designed suspension caused the car to flip over when cornering at high and even moderate speeds. The book is on the list of the All-TIME 100 Best Non-Fiction Books. It also demonstrated what can happen when the consumer makes use of its muscle. This incident gave rise to the need for some method of insuring consumer protection.

It was not long before many states and cities started to create some form of consumer protection offices, which in time hired inspectors to respond to consumers complaints and enforce consumer protection legislation which was being passed throughout the country.

There is, however, an organization that has for years (from 1912, to be exact) focused on advancing marketplace trust—and it is still doing so. That is the Better Business Bureau. But it didn’t have enforcement powers, and is a membership organization.

Consumer protection has come a long way in these last 50 years. One of the most effective actions was the requirement that most prepared food products sold in food stores list their calorie count plus other ingredient information. This action has made the average consumer more aware of what they are buying, and is one of many laws, in this observer’s opinion, that have made this generation’s consumer the best informed and knowledgeable in history. They are not only better informed, but will not hesitate to be heard, both vocally and economically. I’m not limiting this to any age group; it’s all age groups.

What is my purpose in referencing the consumer? I’ll explain. It seems that the tipping issue, which came to the public’s attention during the $15 per hour minimum wage matter, has presented many operators with a troubling decision: raise prices and do away with tipping, introduce a mandated tipping policy, or continue with a voluntary tipping policy.

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I have examined a half-dozen reviews and polls dealing with the tipping question. I believe consumers now understand that in most restaurants the cook staff is paid a higher wage than the waitstaff because of tipping. They also know the kitchen staff’s pay is sometimes dwarfed by the servers, who receive tips. It is and will remain that way for the foreseeable future in order for restaurants to continue to be competitive.

I have yet to come across any study, poll, or radio or TV discussion group that dealt with this question, when any participant said the tipping policy would be their major consideration in choosing a restaurant. As you know, a few operators have abolished tipping and raised prices. They are in a position whereby their clientele can comfortably afford the increase. Others have found resistance to this policy, and reversed it.

For the casual dining segment, though, the vast majority is staying with its present policy, voluntary tipping.

That presents another problem: To carefully realign their operating plan in order to maintain future labor costs. They are not only facing a costly minimum wage increase, but are still waiting for the US Labor Department’s final word on the overtime provisions which are due shortly. For many operations this could bring about major changes in scheduling and job descriptions, and costly increases. Metaphorically speaking, your plates will be full.

I would not be so bold as to tell you how you should handle the tipping issue. I do think it is not the consumers’ major interest. They are more concerned with food quality, clean surroundings, good service, value, and consistency. I suggest you concentrate on those items, and the tipping situation will take care of itself.

Fred G. Sampson
Fred G. Sampson is the retired President Emeritus of the New York State Restaurant Association. He began working with NYSRA in 1961. Within the next four years the NYSRA more than tripled its membership and expanded from one regional chapter to eight. Sampson played roles in representing restaurants on issues including paid sick leave, minimum wage, liquor laws, a state-wide alcohol training program and insurance plans. Comments may be sent to