Richard Cohen on Tipping: To Ensure Proper Servitude

by Corey Robin on October 21, 2015

Richard Cohen has a…I’m not sure what to call it. Formally, it’s an oped in the Washington Post.* In defense of tipping. In reality, it’s more like an overheated entry from his diary. In which Cohen confesses that his feelings of noblesse oblige toward waiters are really a cover for his fantasies of discipline and punish. Where there’s no safe word. Except, maybe, “check please.”

The context for Cohen’s musings is that Danny Meyer, the restauranteur, has decided to eliminate tipping at his restaurants. This has prompted a spate of articles, praising Meyer and criticizing the anti-democratic elements of tipping. Enter Cohen.


I love tipping.


The practice originated with European aristocracy…

And he’s off. Now remember, in DC parlance, Cohen is considered a liberal.

There are four moments worth noting in the piece. First, this:

Like almost everyone else in America, I was once a waiter — and a busboy, and a short-order cook and a dishwasher — and I never felt I was groveling for tips. I did feel, as a friend told me before I went off on a wait job, “Remember, you work for the customer, not the restaurant.” If tipping doesn’t quite shift loyalties so neatly, it does put loyalties into play.

There’s the democratic nod to Cohen having once been a waiter. From Lincoln to Cohen, how many relationships of deference in the United States have been justified by reference to one’s own humble past, by invoking this escalator of social mobility, in which one begins at the bottom, serving a superior, and arrives at the top, being served by an inferior?

There’s also that invocation of loyalty. Though the capitalist workplace is often described by its defenders and critics as a glorious (or gory) space of untrammeled self-interest and personal advance, for many of its denizens, it is a domain of loyalty (and subordination). For Cohen, that loyalty is never to one’s co-workers; it is either to the boss or to the customer.

Finally, there’s that claim that when he was a waiter, Cohen “never felt I was groveling for tips.” No, I’m sure he did not. (Just as I’m sure he doesn’t feel as if he’s groveling for a different kind of tip when he sucks up to power now: once a courtier, always a courtier). There’s a reason Sartre, in Being and Nothingness, chose the waiter as one of his paradigmatic examples of “bad faith.” Wrote Sartre: “I am a waiter in the mode of being what I am not.” Cohen was/is a waiter in the mode of being what he is.

Here’s the second moment of Cohen’s piece:

The waiter is my guy for the duration of the meal. He’s my agent. He looks out for me and, if he does a good job, I look out for him. He has an incentive to give me exceptional service, not some mediocre minimum, to ensure that my water glass is full, that my wine is replenished, to make sure that the busboy does not prematurely remove the plates — that I am not hurried along so that the owner can squeeze in another sitting. The waiter is my wingman.

Again, notice the sublimation that goes on in the capitalist workplace. For most observers, I think, the relationship between a waiter/restaurant and a customer is a relatively straightforward exchange of money for service (the tip, as Cohen and others like to say, stands for “to insure promptitude”). But notice the affective element that gets introduced here: the waiter becomes Cohen’s agent, his wingman. In that exchange of money for service a bromance develops, a rather one-sided bromance, in which Cohen gets to imagine that this man—my guy—cares about him, really cares about him, as a self, a soul. And that he, Cohen, cares about the man. My guy. That this bromance is consecrated by the exchange of money is incidental or ornamental.

Or maybe not, as Cohen makes clear in this third passage:

I hesitate to mention another reason I like tipping. I like to make a difference, not just to be a bit of a big shot or be noticed or appreciated, but to give some of what I make to those who make less. I’m not flipping silver dollars into the air or hurling twenties around with abandon, but I am a healthy tipper (once a waiter, always a tipper) because this is my way of recognizing a good job. A healthy tip is like a pat on the back.

The tip is recognition of service well-performed. It shows that I care, that I notice — that I recognize what the restaurateur way back in the kitchen does not because he cannot. Why would I want to treat everyone as if they were equally good at their tasks?


The real signification of that exchange of money is that it allows Cohen—and not some impersonal mechanism like the market or the law—to distribute benefits and largesse to the staff. Partly because he wants to recognize the help, to lift the individuals among them above the dross and drab of democracy, where everyone is treated equally and no one gets noticed. Tipping is about making distinctions, about awarding distinctions, which are threatened by those egalitarian rules of equal pay for equal work.

The real object of that art of distinction, however, is not the waiter doing an excellent job but the tipper who is recognizing and rewarding him for it. Notice the ostentatious subject of virtually every single sentence in this passage: ”I hesitate…I like tipping. I like to make a difference…I make… I’m not flipping silver dollars…I am a healthy tipper…my way of recognizing a good job….I care…I notice…I recognize…Why would I want…”

In the act of dispensing rewards, Cohen gets to play the part of a lord. Money is the means of his conveyance. Circulating it advances his cause, elevates him above the crowd. Dispensing money puts his signature on the otherwise drab world of democracy and exchange.

And elevates him a particular sort of way. The last passage:

I like to reward, but occasionally I like to punish. Make my meal an ordeal, make me anxious about whether you got the order straight, and no 20 percent tip will come your way. Maybe that’s not democratic, but a meal is not a town hall meeting.

Reminds me of that passage from the ancient Laws of Manu, which de Maistre loved to cite:
Punishment is an active ruler; he is the true manager of public affairs; he is the dispenser of laws; and wise men call him the sponsor of all the four orders for the discharge of their several duties. Punishment governs all mankind; punishment alone preserves them; punishment wakes, while their guards are asleep….The whole race of men is kept in order by punishment.

If only someone would write a book about all this.

*H/t Andrew Seal.

{ 233 comments }

1

lemmycaution 10.21.15 at 2:23 pm

In California, the common pattern is that all of the kitchen staff is uniformly Hispanic and the waiters are uniformly personable white people. It makes tipping super weird.

2

Z 10.21.15 at 2:28 pm

In the act of dispensing rewards, Cohen gets to play the part of a lord.

Yes, indeed, as he himself recognizes (“this is not democratic”). It seems clear to me, more generally, that the distribution of wealth and power in contemporary US and its remarkable social rigidity more or less implies that a significant part of the élite will openly admit that they feel they stand above the rest of the crowd. Let’s see how long, for instance, before some well-known figure confesses census suffrage makes sense, after all.

3

SamChevre 10.21.15 at 2:35 pm

I’m not sure: given that the openly-stated goal of abolishing tipping is to pay waitstaff less relative to kitchen staff, I tend not to be in favor.

And I’m definitely one of the “I like the fact that a tip makes a difference”; I think anyone who worked in a tipped job remembers how much better one big tip can make your day–and the difference between a big tip and a small tip is often less than the difference between having a drink or not, so I actually can afford it. How often do you get the chance to make an identifiable person’s day better for $5?

4

oldster 10.21.15 at 2:45 pm

When Josh Marshall says that DC is fundamentally wired for the Republican Party, he has in mind things like this: the fact that this guy is widely represented as a liberal Democrat.

5

Sufferin' Succotash 10.21.15 at 3:02 pm

I favor a Soviet-style Flat Tip: 20-percent.
Regardless.

6

BenK 10.21.15 at 3:03 pm

…and so, in a sweeping gesture, Corey Robin makes it clear that the only right way to run things is for all sustenance to flow through the mechanisms which are judged right, equal, and fair from (his) distant throne. No imagined personal relationships in the workplace for him, no indeed. Everything arranged by bureaucrats and sanctioned by moral and intellectual superiors, so as to not risk anyone’s virtue by actually placing them in the position of holding personal authority. No, not even over a fractional percent of the cost of a meal.

7

Dominick Bartelme 10.21.15 at 3:12 pm

As a former waiter for many years, and based on my acquaintance and friendship with many waitstaff and bartenders, I actually think that Cohen’s experience (and his interpretation of that experience) as a waiter (in the U.S.) is fairly universal. Most feel a connection to (most of) their customers, and enjoy getting a good tip for good service. Most that I know take pride in their work, and do not feel that it degrades or diminishes them to perform it, Sartre’s comments notwithstanding.

Perhaps they are wrong. But to suggest that Cohen’s experience is somehow unrepresentative seems inaccurate.

8

Philippe 10.21.15 at 3:16 pm

Excellent post . Especially the bits about discipline and punishment .

A friend once explained to me that the attitude of waiters in France was a clear argument for him in favor of the practice of tipping. I replied that he had it exactly backwards. Tipping condemns service workers to unchanging, inauthentic cheeriness. A stable wage on the other hand is a factor for emancipation and protects the freedom of that individual to be arrogant or surly or in any disposition that happens to fit his state of mind.

9

Jim Harrison 10.21.15 at 3:27 pm

Whether eliminating tipping works out well for waiters or others in a restaurant is, as they say, an empirical question. No tipping decreases the power of the customer, but it increases the power of the employer. How it works out in practice is an open question. Here is San Francisco, one restaurant that experimented with no tipping has reverted to the old arrangement because of the complaints of the waiters, who were losing income and apparently had more pull than the back staff, who liked the change.

One historical point. In the 17th Century and before, servants expected tips from the nobles they served. The cheeky footman who wouldn’t fetch your hat unless you threw him a coin is a feature of old novels. What we think of as the ancient aristocratic system, the state of affairs you see in Upstairs, Downstairs or Downton Abbey, was pretty much a 19th Century phenomenon. When the lords decided they wouldn’t go on tipping the butler, it wasn’t necessarily a progressive moment in the development of the class system.

10

Sam Dodsworth 10.21.15 at 3:35 pm

How it works out in practice is an open question.

I believe there have been some small experiments with the “no tipping” system in other industries, however…

11

Bartleby the Commenter 10.21.15 at 3:36 pm

This is where I could post the famous scene from Reservoir Dogs.

But I would prefer not to.

12

Bartleby the Commenter 10.21.15 at 3:38 pm

I could ask as to why we feel that someones livelihood should depend on the mood of whatever random person comes in the door.

But I would prefer not to.

13

K.R. 10.21.15 at 3:54 pm

How often do you get the chance to make an identifiable person’s day better for $5?

I think the point being made is that Oliver Twist should not be starved just so that he feels gratitude when the well-fed Mr. Bumble deigns to give the child more gruel.

It should be noted that, historically, a large percentage of the tipped service industry have not been college educated. When people are told that without a college degree, they will be working as a waiter, or at McDonald’s, and then find themselves later doing exactly that after being out of work for 14 months with thousands in debt, an economy in recession, and a workforce that somehow considers “three years experience” an entry level requirementand and refuses to put effort training employees because that’s what college education and summer (unpaid) internships are for, will resent the people who told them bother in the first place.

A friend’s grandfather was absolutely flummoxed as to why, when his grandson exited college, they weren’t in some sort of managerial position.

14

The Temporary Name 10.21.15 at 3:58 pm

Why would I want to treat everyone as if they were equally good at their tasks?

I dunno, you’re nice or something?

15

Rangi 10.21.15 at 4:03 pm

I could ask as to why we feel that someones livelihood should depend on the mood of whatever random person comes in the door.

I could just as well ask why a customer’s dining should depend on the mood of whatever random French waiter they get, whose job performance is not tied to their compensation via tips.

It’s ultimately a problem of competing interests—customers want good service, but the greedy ones won’t even tip for it; waiters want good pay, but the lazy ones won’t even be polite to the customer for it. Clearly we need to eliminate this dependence of one human on another, and serve everybody with robots in butler uniforms.

16

BenK 10.21.15 at 4:04 pm

Some of the responses are telling. For example, Bartleby’s idea that livelihoods shouldn’t be dependent on the behavior (or mood) of others. In detail, if a waiter’s livelihood depends solely on one person each day, it would be either his boss, or spouse; not a single customer. Customers in aggregate make a big difference, financially, at least in the negative direction; one at a time, they can really only be a positive.

But the larger issue is something to do with generosity and gratitude.

The sense of personal agency in generosity and gratitude is fundamentally necessary for healthy humans. That people experience one more than the other during life, and also during some life stages, hardly requires any defense because of its obvious necessity. Gratitude does not depend on destitution or desperation, either. In the DC area, some people willfully and rather randomly pay for meals while in the drive through lines at fast food or coffee establishments. Reports have it that these random and minor acts of generosity can have a huge positive impact on the mood of even the well-to-do (in response, partly, to KR).

Attempts to destroy both generosity and gratitude through third party coercion are in every sense a blow against humanity; failing at that, some people like Philippe attempt to undermine them by elevating ingratitude as some imagined greatness, a symbol of striking blows against inequality, the bitter fruit of authentic freedom. But freedom is not a virtue, it is the cost of virtue. It is the risk that people will do ill; for whatever reason, including arrogance, a bad mood, or a mean spirit. There are ways to reduce this risk; they include being generous, and being grateful, so that people are in a better overall frame and are conditioned to do the right thing. Punishment, and supporting the punishers, are also game-theory tested and approved elements of a pro-social environment.

17

Sebastian H 10.21.15 at 4:07 pm

Get dramatically higher wages first, go after tipping later.

If you do it in the other order lots of currently tipped people are going to get hurt.

18

SamChevre 10.21.15 at 4:10 pm

I believe there have been some small experiments with the “no tipping” system in other industries, however…

As far as I can think of, for comparable levels of education and job stability, the workers in those industries are worse off, on average, than tipped waitstaff.

19

K.R. 10.21.15 at 4:22 pm

@BenK

I completely agree with you that gratitude does not depend on destitution or desperation, only that (judging from the OP’s tone) that this specific defense of gratitude in this specific circumstance was to put it mildly, problematic, considering that failing generosity on the part of the customer, many waiters and waitresses would indeed be destitute.

The situation of strangers paying for each other’s meals is I think different (and completely laudable), unless that is the primary method of obtaining the money the need for food.

For myself, I’m actually ambivalent on the issue. I think there’s some confusion between people being paid for what they earned (Cohen suggests the gratitude of the tip must be earned) and people “just brightening others day” which, if the pleasures and virtues of generosity, and gratitude, common living and humanity, are the primary concerns, I’m not quite sure what that has to do with the performance of your waiter. Presumabley a waiter distracted by something (maybe even financial concerns) and delivers a “lesser” service will be just as grateful for that undeserved tip as anybody else, and presumably a waiter who felt they “earned” the 20% tip, isn’t going to be grateful, because as Hobbes puts it, gratitude follows a free-gift not one’s just desserts.

20

herm 10.21.15 at 4:28 pm

The sense of personal agency in generosity and gratitude is fundamentally necessary for healthy humans. That people experience one more than the other during life, and also during some life stages, hardly requires any defense because of its obvious necessity.

We must leave waitstaff dependent on the good graces of the lil’ lords and ladies because it is good for said lord’s and lady’s mental health? You’ve got to be kidding me, I’m surprised your game-theory didn’t inform you that the only people who want it to be all about their own generosity and good nature are the lil’ lords and ladies themselves.

21

Trader Joe 10.21.15 at 4:29 pm

If one had a blank sheet of paper to design a restaurant compensation system, they wouldn’t use tipping as a way of doing it. The restauranteur has an interest in the wait staff providing prompt and generous customer service since, as noted in the OP, he is the primary link between the cook and the customer. Whether the smile is forced upon or real hardly matters. There are any number of jobs from CEO on down to the janitor where the correct response to a service matter is to say “yes sir, let me make it right.”

I don’t however think it should be inherently a system of reward and punishment – there should be a higher base compensation that is contemplated within the restaurant prices and accordingly a higher firm (and hopefully fair) salary built into the pricing structure – a 15% or 20% tip changes the equation signicantly compared to giving the customer the opportunity to add a relatively smaller percentage to reward good service. If the wait-staff isn’t good the difference between getting stiffed or 15% doesn’t matter – they’ll shortly be out of a job.

I’ll admit to having spent a few years behind a bar and I enjoyed a fat tip and bemoaned a cheapskate as much as anyone. That said, it was always a stupid system. My job was to open bottles, pour liquids and not screw-up. Doing these always guaranteed a minimal tip when it was really a fairly expected task. Few of my actual tips were all that deserved since I was doing what I was there to do. On the other hand, what I should have gotten paid for was all the times I talked a guy into the $10 call brand of whiskey rather than the $7 house brand…I’d get maybe an extra $0.50 in my tip, but the house got an extra $3….that salesmanship might have merited reward.

Not sure I see all the democratic ideals imbedded in the OP…its a compensation choice among many.

22

Yastreblyansky 10.21.15 at 4:41 pm

@3 Danny Meyer’s proposal is not so much to pay waitstaff less as to pay kitchen staff more; but the dining room pay is supposed to be equalized by a revenue-sharing program.

As to making somebody’s day better for five bucks, it’s the singling out of some people over others; I’m sure you never give somebody a better tip for being pretty or being servile, but that’s what the system encourages, and I would think (I was always kitchen myself, back in the day, never dining room except to bring drinks on live music nights, and I could be wrong) it would be better all round to feel like an adequately paid professional than a helplessly dependent servant (you starve if the customers don’t like you) even if it is temporarily enjoyable to have someone slip you a Benjamin out of nowhere.

23

fledermaus 10.21.15 at 4:43 pm

“but I am a healthy tipper”

I believe this about as much as his claim to be a “funny guy” He really is one of the most self-involved people on earth.

24

SamChevre 10.21.15 at 4:46 pm

it would be better all round to feel like an adequately paid professional than a helplessly dependent servant

No disagreement from me on that; I like being a professional much better than being a waiter.

But when my option were $8 an hour, every hour and $10 an hour on average, but some nights you make $6 an hour and then some nights you go home with an unexpected $50–I preferred the second.

25

Michael 10.21.15 at 5:09 pm

Richard Cohen seems pretty invested in his relationships with waiters:

That’s why Sean Connery was my kind of Bond. He was 53 when he made his last Bond film, Never Say Never Again. Women loved him because he was sophisticated and he could handle a maitre d’ as well as a commie assassin.

26

oldster 10.21.15 at 5:12 pm

I agree completely with BenK: government should stay out of personal relationships.

Before the government got involved, husbands who did not rape their wives did it from generosity and gratitude. And any wife who was not raped routinely knew thereby that her husband was generous and grateful.

But now with governmental meddling, it has become monstrous–a wife does not even know whether her husband refrains from raping her out of generosity, or out of respect for her “rights” and “legal protections” and other statist fictions invented by you big-government bullies. That’s what your government has given us–an alienation of affections between husband and wife, dividing the most intimate relations.

And don’t even talk to me about how governmental meddling destroyed the ties of intimacy and affection between master and slave in the old south–it’s enough to make me weep when I think of the generosity and gratitude that slaves felt for masters, and masters and slaves. All destroyed now, all gone, all the victims of big government.

27

Bartleby the Commenter 10.21.15 at 5:12 pm

“Attempts to destroy both generosity and gratitude through third party coercion are in every sense a blow against humanity”

I could say that the argument that requiring a higher minimum wage for waiters is a “blow against humanity” is something that a comic book villain would cackle right before getting his just desserts.

But I would prefer not to.

28

Greg Hays 10.21.15 at 5:12 pm

“… (the tip, as Cohen and others like to say, stands for “to ensure promptitude”) …”

Wouldn’t that make it a tep?

29

Bloix 10.21.15 at 5:14 pm

Okay, an exception to my rule of never commenting on Prof. Robyn’s posts.

“the tip, as Cohen and others like to say, stands for “to ensure promptitude”).”

Jesus Fucking Christ on the Cross.

No, tip does not stand for to insure promptitude. Cop is not constable on patrol. Posh is not port out, starboard home. Wog is not wily oriental gentleman. Wop is not without papers. Fuck is not for unlawful carnal knowledge.

Tip is an ordinary word. To tip once meant to touch with the tip of something, like your finger.

So if a person put a coin into the hand of a servant, he was touching, or tipping, him. There are examples in print from the early 1700’s. (Interestingly, there’s an almost opposite meaning of touch meaning to borrow money.)

It’s a pretty good rule that if an English word pre-dates WWII it’s not an acronym. So snafu really is situation normal, all fucked up. But tip is just an ordinary word.

30

Bartleby the Commenter 10.21.15 at 5:16 pm

“I like being a professional much better than being a waiter.”

I would call you an asshole for this comment but I would prefer not to.

31

William Timberman 10.21.15 at 5:25 pm

Und ein Schiff mit acht Segeln, und mit fünfzig Kanonen, wird liegen am Kai….

32

Yastreblyansky 10.21.15 at 5:27 pm

@27 Hey, if the original Bartleby had expressed his preferences the way you do he’d have been the most productive guy in the office. Then again if he were a waiter he still wouldn’t do well in tips. “He just doesn’t make me feel special!”
@29 Thank you. In Singapore they say “Westernized oriental gentleman”, which is of course even more fraudulent.

33

geo 10.21.15 at 5:35 pm

What Sebastian @17 said.

Or we could do what they do in Chapter 14 of Looking Backward. (Since that would presuppose a wholesale egalitarian reconstruction of the society, I can’t explain in short compass.)

34

Corey Robin 10.21.15 at 5:49 pm

Greg Hays at 28: Sorry, fixed it.

35

ccc 10.21.15 at 6:07 pm

One of Cohen’s argument has one implicit empirical step: that Cohen, and tipper more generally, reliably detects a “job well done” and that tips in line with that. Is there empirical evidence that supports that premise?

36

marcel proust 10.21.15 at 6:09 pm

One thing that surprises me in this discussion is that no one has yet raised the issues of sexism and sexual harassment which tipping aggravates: women wait-staff (waitrons?) having to behave in a very gendered way, or be dressed in alluring outfits, to please their customers. I suspect that Bartleby has not mentioned it merely because they have preferred not to, but I don’t understand the rest of you people, including CR.

37

LFC 10.21.15 at 6:15 pm

@Wm Timberman:
“Und ein Schiff mit acht Segeln, und mit fünfzig Kanonen, wird liegen am Kai….”

Je regrette de vous informer que je peux lire le français mais pas l’allemagne. C’est à cause d’une éducation mal.

38

LFC 10.21.15 at 6:18 pm

oops correction: l’allemand, not l’allemagne. sorry.

39

marcel proust 10.21.15 at 6:21 pm

40

marcel proust 10.21.15 at 6:26 pm

LFC:

i.e., Pirate Jenny

41

The Temporary Name 10.21.15 at 6:27 pm

42

Philippe 10.21.15 at 6:27 pm

@16 Attempts to destroy both generosity and gratitude through third party coercion are in every sense a blow against humanity

Laws aren’t third part coercion. Cf Rousseau.

And I don’t think generosity and gratitude are worth saving at all , in the absolute, and certainly not in our time when they are abundantly and loudly praised . The real threat to humanity is all this perfunctory mawkishness . Conversely any attempt to preserve and spread ungenerosity and rancor gets my full support . That’s why I have a special fondness for surly waiters, old men that grope teenagers in the subways, people that hold up the entire line at airport security because they are unprepared, and generally for all kinds of life’s loiterers that have dedicated their existence to idleness and meaningless pursuits. They face real extinction in this age of cult of performance. I say: do as you desire, to the fullest, especially if your endeavor is widely viewed as a perversion, and do not concern yourself in the slightest of the harm it may do to me or others.

43

Chip Daniels 10.21.15 at 6:34 pm

I think its instructive that the more agency someone has, the more empowered they are, the less they rely on tipping, and more on contracts and binding agreements.

Richard Cohen, for example would probably not want to have his salary vary depending on how his editor felt about his column on any given day.

For that matter, I doubt that a restaurant owner would prefer to have customers pay according to how tasty they felt the meal was.

Does anyone here want to be paid the way we pay waitstaff, regardless of the amount? Dependent on your client’s whim and pleasure?

That we support the idea of tipping reserved only for people who are relatively powerless is pretty revealing.

44

LFC 10.21.15 at 6:35 pm

@ m. proust (and TTN)
thanks

45

BenK 10.21.15 at 6:36 pm

@42, Philippe;
I appreciate your full-throated defense of your stance on bad behavior. Your unique perspective may not have many fans (see 36), but you wave the banner high.

46

Yastreblyansky 10.21.15 at 6:46 pm

@43

“The op-ed page was generally stylishly presented, but the actual dishes seemed dated, heavy, and unappetizing, and the service was very uneven. One opinionist named Cohen was particularly obnoxious, and stared at my daughter in a way that made her feel uncomfortable.”

47

William Timberman 10.21.15 at 6:52 pm

With all due respect to LFC, to the French language, and to Nina Simone, I prefer the original — Lotte Lenya as originally conceived, you might say….

https://youtu.be/Ec0clERjQ5A

48

Colin Danby 10.21.15 at 7:02 pm

Years ago a friend pointed out that I was wrong to think restaurants were selling food. Rather, they were selling the experience of being served. One paid to be a little feudal lord for an hour, receiving service and dispensing justice. Statements like Cohen’s “I like to reward, but occasionally I like to punish” bear this out: you could almost argue that people are paying *for* that moment when they get to reward or punish.

49

efcdons 10.21.15 at 7:21 pm

One of the most disgusting columns I’ve ever read and I occasionally read Will or Marc Theissen or at the WaPo. I hated being a waiter and asked to be moved to busboy when I last worked at a restaurant. That someone gets to treat you like a servant and you have to pretend to like it felt demeaning and was infuriating.

@43 got it completely right. If tipping is so good for the tipper and tippee then why don’t we have more people paid using tips as their main source of income? It’s like conservatives constant lionization of work. If work is so great then why does the GOP support policies that make it easier for the wealthy and their descendents to not have to work?

50

Art Deco 10.21.15 at 7:25 pm

You’ve spent several hundred words impugning the character of a newspaper columnist because he wrote in defense of an ordinary social practice which causes no trouble to anyone. Youngsters at Brooklyn College, your tuition dollars at work.

51

marcel proust 10.21.15 at 7:28 pm

Follow-on to my earlier comment about tipping and sexism/sexual harassment. What should also have been obvious to me is the opening for racist behavior that tipping creates, again on the part of the customer (who is, of course, always right).

Tipping? feh!

There’s good reason for its disappearance in revolutionary Catalonia.

52

afeman 10.21.15 at 7:33 pm

http://nomoremister.blogspot.com/2013/10/the-punishers-want-to-run-country-or-we.html

Porter was running what he wanted to be a great restaurant and in pursuit of this he eliminated tipping–he felt that tipping overvalued the work the waiter was doing and undervalued the work the back of the house staff did, and he knew that it resulted in waiters making separate deals and occasionally sabotaging each other and the house in pursuit of a better tip from one set of customers. What he did not expect was to discover that tipping, rather than a burden on his customers, was one of the chief sources of pleasure for them in the meal. Not because they enjoyed the extra 20 percent on top of the bill but because he found they enjoyed the power they thought it gave them over the waiter and over the nature of the experience. They believed (erroneously in his view) that they were given better service because the waiter anticipated the tip. More importantly, they actively enjoyed imagining using the threat of the withheld tip to punish bad service–they enjoyed this imagined power so much that people became frantic and angry when they couldn’t tip. They experienced themselves as having lost their voice and lost control over the situation.

Porter argues that his customers see the restaurant experience as a special subset of other kinds of service experiences in which one person is superior and the other inferior, one person commands and the other serves, and that in the midst of a professional setting in which all persons might have the right to expect equal and equally good service the tip-oriented customer sees a setting in which preferential treatment should be meted out to the good tipper and bad/non preferential treatment should be punished.

Porter also comments on the sex angle:

http://jayporter.com/dispatches/observations-from-a-tipless-restaurant-part-5-sex-power-tips/

53

Bartleby the Commenter 10.21.15 at 7:35 pm

“which causes no trouble to anyone”

Well except to the waiter who eats poorly because his last table stiffed him on the tip. Or the waitress who puts up with a customer copping a feel because her rent is over due and she needs the tip. I could say you lack empathy but I would prefer not to.

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Bloix 10.21.15 at 7:42 pm

Yastreblyansky-
for wog, see: http://www.ferris.edu/jimcrow/golliwog/

55

Sebastian H 10.21.15 at 7:53 pm

“Does anyone here want to be paid the way we pay waitstaff, regardless of the amount? Dependent on your client’s whim and pleasure?

That we support the idea of tipping reserved only for people who are relatively powerless is pretty revealing.”

A lot of that depends on the culture of tipping doesn’t it? I wouldn’t mind being paid a fee plus tip *if there was a strong culture of tipping*. I would take that risk because clients seem very happy with me. But since there isn’t a strong culture of tipping for most work, of course I wouldn’t want to take it. However, see bonuses.

It seems to me that current concerns about tipping are highly misplaced. Are waiters expected to be less servile at these new tip free restaurants? Will patrons fail to complain to owners because tipping isn’t involved? I’d be rather surprised.

So the issue will come down mostly to pay. If waiters are really going to be getting equal pay at these new restaurants, great. But if they aren’t, attacking tipping before improving their pay isn’t doing them any favors. All you have done is left them with less pay while still in a position of serving others.

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Sam Dodsworth 10.21.15 at 8:06 pm

SamChevre@18

As far as I can think of, for comparable levels of education and job stability, the workers in those industries are worse off, on average, than tipped waitstaff.

I work in IT, for example. No tipping works pretty well for me.

57

Teachable Moe 10.21.15 at 8:28 pm

A million years ago, we (waiters) pooled our tips to be divvied up among all the workers (waiters, bussers, dish washers, cooks) at the end of the shift.

Now that I’m on the other end, I like to tip well. Waiting tables is a tough gig. 5 tables of 4 diners per table is a really hectic couple of hours.

My favorite tip story happened in Oxford. We were visiting our son and went to a pizza joint which (unusual for England**) served good pizza. More than satisfied all around, we left an American-size tip. The waitress followed us out into the street, angrily, to hand us our tip back. I can’t remember what happened next. Did we jolly her into accepting the tip? Did she kill us with a convenient pike? I like to think she shamed us about our superior attitude while she accepted the tip as her due for educating us.

I like restaurants as a rule. At least, owner-operated restaurants. When a good one closes, it’s like losing an old friend.***

**sample size: 3
***spends too much at restaurants

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novakant 10.21.15 at 8:40 pm

So my natural inclination is to think that tipping is somewhat demeaning in principle, that wait staff should have a decent guaranteed salary and all the rest of it … BUT having been to a quite a few restaurants – if you wanted to call them that – in both East Germany and the Soviet Union back in the day and the waitstaff there being consistently rude and incompetent, while the food and decor were so bad that one could easily become suicidal … maybe there is something to say for capitalist incentive structures, who knows

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Marc 10.21.15 at 8:42 pm

Tips are a bit of a nuisance to compute and, for most people, really are basically the equivalent of a fixed surcharge on the bill. I’m just as happy in practice having them folded into the bill. It does affect the quality of service, to some degree, e.g. compare France to the US; but there is of course a wide variance anywhere – you get perfectly good efficient restaurant service in Scandanavia or Germany without any expectation of a big tip.

Having said that, they have a huge upside for a lot of people: you can make a good deal more money in tips than you would in wage for a lot of positions. You can do it tax-free in some cases, as you’re getting cash. Individuals may stiff you, but the average person doesn’t; when I tended bar I got a consistent average yield and seriously doubt that I would have been paid 30 or so dollars an hour instead. So this is the sort of reform that would have the effect, in practice, of reducing wages if it was instituted outright. And that could matter a lot for people who don’t get much absolute income, even if they can get decent hourly wages.

It’s also worth noting that it isn’t the rich who care about tipping so much as it is people who are working or middle class. They get very few times when they feel as if they’re in the position to be waited on, and they tend to be the bulk of the people who complain when restaurants drop tips because they perceive that they’re losing some sort of leverage.

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Trader Joe 10.21.15 at 8:49 pm

“A million years ago, we (waiters) pooled our tips to be divvied up among all the workers (waiters, bussers, dish washers, cooks) at the end of the shift. “

A lot of restaurants are still like that. Indeed within some restaurants there’s even some hirearchy amoung the tippees such that, say, 10% of the bar tips go to the dishwashers who then divide the tips such that the day staff gets 1/3 of them and the evening staff gets 2/3 of them – the meal tips might get allocated different. Cooks are rarely counted in, but certain prep-chefs such as the guy who makes up bread baskets or salads will get in the tip-pool since they are viewed as an extension of the wait staff while other prep-chefs relate to the kitchen and are paid salary (though rarely good).

Busboys, hostesses, coat check, restr are others that are sometimes “tipped in or tipped out” and there are no larger fights within a restaurant than adding new people to any of the tip pool.

At higher end restaurants the better tipped (bartenders and senior wait staff) will regularly ‘tip’ some lower ranking employee to do something they are normally meant to do so they can leave early – as a bartender I’d often tip a busboy to do my sweeping and putting chairs up on tables since he’d be doing it for the rest of the joint anyway.

Said different – the customers tip might go a long way before it found its final pocket.

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afeman 10.21.15 at 8:53 pm

I’ve had a couple weeks’ worth of restaurant meals in France and I have to say I don’t understand how they got a reputation for poor service. The service isn’t fawning, but I’ve found it ranging from competent to professional.

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Alex 10.21.15 at 10:02 pm

Cohen is the guy who said he doesn’t feel safe if he doesn’t know someone’s being tortured, so…

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bob mcmanus 10.21.15 at 10:06 pm

Getting some telling pushback in the comments here:

As usual, I look at this from the opposite end, bottom-up rather than top-down, and ask why and how the power structures or service roles or qualitative competitions are internalized by labor as comfortable or pleasurable in the expansion of the affect economy.

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jkay 10.21.15 at 10:44 pm

Tipping was too aristocratic in the US to be done way until the 20th century in the
Prohibition here in the US.

Somehow we spent of US history without it, and I’d say we were right without it.

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Phil 10.21.15 at 10:51 pm

An acquaintance asked me once if we had brownstones in the UK. I said I didn’t know – we might have them, but if we did we didn’t call them ‘brownstones’. He looked puzzled and said, “what do you call them?” I said the limits of my language were the limits of my world, and I’d just reached them. (Not really.)

At least with tipping we share the word, but the practice both is and isn’t the same thing as tipping in the US. We’ve got a minimum hourly wage – currently about $8 US for 18-year-olds and $10 for 21+ (I see these rates are on the high side by US standards). People get minimum wage for the usual kind of relatively unskilled and absolutely vital service jobs, including waiting tables. Some restaurants add a service charge to the bill, or give you the discretion to do so yourself; where the money goes in that case, or whether the waiting staff see any of it, is anyone’s guess. In other places you just leave money on the table. But whatever system they use, it’s unusual to tip either more or less than 10% – unless you’re seriously dissatisfied with service, in which case you’ll (or at any rate I’ll) leave without tipping at all. The idea of calibrating the tip to send a message to the waiter – either good or bad – strikes me as positively creepy. Mind you, so does the idea of the waiter as the diner’s wingman – as far as I’m concerned, once I’ve got my order ‘my’ waiter can forget about me and get on with his life.

There’s an odd custom in pubs around here – I’ve no idea how widespread it is – of adding ‘and your own’ when ordering a drink or drinks. It’s not something you’d do every time, by any means; I do it when I’m ordering something complicated, when I’m breaking a big note or just when I’m feeling flush. The odd part is that the bar staff never actually keep back enough money to pay for a drink; they just take 20p, which goes in a glass by the till & presumably gets divvied up at the end of the evening. It’s a tiny amount, absolutely and in proportion – even on a one-drink order that’s well under 10%.

Other than that, and a couple of cab drivers, I don’t think I’ve ever tipped anyone (hotel staff, servers in McDonald’s, barbers, garage mechanics…). Mr Pink’s spiel about waiters probably had even more resonance here than it did in the US; waiters in restaurants are practically the only people to get tips here. Even tipping cab drivers is optional – I rarely do.

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Ebenezer Scrooge 10.22.15 at 12:51 am

Two things.
First, remember Japan. Extraordinarily good service, and no tipping. There is no necessary tradeoff between the two. Both arise, I think, from the deep Japanese belief in the dignity of labor. Service, in Japan, is a temporary role in life that should be done well; not a permanent condition of degradation. I have my problems with Japanese culture, but they get some things right.

Second, and speaking of degradation, I fear that Corey Robin degrades himself when he notices the likes of R*****d C***n. de Maistre is a worthy foe; C***n isn’t even a worthy whipping boy.

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Priest 10.22.15 at 12:55 am

For me, there are different tipping environments, but I will always treat the tip as owed by me to the staff. So 20% minimum at restaurants and bars regardless of my subjective experience of the “quality” of the service. I may not agree with the compensation system, but it is the way things are done.

Owners get the benefit of lower fixed labor costs, so that when business is slow they’re not bleeding as much cash, and get to display a lower “list price” on menus than would be the case if they were paying all of the wages. My experience has been that the better servers and bartenders get the busier shifts, so there would have to be a differential wage structure. There would be a lot of ingrained psychology to overcome, it’s hard to see a wholesale change being beneficial to the service workers making good money.

And then there’s strip clubs. . .

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js. 10.22.15 at 1:02 am

generosity and gratitude

Here’s the thing: gratitude and generosity are great—gold star fucking awesome! Let’s please have more of that!

Here’s also the thing tho: I don’t want the proper payment for work I have done—work I have done as a job, mind you, expecting payment, not as a favor to some random stranger—I don’t want this payment to depend on the generosity and gratitude of a bunch of random strangers. And that’s what we’re talking about here: payment that is owed for services rendered.

We already have minimum wages laws in this country (maybe you’d like to do away with them?), presumably because we think that a certain amount of compensation is due for work done. Waitstaff are exempt from these laws, against the expectation that tips will equal or exceed the minimum wage. So you pay tips not out of the goodness of your fucking heart but because they are owed to the worker. If they are not, if this is all just a matter of gratitude and generosity, then you should be clamoring for waitstaff to be covered by the minimum wage (or perhaps for the minimum wage to be outlawed?).

Meanwhile, you’ve got Richard Cohen treating waitstaff like their part of his personal fiefdom. His wingman! If the waiter were actually Richard Cohen’s wingman, Richard Cohen would probably die in a “friendly fire accident” really fucking fast—and the fire wouldn’t have been that friendly.

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yastreblyansky 10.22.15 at 1:05 am

@69: This. And “punishing” the waiter who seems slow or not friendly enough is wage theft.

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yastreblyansky 10.22.15 at 1:07 am

@55: OMG. Yes, I think that has to be where it’s from.

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Marc 10.22.15 at 1:16 am

@69: I’d wager that the net effect of banning tips will be that servers will end up earning less money. That matters to me when thinking about this.

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yastreblyansky 10.22.15 at 1:27 am

@72: Again If it’s done right that should not be the case. Whether it’s done by upping the hourly (to $25 in one New York case) or the profit-sharing system envisaged by Danny Meyer, which I think is really impressive, it can be done in such a way as to make workers at least as well off and in most cases better, and also literally less alienated. One object is to decrease turnover.

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Peter T 10.22.15 at 1:28 am

Well, let’s not forget Australia, where tipping is optional. Because restaurant work is paid at a reasonable minimum wage (something the current government is trying to alter) . I have never noticed that the service is worse than in the the US.

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js. 10.22.15 at 1:31 am

You don’t have to “ban tips”, whatever that would mean. You just need to cover them under minimum wage laws.

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js. 10.22.15 at 1:32 am

Sorry crossposted with yatreblansky and Peter T. (Refresh, js., refresh!)

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MarshallPeace 10.22.15 at 1:37 am

Some seem to be thinking of tips as the Right Kind of charity … waiters as the deserving poor.

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ZM 10.22.15 at 2:06 am

In Australia tips are not as important since waitstaff are covered by minimum wages. Tips can still add to your wages, especially if you are working in a restaurant where good tips are common, and they are often split between all staff. But someone I worked with had worked in America and she said the wages were very very bad but the tips made up for it since everyone tipped , she had a funny anecdote about almost running over Oprah Winfrey once in her car at a ski resort. So in Australia tips are just like a pleasant extra, but in America they are a necessity.

I don’t know if Corey Robin has ever worked as a waiter? It really is important to work for the customer because you are an interface worker between the chefs and the customers, and you want the customers to enjoy their time in your restaurant. Chefs are under a lot of pressure in the kitchen, which is why kitchens are run with people talking in French and things. So you need to be able to advocate for the customer if they have special dietary needs or want changes, without upsetting the chefs and things like that. And let the chefs know how the service is going. And even if the writer didn’t mention it it is important to work as a team with your co-workers to to keep everything running well in the whole room, as you can’t have one waiters tables happy and another waiters tables not happy, not only for the customers but because it would spoil the atmosphere in the room.

We are actually having a debate n Australia at the moment about weekend penalty rates, which are maybe something like time and a half. The federal government is considering abolishing weekend penalty rates, as some people say we are a 7 day a week economy now. But penalty rates contribute quite a proportion to some peoples weekly wages, and also encourage people to work weekends when most people have their days off.

Also I think you should always be mindful of the influence of Foucault’s personality on his theorising, even when he had some insights. The alternative to the Victorian sorts of disciplining that starts Discipline and Punish is someone being drawn and quartered , not a pleasant utopia without punishment.

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magari 10.22.15 at 2:57 am

Let’s talk basics. If you take away tipping, the owner will have to raise prices or pay out of pocket to compensate waitstaff. Owners want to do neither. Compensation for waitstaff will decline. And there’s no reason to think wages for the kitchen staff will increase. Many restaurants pool tips and pay out to the line cooks, busboys, etc. It’s how as a 16 year old busboy I was taking home $10/hour when the minimum wage at the time was $5.

In sum, it’s a play by restauranteurs to lower the cost of production. If customers don’t tip, the price of the good is reduced, and makes the good more attractive. It’s truly an aberration that we have a job remaining in the US that requires no education and pays over the minimum wage, and in many cases significantly over that wage.

In the long run, the dining room experience will change. The best restaurants will pay their waitstaff more so as to encourage “professionalism”, the rest of the restaurants won’t and service will approximate that of flying economy class.

79

LFC 10.22.15 at 3:12 am

magari @79
It’s truly an aberration that we have a job remaining in the US that requires no education and pays over the minimum wage, and in many cases significantly over that wage.

A truly weird statement. First, waiters have to be literate, they have to read and write, at least at a basic level, so to say it requires *no* education is wrong, unless you think humans pop out of the womb reading and writing. Second, being a waiter I don’t think is a much less skilled job than being a cashier, say, at a supermarket, and if the latter workers are covered by union contracts, which many of them are at least where I live, you can be sure they’re making more than minimum wage.

80

js. 10.22.15 at 3:47 am

Look, waiting tables isn’t some super special kind of job. There are lots of kinds of service sector jobs, and waiting tables is one of them. I’m mildly amazed that people like Marc and magari, who presumably agree that normal kinds of worker protection measures—like, say, minimum wage laws—are generally beneficial, that these same people think that these same measures would suddenly turn out to be harmful when applied to waitstaff. That makes no sense! Or perhaps we should strip bank tellers and front desk librarians and store clerks of these protections too. Friendlier service and lower prices everywhere!

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Belle Waring 10.22.15 at 4:07 am

Tip-defenders: you are agreeing with Richard Cohen about something. Thus, you are wrong, QED. But seriously, tipping is a uniquely American and awful thing. Moving to Asia has taught me that. People in Bali are incredibly kind and thoughtful waiters without being tipped. That’s just because Balinese people are ludicrously nice all the time. Taxi drivers in Singapore are, on the whole, good despite the tipless standard–if you owe less than 75 cents or so above the nearest dollar of the fare, the driver will say, “never mind the fifty cents,” and likewise you don’t demand the small change when paying a bill of $9.80 or whatever, so it balances out for everyone during the day. (They are uniformly poor drivers who have one foot on the gas and the other on the brakes the whole time, but tipping ain’t going to fix that nauseating problem.) To the extent that European waiters are not fake-friendly I think it’s just a question of cultural mores and their being reserved rather than the tips that make the difference. Comparing it to customer service in communist era Eastern Bloc states is unfair, because everything sucked then.

Like apparently everyone in the thread I have waited tables. People commenting about sexual harassment are on the money; someone would have to be rising to the level of sexual assault for your manager to give a shit IME. Even then you’d probably be told to shake it off. Also there is the weirdness alluded to above–the wait staff in the restaurant I worked in in Savannah was 100% white and the kitchen 100% black. Pooling tips becomes a racial issue. But maybe the worst thing is, tons of things can go wrong with a customer’s meal that you, as a waiter, have no responsibility for! Long wait times, wrong orders and bad food can be coming out of the back of the house, and then you as the waitress are getting shafted. Nor is there any prospective relationship–beyond the barest logical connection applying to extremes–between your attitude to the customers and their tips. You can be sweet as sugar to people coming to eat after church, and they will tip you $5 on a $60 tab. I think it is a space in which less affluent Americans can exercise dominion over people the way the rich do, plain and simple.

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Fuzzy Dunlop 10.22.15 at 4:15 am

From Jay Porter’s discussion of his experience running a no-tipping restaurant linked by afeman @53:
When we switched from taking tips to a flat service charge with no tipping allowed, I shrugged my shoulders a bit wistfully, assuming that the sex appeal for which we were known would become a thing of the past. That was OK with me…

Imagine my surprise when that didn’t happen. Not only did the women who worked for us keep up their appearances, they, if anything, actually turned up the dial.

I wondered what was going on — my expectations were confounded. However, it was clear that we were now the only restaurant in the US where, patently, if a female server chose to look sexy, it was most likely because she felt like looking sexy. If a server flirted with you, it was because she wanted to flirt with you. Not because she wanted your money; but because she was enjoying flirting with you. It didn’t affect her night’s income at all.

This opened up a world of possibility. A place where both patron and worker, as peers and neighbors, could bring their whole selves literally to the table. Not just playing their roles as master and servant, but as real people exhibiting their sense of humor, their playfulness, and, being human, their sexuality.

I saw that, in a tipless environment our female servers had the potential to be perceived as whole persons. From that, it was easy to see that in a tipping environment, we push the job of waitressing into a realm that nestles alongside stripping and prostitution; a realm where any sexuality the woman shows is assumed to be solely because she wants to get paid.

Until I read that, I was with magari @79 and others who raised the question of whether eliminating tipping will lead to reduced income for servers. Now I’m not so sure about this, even if it would lead to reduced income for some servers.

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faustusnotes 10.22.15 at 4:48 am

Seconding Ebenezer Scrooge on Japan. Service here is great and tipping an absolute no no. Many restaurants – locally owned and chain – pay their staff not just a guaranteed hourly wage, but as seishain, full-time corporate workers with promotion rights, bonuses and higher quality social insurance. But whether they’re part time students or full-time salarymen, people working in restaurants here take their jobs seriously and show you respect.

I think Richard Cohen has carefully elaborated the true reasons for tipping in his article. Get rid of it!

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Jim Harrison 10.22.15 at 4:55 am

I know waiters here in San Francisco who love the idea of no tipping and others who are extremely unhappy at the prospect because they expect to lose money on the deal. Part of the difference is simply financial. The prospect of good tips is much more attractive if you work in a posh places, much less attractive in middling places where the bulk of pay, such as it is, comes from wages. There’s a psychological difference, too. The waiters who make fairly good money iI know waiters here in San Francisco who love the idea of no tipping and others who are extremely unhappy at the prospect because they expect to lose money on the deal. Part of the difference is simply financial. The prospect of good tips is much more attractive if you work in a posh places, much less attractive in middling places where the bulk of pay, such as it is, comes from wages. There’s a psychological difference, too. The waiters who make fairly good money in these parts have much the same outlook at their employers. It’s not they like to “stink to please” any more than anybody else, but as is often the case with small business people, they accept that trading money for self respect is how the game works. Nobody toadies up to the customers more than the proprietor of the joint, after all.

As I indicated above, I think the question of what is best for most people is an empirical one. What will really benefit wait staff in fact as well as theory? I don’t claim to know, though I suspect a much higher minimum wage and changes in tax rules are what’s really important, whether or not accompanied by a no tipping rule

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Jim Harrison 10.22.15 at 4:56 am

Sorry that last post got messed up. My eyes are going.

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dsquared 10.22.15 at 8:34 am

I offer this piece of advice for my American friends (it is, indeed, a tip). If you’re having this constant bad experience with customer service in France, nine times out of ten it is because you didn’t say “bonjour” when you walked in. I don’t know why this isn’t made clearer in guidebooks, but it is normal in France to say hello to someone as soon as you walk through their door. If you don’t do it, they’re going to feel like you’re being rude to them.

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Alex K--- 10.22.15 at 8:56 am

Some people, including the caricature of Richard Cohen drawn here by Corey Robin, cherish every opportunity to exercise discretionary power. Among those, people with few such opportunities outside of their immediate family might be the happiest to dangle a carrot in front of a waiter to make her do their bidding. The abolition of tipping would close, and the introduction of a fixed wage would narrow, this avenue for sadistic behavior.

However, decent people tip for reasons entirely different from those above. Tipping is not a uniquely American practice: what is unique is the extent to which waiters have to rely on tips for their livelihood. Belle Waring cites $5 on a $60 bill as miserly, but by European standards, it would not be outrageously so: 8% instead of the average 10% (the average US tip being 15-20% of the check IIRC). Banning tips entirely (rather than making them supplement a fixed wage) would make the payoff from pleasing the boss (the wage-setter) higher than the (near-zero) payoff from keeping the customer happy. That’s how bureaucratic organizations work, not necessarily state-owned, by the way.

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Igor Belanov 10.22.15 at 11:06 am

“How often do you get the chance to make an identifiable person’s day better for $5?”

Any time you want if you give it to a homeless person in town. Unfortunately there are plenty of them around.

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Anspen 10.22.15 at 11:51 am

The core question I always have for people who are fundamentally in favour of tipping is this: what makes waiting tables different from (almost) any other job, especially those with a lot of interaction with customers? Why is it a good thing to tip in a restaurant (even assuming the staff is paid a decent wage regardless of tips) but is it not necessary to do the same in a hospital, when hiring a plumber of buying groceries?

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magari 10.22.15 at 12:00 pm

When I said “no education” I meant higher education. And I think of myself as resolutely pro-worker. Hence why I want tipping to remain a practice, because it permits this one class of worker (and those who benefit from pooled tips) to retain earnings that otherwise will end up in the pocket of the owner. And @80, you’re wrong. Today no-higher-ed service jobs are minimum wage jobs, with few exceptions. Waiter is one of those.

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ZM 10.22.15 at 12:16 pm

“The core question I always have for people who are fundamentally in favour of tipping is this: what makes waiting tables different from (almost) any other job, especially those with a lot of interaction with customers? Why is it a good thing to tip in a restaurant (even assuming the staff is paid a decent wage regardless of tips) but is it not necessary to do the same in a hospital, when hiring a plumber of buying groceries?”

Plumbers are well paid in Australia. Nurses are quite well paid. Waitressing is about minimum wage here, which is better than in America where you have a very strange system of making up for extremely low wages with tips that I don’t quite know how developed.

If you are making minimum wage it is quite nice to have additional money from tips. I suppose this is sort of unfair to other minimum wage workers as you mention. I think there are two main differences from waiting and retail: one is the time spent with customers as while you are not with the customers consistently say two or three courses plus coffee or a dessert wine or something is a lot longer than you spend with customers in retail (unless perhaps you work in some sort of high end retail job? I’m not sure); the other is that it is hospitality so people are going for a pleasant lunch or dinner, it might be a special occasion, or you might have a solo diner to take care of etc — Corey Robin complains about the “affect” and says it should be a transaction but that is not how people enjoy going out to lunch or dinner. I am afraid Corey Robin would not make a good restauranteur any better than Sartre would have. Also it is more pleasant if you are waiting on a table to have a nice bit of conversation and so on, or else you feel like a drone which is what Corey Robin’s preferred approach for waitstaff would be, I am quite sure he does not take this approach with his students that him providing education is a transaction and there should not be any “affect” in his professorial relationship with students.

(Sorry, offended waitress rant over)

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SamChevre 10.22.15 at 12:33 pm

Second, being a waiter I don’t think is a much less skilled job than being a cashier, say, at a supermarket, and if the latter workers are covered by union contracts, which many of them are at least where I live, you can be sure they’re making more than minimum wage.

I don’t know about wages now, but 10 years ago, a cashier at Kroger (which was a unionized store) made minimum wage to start and maybe 10% over minimum wage a year in (and didn’t get benefits for the first year); a waiter could easily average twice that. (The benefits of unionization were primarily for long-term employees.)

In theory, whether waiters are paid via tips or not isn’t something I care a whole lot about. In practice, in the US today, waiters get better pay and more agency than most comparable workers–and that is exactly what Jay Porter, for example, dislikes about the tip system.

In a tipout system, what started as one enterprise (a restaurant selling its food & hospitality to its guests), has now spawned two completely new, concurrent businesses: the business of the server selling the perception of extra attention to the guest for tips; and the business of the kitchen workers selling favors to the servers for tipout. These additional, parasitic businesses are not focused on improving the quality of the original enterprise

Note carefully who controls which businesses.

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bob mcmanus 10.22.15 at 2:00 pm

The affective economy, liberalism, neo-liberalism, democracy, Gramsci’s hegemony essentially works by letting the working class participate in and enforce bourgeois morality, as in making moral and fair laws, judging the Kardashians decadent or trivial, judging Cohen as haughty or callous, homogenizing the commodified labor markets.

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faustusnotes 10.22.15 at 2:46 pm

ZM I’m sorry but you’ll get all that and more in Japan without ever even paying 1c in tips. It would be considered actually offensive to leave even that 1 cent, and people would chase you to give it back.

I have only been to America once and only for 3 weeks but I soon got very sick of tipping. First of all the weird payment system where your credit card gets taken away and handled in a remote location without specifying the bill properly somehow led to my credit card details being stolen and me being robbed (no doubt by a waiter I had tipped), leading to a very unpleasant experience when I couldn’t pay my hotel. And then because it was just so weird to have this dude (my “wingman” I guess) hanging around waiting for me to decide how much extra money he deserved – it was like some kind of weird co-dependent relationship or something. And finally because every waiter I met in three weeks in America was fucking incompetent because they were so busy trying to impress me with their attentiveness that they didn’t listen to what I was saying and always fucked up my order. By the end of my stay I was so sick of being asked a million choices just to have the waiter get them wrong, and then be treated like the arse end of humanity when I decide not to pay extra on their hideously overpriced food.

In Seattle I ordered a noodle salad that came without noodles. I mean wtf? That was the final straw for me – after three weeks of just not getting what I asked for, I stopped tipping. Join a fucking union already, and just do your job.

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Adam Bradley 10.22.15 at 3:01 pm

ccc @36:

One of Cohen’s argument has one implicit empirical step: that Cohen, and tipper more generally, reliably detects a “job well done” and that tips in line with that. Is there empirical evidence that supports that premise?

The Economist points to a study finding that people rarely vary their tips based on quality of service. That’s certainly my experience: I leave 20%, rounded to the nearest $.50–I don’t own or manage a restaurant and don’t consider it my job to do performance evaluations or make payroll decisions there.

96

Glenn 10.22.15 at 3:03 pm

If only everyone was entitled to operate as a capitalist, a contract for services rendered and compensation could be negotiated before commencing dinner.

A waiter could then be free to move to another table if the compensation didn’t meet with his expectations.

No more lords and serfs.

http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2001/jun/29/comment

“I have been sadly disappointed by my 1958 book, The Rise of the Meritocracy. I coined a word which has gone into general circulation, especially in the United States, and most recently found a prominent place in the speeches of Mr Blair.

“The book was a satire meant to be a warning (which needless to say has not been heeded) against what might happen to Britain between 1958 and the imagined final revolt against the meritocracy in 2033.”

97

Dean C. Rowan 10.22.15 at 3:12 pm

Super analysis from CR. My, uh, two cents: there are restaurants and restaurants. Meyer’s are, I imagine, the sort where the dining “experience” is part of the package, the commodity. Other joints are perhaps less about the dramatic arc of fine dining, in which tipping is a stock piece to be performed, and more about simple pleasures. As news, this story is thus for Cohen simply another characteristic of trendy food-ism. Meanwhile, here in Oakland and Berkeley, more humble ventures have taken the same step. I frequent a pizza restaurant that went tipless at all of its locations in April. The wait staff was anxious and, so far, does not appear all that happy with the trade-off of tips for marginally higher wages, although they are unquestionably pleased that their less well-paid co-workers are making more. They respect the move toward equity. But the joint has reduced its hours and whittled away at its menu. The customer-server relationship feels a little uncomfortable. At no point during the public conversation about this change has the income of the owners of or investors in the restaurant ever been fair game.

98

Marc 10.22.15 at 3:19 pm

@81: I think that people here are being amazingly naive. I’m completely OK with increasing the minimum wage for tipped employees. However, we’re being asked to endorse a “no tipping” regime, which will require employers to either 1) increase wages and prices directly to keep their net income the same or 2) end up lowering net prices and wages.

Over and over and over again we’ve seen these arguments – in some ideal world, workers will be better off if we do A, B , and C, where A lowers their wages. Over and over and over again we do A, not B, not C.

People outside the US just really seem not to appreciate that tips really, really add to the incomes of lots of people, and that many people will end up earning substantially less if they are stopped. And this will occur for the same reason that working people have gotten the short end of the stick all of the other times that we change implied social contracts.

99

Retaliated Donor 10.22.15 at 3:26 pm

Name any domain of human experience and there’s an academic who specializes in it. Meet Wm. Michael Lynn, Burton M. Sack Professor in Food & Beverage Management at the Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration, “Tipping Expert.”

http://www.tippingresearch.com/

100

LFC 10.22.15 at 3:32 pm

magari @91
Hence why I want tipping to remain a practice

Just to be clear, I don’t have a strong view on this one way or other. Getting rid of tips would require some fairly major changes in the way the restaurant industry — in the US if not, say, in Japan where we’re told there is no tipping — works. And on the scale of indignities, I don’t think someone’s acting as a “lord” in a restaurant ranks that high. As some previous comments say, it may be just a routine transaction for most people, who don’t vary the tip in either direction except in unusual circumstances. I left a slightly higher than usual tip once recently, in a non-upscale place that was not busy, b.c I had a pleasant conversation with the server on a topic that didn’t involve the food or the restaurant. But I think that doesn’t happen v. often.

101

LFC 10.22.15 at 3:43 pm

P.s. That R. Cohen is kind of a self-centered jerk is clear, but really separate from the broader issue of whether tipping should be kept or replaced, ISTM. Or if the two issues are connected, it’s partly a question of weighing psychic indignities vs. material benefits, an issue which those directly affected are prob. best placed to decide.

102

Teachable Moe 10.22.15 at 4:05 pm

re: 96 and not varying tips according to service

That’s true for us, and we didn’t vary the amount until our daughter got irate that we only tipped 15%. So, we’re up to 20% now. Nothing like being scolded by your child.

As others have mentioned, if we go to a no-tip mode, that’s fine, but until it happens, we’re going to tip the waiter.

103

Yastreblyansky 10.22.15 at 4:18 pm

@98: The only Meyer restaurant I’ve ever eaten in was in the Shake Shack chain, where tipping is not customary (and which no longer belongs to his company), though there have been several times when I almost went to the Union Square Cafe, so I can’t speak to the “experience commodity” issue, but in regard to the other really salient point–

At no point during the public conversation about this change has the income of the owners of or investors in the restaurant ever been fair game.

–Meyer’s company has in fact raised this, one of the reasons I think it’s so interesting:

USHG will emphasize transparency when it comes to explaining the revenue share portion of any given paycheck: employees will receive daily updates on the restaurant’s overall financial performance, as well as training on understanding what he describes as “the financial aspects of the business, which is now directly tied to their compensation.”

104

Yastreblyansky 10.22.15 at 4:19 pm

105

Belle Waring 10.22.15 at 4:53 pm

Obviously waiters with good jobs would be worried because the chance to get serious amounts of cash in a single night would be reduced. But no one is talking about a) failing to raise waitstaff’s pay to minimum-wage and then b) never tipping anyone ever. Because right now waiters are paid scandalously sub minimum wage, taxed on hypothetical tips, and often forced to work doing prep work or cleanup in off-the-books BS. I was forced into non-table-waiting scut-work while being paid less than minimum wage. This was in part because the restaurant owner was a skeezy cokehead who inherited the business; however, the numbers of non-skeezy-cokehead resterateurs is so small as to be negligible, and can be dispensed with for the discussion.

106

mds 10.22.15 at 4:56 pm

SamChevre @ 93:

a waiter could easily average twice that.

Despite its mention by critics of tipping, I have yet to see any of those praising the great living waiters are making from tips address the fact that how good of a living it is depends on how expensive the restaurant is. Assuming that the waiters at fancy places in Manhattan are much better at their jobs than the ones at a Perkins in Des Moines; after accounting for the cost of living, are they that much better? I’m skeptical about the notion that the server in Des Moines doesn’t deserve a higher guaranteed wage just because someone working at Jean-Georges is doing great without one.

107

mds 10.22.15 at 5:09 pm

Marc @ 99:

I’m completely OK with increasing the minimum wage for tipped employees.

Good on you; me too.

However, we’re being asked to endorse a “no tipping” regime,

Yes, that’s precisely the plan of action that Professor Robin and many of us in this comment thread are endorsing: Everyone needs to stop tipping immediately, push through legislation banning the practice just in case, and hope that wage increases follow. Good grief. Alternatively, we might be decrying the practice because the way it’s practiced in the US is tied up with such things as waitstaff being exempt from normal minimum wage requirements, relying upon tax evasion to boost their incomes, etc. If we were doing it just to get out of tipping, there are already alternatives such as fake currency, condescending notes, and religious tracts.

108

SamChevre 10.22.15 at 5:27 pm

the numbers of non-skeezy-cokehead resterateurs is so small as to be negligible

So so so true.

109

Jonathan Dresner 10.22.15 at 6:00 pm

I’m shocked that it took 70-something comments for anyone to point out that there are whole cultures in which tipping is not practiced. Pitiful.

110

Sebastian H 10.22.15 at 6:49 pm

Here is a list of which states require the normal minimum wage for waiters and which don’t DOJ site. There doesn’t seem to be an obvious liberal/conservative cut to it, and there are very many liberal states that pay sub minimum wages. A great first step would be for all the liberal states to raise the minimum wage of tipped employees to the standard state minimum. They risk becoming a restaurant wasteland like California….

111

Marc 10.22.15 at 7:20 pm

@108: The sanctimonious lectures in this thread are coming from people who don’t like tipping, and people who do it are being called wanna-be lords trying to treat others like servants and various other insults.

112

Yastreblyansky 10.22.15 at 7:28 pm

@112: Perhaps you mean people who don’t like stiffing. As menu prices will rise 20% or so, the only difference for the customer is that you’ll now be unable to punish the server by refusing to pay that part of the meal price.

113

BenK 10.22.15 at 7:33 pm

@112
If the server’s anticipated pay is wrapped up in their base salary, then they will become much more of a risk to the establishment, which will hire fewer of them. Right now, there is a balance between their idle time and their busy times that is tipped more towards keeping extras on hand than it would be. Also, there would be more pressure to substitute capital for labor.

So, perhaps you mean that the people who are giving the lectures are people who don’t like waitstaff and wish that there were fewer jobs available in that line of work…

114

js. 10.22.15 at 8:42 pm

@81: I think that people here are being amazingly naive.

You (and magari, et al) hold the view that waiting tables is an utterly sui generis occupation whereby greater protections for workers equal worse conditions for workers. And you think other people are being amazingly naive. OK.

115

etv13 10.22.15 at 8:58 pm

js. et al: Tipped employees are not exempt from the minimum wage laws. Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, employers can credit a certain amount of tips toward the minimum wage, but if the tips fall short, the employer has to make up the difference. In California, tips are by statutory definition the property of the people who receive them, so the employer can’t use them as a credit toward the minimum wage.

116

Bartleby the Commenter 10.22.15 at 9:07 pm

“Tipped employees are not exempt from the minimum wage laws. Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, employers can credit a certain amount of tips toward the minimum wage, but if the tips fall short, the employer has to make up the difference.”

I could ask whether you really believe this actually happens? Whether you actually know anyone who works in the industry? An industry where wage theft is all too common?

But I would prefer not to.

117

js. 10.22.15 at 9:14 pm

What Bartleby said would prefer not to say.

118

js. 10.22.15 at 9:17 pm

Also, for the record, I really like tipping. But I prefer not to base labor policy on my personal whims and fancies.

119

Trader Joe 10.22.15 at 9:20 pm

@117 and 118
I can’t speak for all employers and certainly won’t represent that wage theft never happens, but I can say that in any restaurant where the vast majority of transactions are run on credit cards….there is definitely a direct and accurate accounting and most restaurant management point of sales systems (which you’d see in basically 100% of any franchised type restaurant from Applebee’s to Ruth Chris) credit the tips directly to the employee in question and there is full accounting.

120

js. 10.22.15 at 9:32 pm

Picked at random.

Believe it or not, many, many more such stories are just two clicks away from you.

121

etv13 10.22.15 at 10:02 pm

@ js. It’s one thing to say there is widespread wage theft (although I note you haven’t offered any actual factual support for that, and that what Trader Joe says at 120 seems to weigh against it) and it’s quite another to say, as you said, and as others such as ZM went along with, that servers in the US are exempt from minimum wage laws. They are not.

122

Trader Joe 10.22.15 at 10:09 pm

@121
I’d agree with a lot of the wage theft examples listed – indeed I mentioned many of them in post @61. Allocating tips, particularly when that is known up front, is a bit different than actual stealing. I bartended and I know that 10% of my tips were allocated to the dishwashers and busboys – which seems reasonable, I wasn’t standing their washing glasses I was opening, pouring and mixing. When a guy ran up a $50 tab and gave me a $10 tip I could greedily think it was all due to my sterling personality and perfectly mixed gin and tonic – or, more democratically, realize that he also appreciated that there was a clean glass, a swept floor, TP in the mens room and that some of his tip paid for those services too.

When I rang the guys AMEX on the machine, he’d get the credit card bill for the $50, he’d put his tip and I’d ring that back into the system. The $10 went to my account. If that was the only thing I did that night – I’d get credit for $9 with $1 going to others in the house. If it was alcohol on a dinner tab, the crediting would run towards me with the waiter getting most of it and me getting an allocation.

123

parse 10.22.15 at 10:31 pm

Does anyone here want to be paid the way we pay waitstaff, regardless of the amount? Dependent on your client’s whim and pleasure?

The ones here who have expressed the desire to be paid the way we pay waitstaff seem to be mostly people who have worked as waitstaff and reported they found that working for hourly wage plus tips was preferable to working the same job without tips.

That’s pretty consistent in all the discussions of tipping that I’ve seen; people who are actually working as waiters more often comment in favor of tipping. I don’t have a personal preference either way, and I support tipping because the people involved generally seem to like it that way.

124

Ronan(rf) 10.22.15 at 10:46 pm

Richard Cohen imagines himself as a feudal lord engaged in a bromance with his peasant waiter ? An heir of Lincoln and muse for Sartre? Are we overthinking this?

125

Ronan(rf) 10.22.15 at 10:58 pm

IIRC, the first time I was in the US, when young and callow, I tipped the tipjar at a diner 4 times the amount of my meal, but the cook returned it and said 15% would suffice. Not really a tip, but another time I gave the plumber my cat (more accurately he took it, and it was a stray rather than my own. But I implied he could have it, so didnt really mind)

126

etv13 10.22.15 at 11:04 pm

Trader Joe @ 123: In my mind, I think of things like clean glasses and floors and properly stocked/maintained restrooms as overhead being covered by the $50, not as the service for which I’m tipping the $10. Not that I grudge the busboy his cut, but in my mind things like clean floors in a restaurant aren’t “services.”

It occurs to me it’s kind of weird that we tip in bars and restaurants based on a percentage of the price of the food and drink, rather than a flat $5 or $10 per person served. I leave the same amount for the maid whether I’m staying at a four-star hotel or a Best Western.

js. @ 121: The linked article describes the minimum wage laws pretty much as I did, and none of the examples of wage theft indicate that tipped staff (as opposed to back of house people) are receiving less than minimum wage, just that some portion of their tips are being misallocated or misappropriated. Maybe they are, but if the restaurateurs don’t care about paying minimum wage, why bother lobbying against minimum wage increases, as the article also describes?

127

js. 10.22.15 at 11:15 pm

Trader Joe — I have no doubt you have a sterling personality, and I certainly agree that bussers should be paid fair wages, but none of this is to the point. As the Dissent article mentions, several of the pooling schemes are straight up illegal; and tips are properly owed to the tipped employee, whether their personality is sterling or whether they’re the second coming of the Grouch.

etv13 — I’ll grant you that when I said that tipped employees are exempt from minimum wage laws, I should have said that they’re exempt from normal minimum wage requirements. Which is true: they’re treated as a special class. But this:

if the restaurateurs don’t care about paying minimum wage, why bother lobbying against minimum wage increases, as the article also describes?

I’ll leave you to figure out by yourself.

128

etv13 10.22.15 at 11:58 pm

js. @ 128: Well, my conclusion is they lobby against increases in the minimum wage because they fear they would have to pay it (and are paying it now). Is that the conclusion you wanted/expected me to draw?

129

Bartleby the Commenter 10.23.15 at 12:55 am

Etv13 having worked as a waiter I can tell you that owners DO NOT pay you minimum wage when you fail to make that in tips on a slow night or when they ask you do to none serving functions like folding napkins or sweeping. Well I could tell you if I didn’t prefer not to.

130

LFC 10.23.15 at 1:10 am

@Ronan
another time I gave the plumber my cat

I hope you’re having an enjoyable drink at whatever pub you’re in right now. ;)
(Signing off computer for the evening.)

131

LFC 10.23.15 at 1:21 am

p.s. I didn’t check the time difference where you are.

132

Greg Hays 10.23.15 at 3:40 am

Alex K—- @88: What would a “caricature of Richard Cohen” even look like?

133

ZM 10.23.15 at 4:31 am

faustus notes,

“ZM I’m sorry but you’ll get all that and more in Japan without ever even paying 1c in tips. It would be considered actually offensive to leave even that 1 cent, and people would chase you to give it back.
I have only been to America once and only for 3 weeks but I soon got very sick of tipping. “

I have never been to America. I was just talking about here in Australia.

Waiting is covered by award wages here so it is not like in America. You don’t need tips. Waitstaff are usually nice whether you tip or not. It is more common here to tip at higher end restaurants than at cafes or less costly restaurants, probably because you are spending a lot more but the award wages are not that much different (there are about three classes of award wages for hospitality here I have an idea depending on experience). But as a waitress it is still nice to have extra money from tips, as your wages are not very high.

134

ZM 10.23.15 at 4:34 am

Ronan(rf),

” but another time I gave the plumber my cat (more accurately he took it, and it was a stray rather than my own. But I implied he could have it, so didnt really mind)”

When I was a teenager circa 1995 I went to a Sebadoh show in the city. It finished when public transport had closed, I didn’t have any money, and I didn’t want to have to hang out in the city by myself all night (I had gone to the show alone). I ended up getting a taxi to my grandfather’s and talking the taxi driver into accepting a cassette of The Who for payment.

135

etv13 10.23.15 at 4:44 am

Bartleby, as a woman who makes substantially less than her less experienced male counterpart, I am perfectly well aware that employers don’t always do what they are legally required to, and that there are major barriers (perhaps merely psychological, in my case) to suing them, or complaining to the EEOC or the DOL. Nonetheless, it is the law throughout the US that employers are supposed to pay everyone, including servers, at least the federal minimum wage. We shouldn’t get that wrong when we are talking about whether abolishing tipping would be a good thing or not. And if there is genuinely widespread lawlessness among employers, we should take that into account, too.

136

js. 10.23.15 at 4:55 am

The ones here who have expressed the desire to be paid the way we pay waitstaff seem to be mostly people who have worked as waitstaff and reported they found that working for hourly wage plus tips was preferable to working the same job without tips.

I think the thing you’re missing is that several of the people arguing for a change to the status quo have also worked as waitstaff. Look, I waited tables all through summers during college and for a bit afterwords. I loved it—I loved the tips! I was good enough at it that I was quickly working the busiest shifts (Fri/Sat nights), and it was more fun/better money than anything else I could have been doing then, when I was 18-21 and knowing that I had a bright future ahead of me that most certainly did not involve waiting tables for the rest of my life (that going to grad school for philosophy didn’t turn out to be such a bright future is another matter).

I would guess that most of the high-powered professionals on here fondly remembering their days waiting tables have vaguely similar recollections. Except that I am also aware that the thing I’ve described in the last paragraph is extremely fucking far from the reality of most people who are, officially, “tipped employees”. I mean, this exists for a reason, and tho you wouldn’t know it from this thread, waitstaff join it—and employers (and Chambers of Commerce types) hate it! I just simply don’t see how bringing waitstaff under the same sorts of labor law protections that are afforded to all other similarly placed workers is supposed to end up as a net loss to waitstaff.

———-

etv13 @129: Frankly, I wasn’t sure what you were asking. But yes, my thought is that things like minimum wage laws generally generally help workers at the expense of bosses. (If they don’t pay it, they have to work harder not to get into trouble.) Which is why the defense of the status quo in this thread leaves me cold, at best.

137

js. 10.23.15 at 5:08 am

Just to be clear, I do know how to spell “afterwards”.

138

Trevor 10.23.15 at 6:24 am

Other than not knowing what the appropriate tip should be, my problem with the system, is the service is often lousy. Not necessarily through the waiter’s fault but because only your designated waiter will serve you . So if your waiter is occupied with a large table who want itemised bills, and you want to order another bottle of wine, the other waiters, even if free, will just nod and tell you they will let your waiter know. I find it a very frustrating system and would much rather just have the cost of the service included on my bill.

139

Belle Waring 10.23.15 at 6:32 am

Waitstaff aren’t paid sub-minimum wage because their employers are supposed to make up the difference? Hollow laugh.

140

faustusnotes 10.23.15 at 6:58 am

ZM I’m also Australian, and I find the Aussie tipping approach quite satisfactory – no one expects it and it doesn’t serve as salary (though I suspect in some places that employ migrant labour it does). I have no objection to that culture, though the way in the UK it has slowly become obligatory to tip is kind of unpleasant. Also I would never trust a British establishment to actually transfer those “suggested” 15% tips to the staff. But in the US it’s something else, and it’s repulsive. I also don’t believe it encourages good service – obsequious service, but not competent service. As the OP has rightly observed, the defender of tipping is more interested in the obsequiousness than the efficiency.

Get rid of it!

141

etv13 10.23.15 at 7:46 am

Okay, so Belle, what do you propose? Get rid of tipping, and put the whole control of servers’ compensation squarely in the employer’s hands? Institute a 20 percent service fee customers pay directly to the server? Or maybe, since apparently you don’t trust either employers or diners to act like decent, responsible, law abiding people, we should just abolish restaurants and eat frozen food at home. Oh wait, frozen food is made by employees too.

142

etv13 10.23.15 at 8:11 am

141 (I couldn’t get the auto correct to let me write your name) : as an American, I am sorry and embarrassed that you had such bad experiences here. I have to say, though, they are nothing like my own. I am a repeat customer at most of the places I go to, which probably makes a difference. It would take a very unusual experience to make me deviate from about a twenty percent tip, and in general, I don’t find the servers to be unnaturally cheerful, servile, or, for that matter, incompetent. I’ve almost never had a server bring me the wrong thing, although occasionally (Yard House in the Irvine Spectrum Center I am looking at you) the item is undercooked. In general, I expect to get what I ordered in an edible form, and to have my beverage refilled often enough that I don’t have to wait to have enough liquid to wash my meal down, and that’s what i get.

143

bad Jim 10.23.15 at 9:31 am

In other countries waiting on tables is a respectable profession. The conviction that there should be bad jobs paid less than a living wage and without benefits is not common in developed economies outside the United States, but it’s obviously received wisdom among Americans.

Nobody should comment on this without reading all the articles by Porter linked by Afeman and Fuzzy Dunlop. Tips don’t work the way tippers like Cohen think they do.

I eat most of my meals out. Half the places I frequent I don’t even need to order; they already know what I want. I always tip 20%. Even so, the service and the food is of variable quality. Sometimes it’s busy and I have to wait; some of the cooks are better than others; food is an agricultural product, a little bit more variable than industrial commodities.

However, in some of the nicest places I eat in town, the staff turns over so quickly that there is no institutional memory. Maybe the busboy remembers me, but to the hostess or waitress I’m a random stranger and all my prior signalling is for naught.

144

Alex K--- 10.23.15 at 9:38 am

Greg Hays @133: To lampoon this particular column, I’d play on another meaning of wingman, “one who assists a friend in trying to seduce another person.”

Honestly, I don’t know much about Richard Cohen. Prof. Robin says Cohen values tipping because it lets him treat the waiter as a feudal lord treats a serf. That’s in line with a sub-plot born of Prof. Robin’s master thesis: capitalist economic structures are perfectly capable of perpetuating feudal relationships. That’s probably true but it’s only part of the picture.

145

Peter T 10.23.15 at 10:15 am

I really, really don’t know why Americans like etv13 get bent out of shape over this. Here in Australia waiting is mostly temporary work for the young, not really well paid. But it’s paid award rates, enough to live on without tips. So tips are optional. Sure there are occasional employer scams – we have a government body to deal with that. What’s so hard about paying people enough to live on? You don’t have to abolish tips – just raise the minimum wage and enforce it.

This is one like health care. The rest of the world figured it out 50 or more years ago, but there are still Americans insisting that it just can’t be done ,and any attempt will end the world.

146

Trader Joe 10.23.15 at 11:30 am

I think the point that some of us who have defended tipping are trying to make is that – despite the many abuses (wage theft, sub-minimum shifts etc.) which I don’t think many of us denied exist, there are likewise countless examples of waitstaff that are able to make well in excess of minimum wage. In the world service industry jobs – some, but not all, wait jobs are viewed as very good jobs.

I looked it up last night since I was curious, I worked bar at two places – one was a well known mexican restuarant chain and my W-2 wages were $8,000 and I worked around 1000 hours. My actual take-home was easily $2-3,000 more than that since reported wages were based on a flat percent of tips so about $10/hr when the minimum was (as I recall) in the $5-6 range. The other place I worked was a locally owned, but uscale bistro – think Cheesecake factory – there I made $14,000 of reported wages and probabaly $18 or $19,ooo of actual take-home in also around 1,000 of work (usually 5 or 6 hours a night 4 or 5 nights a week).

Its an absolute fact that these amounts would be tough to live on by themselves and would entail a second day job or other funds (I was student at the time). That said, there aren’t many jobs where you could make as much, with comparatively low skills, and the full understanding that this was a temporary gig for all concerned. For me, and many, its a job of covenience that works well for people who have elderly or kids that they tend during the day and then work these jobs at night.

I’m 100% on board that unscrupulous owners who cheat workers should be punished – but that’s a somewhat tangential issue to the subject of tipping as it would be the case regardless. Likewise, I’m pretty certain that absent tipping substantailly all of the existing waitstaff would be worse off for the modest benefit of raising the wages and working conditions of a few. I’m also certain that the most rewarded would be the restaurant owner if my tip-jar had been eliminated and I was paid a straight minimum.

147

magari 10.23.15 at 11:48 am

I’m not sure what js is on about, but I’d imagine 100% of the people on this board think waiters’ base hourly wage should be at least the minimum wage (as it is, for example, in California). To that, I happen to think tips should be preserved since they add to that base wage, in some cases substantially.

On sexual harassment: tipping may be a way through which waiters put up with horrible people, but the solution to that is not to do away with the workers’ extra wages, it’s to do away with horrible behavior. If we can limit bad behavior to general boorishness, I think that’s a tradeoff most waiters would be willing to take (in return for the extra money tips bring in).

The problem of skeezy restaurateurs: yes 100x’s, which is a great reason to think that going no-tips is a bad idea.

148

Marc 10.23.15 at 12:12 pm

In the US as it is today, removing tipping would lower the take-home pay of waitstaff and bartenders. Period. Anyone who says otherwise must be blissfully unaware of the current state of labor relations in the US. If hourly wages rise, restaurants will accelerate what they already do – schedule people for even more unpredictable shifts and send them home early or call them in late when business is slow.

Right now being a bartender or waiter can give you a high hourly wage even given these conditions because you can make real money in the time where it is busy.

Notice who is pushing for this – it’s not the people in these jobs; it’s basically their customers. That ought to make people who claim to care about working people take pause. Yes, it works OK in Germany. There are a lot of things about working in Germany that aren’t the same as working in the US.

149

Marc 10.23.15 at 12:13 pm

@144: A lot of us have long and direct memories of what it is actually like to be a waiter, bartender, etc. Perhaps instead of lecturing us it may be useful to listen to our actual experiences.

150

Ben Alpers 10.23.15 at 1:17 pm

Sebastian H@111:
“Here is a list of which states require the normal minimum wage for waiters and which don’t DOJ site. There doesn’t seem to be an obvious liberal/conservative cut to it….”

Really? In 17 states, waitstaff are paid no more than the federal tipped minimum wage ($2.13/hr!). These 17 include 9 of the 11 states that attempted to secede from the union to preserve slavery in 1861 (the other two — Florida and Arkansas — are among those states that have a slightly higher tipped minimum wage that’s still below their state’s non-tipped minimum).

The eight non-would-be-Confederate states that pay waitstaff no more than the tipped minimum wage are: Utah, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Kentucky, Indiana, New Mexico, New Jersey. That’s six deeply red states, plus two purple ones.

151

Bartleby the Commenter 10.23.15 at 1:43 pm

“Notice who is pushing for this – it’s not the people in these jobs; it’s basically their customers.”

I could point out this is false but I would prefer not to.

152

etv13 10.23.15 at 2:13 pm

Ben Alpers: you are misinterpreting the chart. The tipped minimum wage is what they are supposed to pay you even if you are making $50/hour in tips. The actual minimum wage is what they are supposed to pay you if your tips fall short. How widely the law is flouted is open to debate, but that’s the law.

Peter T: what on earth have I said that has given you the impression that I am “bent out of shape” over this?

153

js. 10.23.15 at 2:33 pm

Here’s the question you all really need to ask yourselves: How often is Belle Waring wrong?

154

Bartleby the Commenter 10.23.15 at 2:40 pm

“Here’s the question you all really need to ask yourselves: How often is Belle Waring wrong?”

Hmmmm but what if we would prefer not to?

155

Igor Belanov 10.23.15 at 2:45 pm

My mind has been changed. Tipping is great. They should bring it in in hospitals too, because I’m sure a lot of grateful patients would want to give their nurses and doctors a bit of extra pocket money for services rendered. Pupils could always give their teacher more than just an apple in return for good grades, the bus driver surely deserves a bit of cash in return for getting me to my destination on time, and so on, and so on….

156

Sebastian h 10.23.15 at 2:49 pm

Ben, the lack of political valence shows up more on the top of the chart where the good states are not so solidly Liberal and the worse middle states are very solidly liberal. You could correct a huge portion of the problem by fixing it in New York (Clinton’s state) and Massachusetts. Doing so would help in very populous states where the cost of living is very high I.e. You would do lots of good. You also have a much better chance of getting it through in places like that than as a federal law ( you may have noticed that Democrats haven’t been doing so well outside the presidency).

Attacking tipping before correcting other more fixable problems is bad tactics. And not only because you are ignoring the more fixable problems. If you succeed in reducing tipping before you deal with the more fixable problems you have actively hurt lots of working people’s lives.

It is attitudes like the above in this post and comments which answer the question of why working class people seem to vote against their interests.

157

BenK 10.23.15 at 2:49 pm

@156
You’ve just hit on the truth in much of the world, where informal exchanges matter as much as the highly regulated, highly taxed, formal fee. Yes, in health care, yes, in education, yes, certainly with transportation, and even with lawyers.

But some special few, who have at heart the best interests of everyone, work tirelessly to create justice, which can only be done when all money and power flows through their fingers – from each according to his capability – before being doled out – to each, according to his need – less a certain small management fee…

158

yastreblyansky 10.23.15 at 2:50 pm

@156 Hey, they have all that stuff in China too! So we know it really works, it’s not like it hasn’t been tried.

159

Marc 10.23.15 at 3:31 pm

@152: I could point out that you make assertions without bothering to provide even a shred of evidence, and I will.

160

Marc 10.23.15 at 3:33 pm

@156: This wouldn’t be the first case where we’ve ended up with a system that no one would design that way. That says nothing at all about whether the net effect of changing it would be good or bad.

161

js. 10.23.15 at 3:36 pm

I’d imagine 100% of the people on this board think waiters’ base hourly wage should be at least the minimum wage

Well, you’ve got Marc arguing in the comment directly below yours (@149) that a rise in the hourly wage would hurt waitstaff. So I don’t think this is quite right. But I retract lumping your position with Marc’s.

162

BenK 10.23.15 at 4:01 pm

A rise in hourly wage is not a purely good thing, should they come with lower safety, fewer jobs, or greater job instability. Hourly wages, or even annual salary, do not generate the necessities of life, let alone its joys.

Meanwhile, tipping belongs outside the realm of the hourly wage debate for a simple reason: tipping has non-monetary costs and benefits. Robin is focused on costs, but I think he gets the costs wrong; but there are some real potential costs involved.

Tipping can be good for people on both sides of the exchange – because it is voluntary. It offers some recognition, some opportunity for recognition, and both people can feel good about the exchange. Of course, it also offers an opportunity for bad action on both sides – this is, after all, a human interaction. The giver can be stingy, can fail to recognize good service, can be thoughtless, can be ungenerous in spirit, etc. The receiver can be an ingrate, can scam or pander, and so on. Or a third party can intervene to try to skim or even steal the whole thing; and tipping, being outside of certain formal financial systems, offers greater opportunity for theft.

Robin thinks that one of the costs is potential preference among people for people,
without reference to some impersonal standard of merit. He also says that it personalizes a relationship in which one person serves another, perhaps one person serves others habitually. Cohen frames it as the occasional opportunity to be served, rather than the habitual role of serving.

Many people serve in this way at some point in their lives; and serving is not a bad thing, nor disreputable, contemptible, or degrading. Being served, on occasion, is pleasant and also not degrading (though in habit it can be unhealthy). Personal relationships, breaking the boundaries of professionalism to extend human contact, should be encouraged. Merit is overwrought and can be dangerous; it is better that we tip because we were pleased than that we put the server on a meter and found him meritorious. But this steps outside the bounds of material existence and economics, where some are uncomfortable…

The practice of tipping is on the whole positive; but presents challenges and as a matter of character, people should be encouraged to consider how, why, when, they tip or accept tips; the examined life, after all.

163

etv13 10.23.15 at 4:25 pm

@ js.: well, maybe I’m misinterpreting her, but Belle seems to be saying, on the one hand, you can’t trust restaurateurs to comply with the minimum wage laws, and on the other, that we should end tipping and give those same untrustworthy restaurateurs even more complete control over their employees’ compensation. I think that’s pretty good evidence of Belle’s being wrong.

I live in California, and we have a pretty lively restaurant scene despite our system of not allowing employers to credit tips against our relatively (for the US) high minimum wage. It makes sense to me that such a system would be less susceptible to gaming by unscrupulous employers than one where the employer is allowed to credit tips against some portion of the minimum wage. I don’t know what percentage of employers actually are unscrupulous, so and accordingly am agnostic on the question of whether tips are preferable to service charges. And I have to admit that it has been nearly forty years since I worked in the food service business, and when I did, it was not in a place so high-Clayton (fucking auto-correct will not allow me type the word I want, damn it) as to have tips.

164

adam.smith 10.23.15 at 4:32 pm

It makes sense to me that such a system would be less susceptible to gaming by unscrupulous employers than one where the employer is allowed to credit tips against some portion of the minimum wage.

the way I read Belle, that’s exactly what she’s saying.

165

etv13 10.23.15 at 4:36 pm

@ adam.smith: I read Belle as saying let’s do away with tips, not minimum wage plus tips.

166

Bartleby the Commenter 10.23.15 at 4:47 pm

” I could point out that you make assertions without bothering to provide even a shred of evidence, and I will.”

I could suggest that you reread the thread but I would prefer not to.

167

Bartleby the Commenter 10.23.15 at 4:50 pm

” I read Belle as saying let’s do away with tips, not minimum wage plus tips.”

I could say you are reading her incorrectly but I would prefer not to.

168

adam.smith 10.23.15 at 4:50 pm

Then you’re not reading her well ;). She criticizes the American version of tipping, i.e. tipping-as-wage-substitute. Note the reference to “uniquely American” right there in her first post.
And @140 she’s saying exactly what I quote from your post above, albeit pithier.

169

etv13 10.23.15 at 5:01 pm

@ Adam.Smith: (sorry, auto correct capitalized your name) I disagree with you about what Belle was saying at 140. Her comment at 82 could be read your way, but I think is better read my way; she expressly says “tip defenders . . . You are wrong.” (Auto-correct capitalizing again.) But I am starting to feel a little uncomfortable arguing about what Belle said (or meant) with people who aren’t Belle, and anyway I have to go to work, so I am going to leave this for now.

170

dr ngo 10.23.15 at 5:08 pm

Not to wander too far from the theme of this post – we lived in Australia for a while, and much preferred their no-tipping system to the American alternative – but does anyone know just when and why the “standard” tip in the USA shifted from 10% to 20%? It’s certainly been within my lifetime, because I well remember that 10% was standard, and one gave more if please, less if displeased, etc. (as today), but then we lived overseas for more than twenty years and when we came back the standard in many circles had become 20%, with critics ready to jump all over you if you gave, or even talked about giving, anything less. Some of them give the impression that the 20% rate was one of the Ten (Twenty) Commandments, and anyone who gave less was ethically depraved I’m not talking here about compliance – what people actually give – as what constitutes “normal” among the American public at large. (It’s certainly higher than in other countries in which I’ve traveled, FWIW.)

171

LizardBreath 10.23.15 at 5:16 pm

If it helps, I’m 44, and I don’t remember 10%. When I started tipping as a teenager, in the eighties, the rule I knew was 15%, and anything higher was lavish. Through my twenties and thirties, it drifted upwards through people saying “I always tip 20% because I used to wait tables” and the like, explaining why they were particularly high tippers. And then gradually 20% became a solid norm. (That’s all NYC area, it may differ regionally as well.)

172

Nym w/o Qualities 10.23.15 at 5:27 pm

LB @72 I’m 50 and had exactly the same experience. NY State sales tax outside NYC was 7%, so we heard from an early age, “Double the tax and a little more.”

173

TM 10.23.15 at 5:31 pm

I just moved to a no-tip country. Feels so good. Try it once if you don’t believe it.

174

ZedBlank 10.23.15 at 5:39 pm

I’m also in favor of doing away with tipping once there are more sturdy mechanisms in place to ensure fair compensation.

The last time I worked as a waiter, it was indeed pretty deplorable; the paychecks were negligible (as in, barely gas money) while the income from tips was expected to be the majority of one’s pay. I was in high school, and destitution wasn’t a serious risk, so there was at least that. But it was patently a scam on the workers.

I’ve always considered the restaurant biz as one of those “only in capitalism” kinds of crazy. It’s super-low margin, high risk, very low chance of success. It’s highly irrational, the kind of thing that sober capitalist economists warn against. And yet it is immensely attractive, for the same reasons: to customers, it offers a simulation of privilege, disconnected from social bonds, it means convenience and less labor; to the bosses, it means the chance, however small, of great financial reward, plus a certain kind of social prestige and high-wire excitement (see Belle’s “skeezy cokehead”).

175

Marc 10.23.15 at 5:45 pm

@162: That’s multiple times that you’ve utterly misunderstood what I wrote. Grow up.

176

js. 10.23.15 at 5:48 pm

Bartleby @155: You are exempt!

(By the way, I’m 37 and LizardBreath’s experience pretty much matches mine. When I started tipping, a 20% tip was on the horizon but very lavish; 18% was “high”, and 15% was still probably standard. Shortly afterwards, I was one of the “I always tip 20% because I used to wait tables” people, and so on.)

177

js. 10.23.15 at 5:50 pm

If hourly wages rise, restaurants will accelerate what they already do – schedule people for even more unpredictable shifts and send them home early or call them in late when business is slow.

That’s just me quoting you. And you can cut out the insults, thanks very much.

178

phenomenal cat 10.23.15 at 5:50 pm

“I offer this piece of advice for my American friends (it is, indeed, a tip). If you’re having this constant bad experience with customer service in France, nine times out of ten it is because you didn’t say “bonjour” when you walked in. I don’t know why this isn’t made clearer in guidebooks, but it is normal in France to say hello to someone as soon as you walk through their door. If you don’t do it, they’re going to feel like you’re being rude to them.” dsquared @ 87

“I have only been to America once and only for 3 weeks but I soon got very sick of tipping. First of all the weird payment system where your credit card gets taken away and handled in a remote location without specifying the bill properly somehow led to my credit card details being stolen and me being robbed (no doubt by a waiter I had tipped), leading to a very unpleasant experience when I couldn’t pay my hotel. And then because it was just so weird to have this dude (my “wingman” I guess) hanging around waiting for me to decide how much extra money he deserved – it was like some kind of weird co-dependent relationship or something. And finally because every waiter I met in three weeks in America was fucking incompetent because they were so busy trying to impress me with their attentiveness that they didn’t listen to what I was saying and always fucked up my order. By the end of my stay I was so sick of being asked a million choices just to have the waiter get them wrong, and then be treated like the arse end of humanity when I decide not to pay extra on their hideously overpriced food.
In Seattle I ordered a noodle salad that came without noodles. I mean wtf? That was the final straw for me – after three weeks of just not getting what I asked for, I stopped tipping. Join a fucking union already, and just do your job.” faustusnote@ 95

I just had to take the CITI refresher module in which I was instructed on the meaning and practices associated with “cultural competency.” I hereby declare the above quotations worthy of contemplation on said theme.

179

Trader Joe 10.23.15 at 6:35 pm

@172 and 173
I’d agree with these 15% was normal and now its closer to 20%.
I frankly think it has evolved towards 20% since many people are too math-illiterate to calculate 15%, but can do 10% and double it.

Sebastain has said it several times, but it bears repeating. Tipping vs. no-tipping isn’t really the right way to frame the choice. If the worker can be fairly compensated without tipping (as is quite clearly the case in many countries) by all means do away with the tip jar. But the mimimum wage needs to brought to a better level before that conversation even gets undertaken (surely to +$10 or +$15 depending on location).

However if the choice is being paid the currently inadequate minimum wage of $7.65 or getting paid $2.13 + tips….I guarantee 9 out 10 restaurant employees would rather take their chances on kind strangers doing math and judging them. In more cases than not the latter arrangement is gonna come closer to adequate compensation.

180

etv13 10.23.15 at 6:37 pm

dr ngo: I’m 55, and I dimly remember 10%, but by the time I had a sufficient income to eat at full-service restaurants on my own nickel in the mid-eighties, 15% was pretty much the standard. It stayed that way in California until quite recently — maybe the last three or four years — although I heard rumors of its having gone higher in New York earlier than that.

181

etv13 10.23.15 at 6:40 pm

By the way, I noticed a couple of years ago when one of the chain restaurants started calculating for you what various tip levels were on your receipt, they did the calculation on the pre-tax total. I’ve always tipped on the post-tax amount. Anyone have any insight on that?

182

marcel proust 10.23.15 at 6:46 pm

Lizard Breath, Nym w/o Qualities & js.:

I’m older than all you whippersnappers:
a) Get off of my lawn
b) My experience (teenager in small-city NE, college in big-city Midwest, post-college in NYC and greater NY metro area, then back to the urban Midwest in the late 1980s) is the same as you all describe.

183

JanieM 10.23.15 at 7:15 pm

etv13 @182 — years ago I had dinner with some people I was at a workshop with. A couple of them had waited tables at some point in their lives, they weren’t earning much at the time I met them, and they insisted on calculating the tip on the pre-tax amount. They said it was standard practice, but I had never heard of such a thing, and it felt like penny-pinching to me. But then, I was earning a more comfortable living than they were at the time when this was happening. It’s also a different attitude from that of a lot of people in this thread who say they tip generously precisely because they remember waiting on tables themselves.

For the record, I never worked in that kind of job. All my low-paying grunt jobs were in offices; no tips.

I’m 65; I too remember the time before 20% was a sort of standard, but I don’t remember when that change occurred. I moved around so much when I was younger that I might have imputed it to geography rather than the custom changing over time.

In general I would much rather tip a little generously than calculate to the penny (like, seriously, how much difference does including the tax in the calculation make? I guess I can consider myself lucky that I don’t have to worry about it). It makes for interesting group lunches when some people want to do precision calculations and others are content to just round the amount upward and get out of there.

184

JanieM 10.23.15 at 7:25 pm

Responding to phenomenal cat @179 —

I was tempted to comment on faustusnotes’s tale of woe earlier. I haven’t had that much bad luck and bad experience in restaurants in my entire life…and I’ll leave it at that.

Plucking one cross-cultural story from my own experience: my daughter and I spent two weeks in England and Scotland a few years ago. In one of the few meals where we actually sat down in a restaurant instead of getting take-away, we didn’t come close to finishing the big portions we were served. When we asked if we could take the rest of the food with us, the waitress looked at us like we had two heads. “We don’t do take-away,” she said. “We don’t have any containers.” I’ve never been in a restaurant in any part of the U.S. where they didn’t have what we used to call doggie bags. (Now usually disgustingly wasteful plastic or styrofoam containers.)

Off the central topic, I’ll stop now.

185

engels 10.23.15 at 7:26 pm

This is one like health care

Or gun control. Or campaign advertising. Or …

186

SamChevre 10.23.15 at 7:49 pm

On pre-tax versus post-tax–when I waited tables, it was common for people to calculate the tip based on the sales tax – as Nym w/o notes at 173. That gives a pre-tax basis.

I wonder if that explains why tips have gone up over time? If the “normal tip” is twice the tax–sales tax rates have definitely gone up.

187

dr ngo 10.23.15 at 7:57 pm

Calibrating for age: I’m 71, so I remember 10% from the 1950s & 1960s, maybe creeping up (but by no means standard) to 15% in the 1970s – then I was away most of the 1980s and 1990s, and when I came back in the 2000s it was 20%. So what I’m hearing out there is compatible with my experience, but from most of you a shorter timespan. (Whippersnappers.)

I’m still not sure what drove the rate/expectation up, however. Whatever it was was not universal, since there doesn’t seem to have been “tip inflation” in other countries, at least not to the same extent.

188

bob mcmanus 10.23.15 at 8:04 pm

I’m still not sure what drove the rate/expectation up, however.

1) The famous decline in real wage compensation in the age of neoliberalism

2) The corresponding growth in inequality and concentration of wealth, the famous bidding war for luxury services.

189

engels 10.23.15 at 8:10 pm

The thing I particularly hate is leaving dollar bills on the bar when you a buy a beer. When I first stayed in NY I didn’t do it (didn’t have dollar bills, didn’t know it was mandatory) and the barman came running after me and yelled at me. Lesson learned.

190

The Temporary Name 10.23.15 at 8:13 pm

The thing I particularly hate is leaving dollar bills on the bar when you a buy a beer.

I haven’t noticed this in my various carousings. Somehow I’ve gotten away with ignoring this it, but I’m a polite tipper.

191

Ronan(rf) 10.23.15 at 8:14 pm

“Just say bonjour” could be a new public awareness campaign.
My understanding of France’s (apparent) lack of customer service was just that people extrapolated from their experience with small local restaurants (same idea with Italy) where (like with local pubs) it generally takes more effort to ingratiate yourself. This has nothing to do with the French , per se, so much as the behaviours and mannerisms such a business model develops. (Relatedly, I once lived, as in shared a house, with a French girl training in london in hospitality, and her claim was that British customer service was a joke, and they could learn from the French. Takes all types , i guess)

192

Trader Joe 10.23.15 at 8:20 pm

@190 & 191
C’mon man…you’re friendly neighborhood barman’s got bills too…

To be honest, I always thought it was a little stupid myself. Usually all I did was lift a cap or pull a pint, which one might reasonably expect was within the expected basic duties of a bartender, yet few fail to slide the near-obligatory dollar.

One night there was a group of young people at my bar all drinking bottled beer…I probably made $50 in about one hour off that group alone and didn’t do a thing but lift caps and offer empty glasses to put the beer in (most were drinking from the bottle which runs in and out of fashion as well).

193

Val 10.23.15 at 8:27 pm

Another Australian chiming in – I read the list of wages at #111 and found it very hard to understand, except that all the minimum wages were very low. Surely that’s the main problem? Here in Aus the minimum wage is $17 per hour (which converts to about $US12 at present) however waiters woukd also get a casual loading and weekend rates so I guess they earn more than that usually. Anyway fixing the U.S. minimum wage seems to be the first order priority.

Just for interest, in spite of being Australian, I nearly always tip in restaurants, and sometimes in taxis (here in Aus). However I do find it deeply confusing being in countries where people make much of their living from tips and where tipping is essentially obligatory. Who do you have to tip, how much do you have to give them – it all gets very awkward. Interestingly the U.S. was most like India in that respect – comparison to chew on.

194

engels 10.23.15 at 8:28 pm

‘you’re friendly neighbourhood barman’s got bills too’

Sure – it’s just not immediately obvious, shall we say, to a visiting foreigner that that’s how he has to pay them. As I implied, since that experience I’ve been fastidious about (and have avoided that bar)

195

Trader Joe 10.23.15 at 8:38 pm

@195 engles
I meant my comment in jest. There is no possible way you could have known….I’ve been equally caught out many times in my foreign travels where I could tell by looks and expressions I hadn’t done the right thing, but didn’t really know where I might have erred. While always momentarialy embarassing, learning by doing is one of the joys of travel.

P.S. if you were ever in my joint, however improbable, I thank you for your custom.

196

The Temporary Name 10.23.15 at 8:41 pm

C’mon man…you’re friendly neighborhood barman’s got bills too…

It’s not that I wasn’t tipping, but that I haven’t used that method and nobody clued me in.

197

engels 10.23.15 at 8:52 pm

Thanks Joe. I don’t think I’ve been in your bar but have shopped in your supermarkets quite a few times.

198

Dean C. Rowan 10.23.15 at 9:44 pm

Belated thanks to Yastreblyansky @104. A profit-sharing approach would indeed seem salutary.

199

felwith 10.23.15 at 11:04 pm

After hours of lengthy analysis
I would like to advance a hypothesis
Though initially chuffed
I’ve now had enough
Of Bartleby’s ceaseless apophasis.

200

Fuzzy Dunlop 10.24.15 at 12:31 am

The big question if we are going to talk about ending tipping is what we do instead. A mandatory (say) 10% or greater service charge on top of the regular minimum wage (or higher wage)? Or just a flat wage unconnected to what customers pay per meal? The current system guarantees that servers get a percentage of the gross income of restaurants (around 10-17%, I guess?*), and that is not under the control of restaurant management, because it’s a matter of social custom. That seems like it must be a fairly effective protection of wages for at least many waitstaff, and getting rid of tipping and the tipped min. wage would hurt the incomes of a lot of waitstaff. But that protection could be maintained and even enhanced by replacing tipping with a mandatory service charge of, say, 10% (assuming the tipped min. wage is also eliminated so waiters get at least min. wage plus 10% of the cost of meals–the restaurant’s gross income from dine-in customers).

If a fixed service charge is the alternative to tipping, then it seems to me like we can talk strictly in terms of the ‘feudal’ character of the current system independently of how much waitstaff are making on average.

* Depending on how often customers are stingy, depending on if & how tips are split with the busboys etc.–I don’t know the details, I never worked in food service, so I welcome correction on the exact number.

201

SamChevre 10.24.15 at 1:23 am

Fuzzy @ 201

The key difference (legally, in the US) between a service charge and a tip is that a tip belongs to the waiter; a service charge belongs to the restaurant. Unless the 10% service charge went, legally, to the waiter and no one else, a service charge would not have the same distributional impact as tips do.

202

Collin Street 10.24.15 at 3:08 am

But the mimimum wage needs to brought to a better level before that conversation even gets undertaken (surely to +$10 or +$15 depending on location).

Essentially some changes can’t happen piecemeal. Factor A is a response to problem B which in turn is a workaround for issue C which is the other side of factor A. Asking about order — or honestly letting others talk about order — is pointless and should be discouraged: systemic problems, after all, are systemic. A problem that can be fixed with localised change is a localised problem.

203

TM 10.24.15 at 4:33 pm

175: “I’ve always considered the restaurant biz as one of those “only in capitalism” kinds of crazy. It’s super-low margin, high risk, very low chance of success.”

Why do you think so? Many restaurants have been successful and have been providing a stable income to many employees for decades. Is this another American idea that restaurants are thought of as short term adventures?

204

mdc 10.24.15 at 4:46 pm

I don’t mind tipping, but I sort of hated working for tips. On the other hand, it doesn’t seem like tipping is essentially incompatible with good working conditions and workers’ dignity.

In vibrant food cultures, the best restaurants and bars are often the ones most frequented by people who work in restaurants and bars. Tipping in these circumstances can feel like an expression of solidarity.

Might be interesting to know what system the tiny portion of unionized waitstaff support.

205

yastreblyansky 10.24.15 at 5:21 pm

@mdc I’ve spent some time trying to find out what the union officials say, but I’m not getting anything. They seem to focus on raising the tipped minimum, which is essential in any case:

According to a report by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) and the Center on Wage and Employment Dynamics (CWED), tipped workers are more than twice as likely as workers in other fields to fall under the federal poverty line

The median pay of waiters and waitresses in the US (excludes fast food counter staff and other non-tipped occupations) in 2012, including tips, was $8.92/hour or $18,540. And they’re not all college students, either: 86% are over 25, 53% over 40; 80% work full time, 34% have children.

206

Art Deco 10.24.15 at 6:16 pm

How often is Belle Waring wrong?

As a matter of course.

207

ZedBlank 10.24.15 at 6:35 pm

@ 204 – I’m just going off the textbook economic truth about the restaurant business. I don’t know the numbers, but a huge amount of them fail pretty quickly, although I’d be curious how it tracks with the general failure rate for businesses in general, which is already high.

Yes, some of them stick around, but they are outliers. There are three kinds, as far as I can tell: those that cater to the rich (and which are still very risky, for reasons of fashion, the whims of taste), and those who cater to a stable, reasonably affluent population, like Mom’s Diner in Anytown USA. The high-end, Manhattanite restauranteur can always open a new place to keep up with the changing tastes of the urban elite. Mom of Mom’s Diner is fine until they close the local steel plant, and then its over for her. The third and by far most successful is the franchise model, which involves ruthless cost cutting, elimination of competition, and gov’t regulation to grow and succeed: thus, the true capitalist model.

208

Eric Titus 10.24.15 at 9:10 pm

I’ve been doing some research on this topic and I do find that Robin is a bit harsh in demonizing tipping. I’d also lean towards getting rid of tipping, but it’s not like it has nothing going for it. The knock against tipping in a place like California (where the MW is nearly $10/hr) is not that it’s bad for servers, but that it leads to inequalities in and between restaurants.

For all the problems with the tipping system, it does lead to many servers having a wage well above the minimum (in states the tipped minimum is comparable to the regular minimum). In most countries, waiters are among the lowest-paid jobs and the US is no exception. However, a waiter at a successful restaurant in the US will make a good income. It’s difficult to accurately estimate server income in the US, but my sense is that a higher proportion of servers are making over $15/hr than in Germany/France/etc.

It’s also not clear whether eliminating tipping will be beneficial for workers in the long term. The elimination of tipping is meant to fix a very weird problem—the egregiously low pay of cooks/chefs. The ideal is to redistribute money so wages are similar across the front and back of the house. Owners do not feel that they can raise wages out of pocket, so the solution is to dip into tips as a way to provide raises for cooks. However, is it the case that no-tipping establishments will continue paying cooks generously compared to other restaurants? I expect that in many cases, restaurants will be paying servers less without paying their cooks much more. In other words, the new system will reduce the amount of money going to workers, either boosting restaurant profits or (in the long term) restaurant rents.

Tipping also does have a few advantages. It does mitigate some of the other inequities at the front of the house—a waiter who handles a busy time will end up with higher pay than one with a slow period. An owner may keep a restaurant understaffed—but the servers will be compensated by having fewer people to split tips between. Tipping is a strange system, but I do worry that its elimination may end up increasing wage inequalities in the long term.

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yastreblyansky 10.24.15 at 9:31 pm

@209 I don’t think Robin is so much interested in demonizing tipping as in exposing the grotesque thought processes of Richard Cohen.

210

engels 10.24.15 at 9:32 pm

Anybody remember when blogs used to have a PayPal tip jar on the side of the screen (maybe some of them still do)?

211

Fuzzy Dunlop 10.24.15 at 11:47 pm

Sam Chevre @202 I see I misunderstood the terms–what I had in mind was something like a service charge, but that is legally required to go to the waiter (and maybe split with other workers).

Incidentally, this just came up on Daily Kos, it seems to me like a no-brainer that having a higher minimum wage for waiters would make them better off, since diners will tip the same 15-20% either way, and the whole cost of the higher wage would seem to go to the restaurant.

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js. 10.25.15 at 12:14 am

@182, etc: I’m not sure anyone actually does this (I certainly don’t), but tips are indeed supposed to be calculated on the pre-tax amount. For example, when I waited tables, the restaurant would add an automatic 18% gratuity for parties of six or more, and that was calculated on the basis of the pre-tax amount. Similarly, if there were specials, customers were advised to tip on the full, pre-tax amount.

213

Colin Danby 10.25.15 at 12:59 am

Really good industry data on restaurants is hard to come by, but this: http://www.forbes.com/sites/sageworks/2014/06/22/us-restaurants-margins/ comports with what I see in Seattle, including plenty of long-established high-end places. It’s an industry with relatively low barriers to entry so you expect a certain amount of churn. U.S. restaurant failure rates turn out to be in line with failure rates of businesses of all kinds.

214

Mike Schilling 10.25.15 at 3:49 am

I also work in IT. Sometimes I get spot bonuses for extra or exceptional work. I like that.

215

Dean C. Rowan 10.25.15 at 5:23 am

@213: I certainly *do* tip on the pre-tax amount, and I always have, except when I tip on a basis only related to the bill by order of magnitude. (Thirty dollar bill gets a fifteen dollar tip, because I’m friends with the server.) Here, then, is a big problem with tipping. It’s a social convention. People tend not to get social conventions in a precise way. We all know we’re supposed to cover our mouths when we sneeze, but how, exactly? And driving. Nobody gets driving.

Again, there are tiers of restaurants. Some are highfalutin’ and well worth the pricey price-price, assuming one could even contemplate shelling it out. I’m thinking Daniel and Patina, at least back in the day. But most restaurants are, one hopes, merely good, sometimes better. The former entails tipping the sommelier et al., even if their contributions aren’t reflected in the pre-tax total. (If the sommelier gives you special attention you might end up spending *less* than you would have had you thrown a dart.) The latter usually involve ordinary levels of “service” (smiles, attentiveness, knowledge). Thomas Keller, presumably of the top stratum (he is by my lights fatally overrated) decided bundling the cost of service in with the price as a viable model. He seems to be correct in terms of running a business. But for a friggin’ neighborhood pizza parlor? I’m not so sure.

It all seems backwards to me. Keller’s restaurants, if they were worth the premium, would virtually automatically generate generous tips by social convention. But the corner pizza & beer joint is always at the mercy of the local yokel. Service there should be built in. Yet that move is made only when the owners determine that *they* are at risk because local government requires higher wages for their employees.

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jeff 10.25.15 at 2:45 pm

The comments + article suggest that quite a number of people enjoy groveling and getting rewarded for it (much like a puppy), and quite a number enjoy dispensing punishment and rewards. This is probably why capitalism ‘works’.

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T 10.26.15 at 1:30 pm

Kinda reminds me of students groveling for a higher grade. Gotta jump through the right hoops and regurgitate the correct bs to get tipped with an A. Or so I’ve heard.

218

marcel proust 10.26.15 at 6:19 pm

I was musing idly about (h/t Fuzzy Dunlop for reminding me of this) when the parallels between tipping and political corruption occurred to me. In both cases, there is a principal-agent problem that is aggravated on the one hand by crappy compensation, and on the other by the customer’s (or potential briber’s) delight in the possibility of getting special favors in return for direct payment to the agent.

This suggests 2 questions to me (right off the bat):

1) Would Richard Cohen write a similar paean to political corruption?

2) Is much of the 0.01%’s anger at taxes due both to a belief that anyone can pay taxes but only a few are able to pay sufficient bribes to get special treatment, and that the bribes are better focused on things that are important to them?

219

bekabot 10.26.15 at 6:47 pm

{delurking}

I’ve read this piece about five times, all the while trying to figure out why I don’t object to it. At last I’ve come up with the solution, which is: this guy wants to be able to act entitled, but he’s willing to pay the freight. (Most of the time, anyway, according to his own testimony, which I don’t disbelieve.) And that’s okay with me — at least he’s willing to lay his money down. So many characters of the same ilk also want to act entitled, but they don’t want to pay, in money or in any other coin. They want to get their servitude for free. They want their fellow-creatures to grovel for no reason. That’s what I don’t like about them. If you want a seat at the table — a restaurant table or any other kind — then put some money in the pot. (Money-equivalents like time, effort, talent, and life-energy also make the cut.) But for gosh sakes don’t just sit down and start to condescend and expect your friendly waitperson to dote on you for free. It doesn’t work that way, a fact of which this author seems to be well apprised.

{delurking}

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Dean C. Rowan 10.26.15 at 8:11 pm

@220: A willingness to pay for a seat at the table needn’t entail a sense of entitlement. You are correct that Cohen seems to want to act entitled. By “entitled” I assume you intend primarily its derogatory sense, in which the object (service, meal) to which one is entitled is inherently yours and, furthermore, that this relationship reflects your (self-)importance. Thus, Cohen is willing to pay to pretend — to “act” — as if he were so important. To each his own, I suppose, but I find this an objectionable personality trait, even if Cohen is just self-aware enough to hope to excuse it by compensating for it.

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T 10.26.15 at 8:15 pm

MP @219 Eric @209

This is an old problem and is faced by many industries that have to decide between salary and commission models to solve the principal-agent problem. There are commission and fee-based models in real estate (commission vs buyer’s brokers), personal finance (commission stock brokers vs fixed-fee financial advisers), and car dealerships (commission vs salaried) just to name a few. There are shared-tip models where the service is monitored by the other servers rather than the owner given the incentive structure. (And some of these arrangements actually change the principal e.g. buyer’s vs seller’s broker in real estate and similarly in finance.)

I agree with the commentator that suggested the whole pay structure would have to be changed at once for the servers not to get screwed. In today’s environment it is almost certain that any changes to the compensation structure would benefit the owners at the expense of the servers. And that’s why almost all the commentators that actually work in this industry for a living are pro-tip despite the fact it really bothers Corey’s and jeff’s sensibilities.

And a special thanks to Eric for explaining certain institutional features of the restaurant industry. It makes sense to actually know how compensation works across all workers before suggesting structural changes to a multi-billion dollar industry.

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TM 10.26.15 at 8:19 pm

208: “Mom of Mom’s Diner is fine until they close the local steel plant, and then its over for her.”

Very unconvincing. When they close the local steel plant, a lot of other businesses also go under, not just the restaurants. In particular, the steel plant industry itself is doing a lot worse than the restaurant industry these days.

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Yastreblyansky 10.26.15 at 8:39 pm

@222 Once again, the occasion for Cohen’s column isn’t some kind of proposal for the nation to do away with tipping without otherwise revising the pay structure, it is about one restaurateur’s plan to totally overhaul the pay structure in a way that will eliminate tipping in his company’s restaurants, as an experiment that other restaurateurs may or may not choose to emulate (or that may or may not transform the business, as his decision years ago to ban smoking in the company’s restaurants, to protect waitstaff’s health, eventually did). The overhauling is obviously an intrinsic part of the process.

What Cohen is protesting against is the potential loss of his own power as customer to make or destroy the waiter’s happiness for the day.

224

T 10.26.15 at 10:43 pm

@224
I was referring to the post, not the original column. The point of the post, as compared to Cohen’s column, is Corey’s disdain for the unequal relationship between tipper and server:

“Tipping is about making distinctions, about awarding distinctions, which are threatened by those egalitarian rules of equal pay for equal work.”

“The real object of that art of distinction, however, is not the waiter doing an excellent job but the tipper who is recognizing and rewarding him for it. Notice the ostentatious subject of virtually every single sentence in this passage: “I hesitate…I like tipping. I like to make a difference…I make… I’m not flipping silver dollars…I am a healthy tipper…my way of recognizing a good job….I care…I notice…I recognize…Why would I want…””

“In the act of dispensing rewards, Cohen gets to play the part of a lord. Money is the means of his conveyance. Circulating it advances his cause, elevates him above the crowd. Dispensing money puts his signature on the otherwise drab world of democracy and exchange.”

225

marcel proust 10.28.15 at 12:15 am

T:

This [the principal-agent problem] is an old problem and is faced by many industries that have to decide between salary and commission models to solve the principal-agent problem. There are commission and fee-based models in real estate (commission vs buyer’s brokers), personal finance (commission stock brokers vs fixed-fee financial advisers), and car dealerships (commission vs salaried) just to name a few.

All the solutions mentioned in the 2nd sentence above are used to align the agent’s interests more closely with the principals. In a restaurant, presumably the principal is the owner. It is not clear that tips align the interests of the server with those of the owner, anymore than bribes align the interests of politicians and civil servants* with those of the electorate. Clearly Jay Porterthought that tipping interfered with achieving his ideal of a restaurant, and thought that a salaried or waged staff was more motivated to do things as he wanted them done.

*A similar argument can be made for corporate office workers, especially those with some sort of discretion or decision-making authority that places them in a position much like that of government employees.

226

js. 10.28.15 at 12:33 am

There’s an interesting dynamic in this thread. On the one hand, you have people providing evidence that tipped employees are in general worse off than non-tipped workers—more likely to be in poverty, more likely to suffer harassment, etc. (cf. yastreblansky @206, Fuzzy Dunlop @212); that waitstaff join organizations actively fighting to improve conditions for waitstaff and other restaurant employees, or that when possible, they ban tipping (cf. me @137, marcel proust @52); and so on. On the other hand, you have people concluding a priori that any change to the status quo will hurt waitstaff more than anyone else. It’s… curious.

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T 10.28.15 at 1:29 pm

@226
Not exactly. The switch, for example, from a commission broker to a buyer’s broker in real estate or a commission broker to a fee-based broker in fiance actually changes the principal from the seller to the buyer. The pooled tip model is an interesting case where the servers are incentivized to monitor each other. A partnership has similar incentives. As do steelworkers depending on the company. .

@227
Thanks for going through many of the posts. While I haven’t reread each of the 200+ posts, I was struck by the dichotomy between the actual servers and the not actual servers. They actual servers were often pro-tip in part because they understood the business — Eric @209 — or because they felt renegotiating the current power dynamic between the owners and servers in the current environment would worsen their circumstances.

@217 Yes, jeff. The people that don’ agree with you enjoy grovelling. And they are probably stupid, too. And you are a much better and stronger person than they are. Glad we got that out of the way.

228

js. 10.28.15 at 10:01 pm

the dichotomy between the actual servers and the not actual servers.

A dichotomy that does not actually exist, neither on this thread nor outside of it.

229

Bartleby the Commenter 10.28.15 at 11:29 pm

“A dichotomy that does not actually exist, neither on this thread nor outside of it.”

Yeah, I could say how strange it is that people keep claiming this is the case when I simple read through of this thread shows it is not but I would prefer not to.

230

T 10.28.15 at 11:52 pm

@229 @230
http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_nat.htm#35-0000
Look at the data. The medium annual wage in the food service industry is $21,980. The medium annual wage for waiters and waitresses is $21,640. That obviously doesn’t count unreported tips. So the whole industry is low paid and the earnings of servers are likely above average. And the people making less are paid hourly. So, yeah, servers don’t make a lot. But looking at what the other workers in the restaurant make, maybe servers think tips aren’t so bad. Or, go your route and assume that they’d be better off hourly. Because.

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yastreblyansky 10.28.15 at 11:52 pm

@229

the dichotomy between the actual servers and the not actual servers.

Perhaps that commenter was thinking in some language other than English, as “zwischen den aktuellen und den nicht aktuellen Dienern” or more correctly “between the currently active servers on the one hand and the former and merely potential servers on the other”, in which case the statement is not nonsensical but merely false. (I was non-tipped, as mentioned above, in my own restaurant career, rising over five or six years from dishwasher to grillman and then back down, when the owner’s skeezy cokehead son took over that place, to prep in a series of new places, rolling meatballs and opening clams.)

Honestly I feel as if the big dichotomy in the thread were between those with some aspirationally Gramscian notion that waiters should feel obliged to try to live on $2.13 an hour and whatever the customer feels like doling out on a given night in order not to be implicated in collaboration with the forces of hegemony, and those who feel they shouldn’t (whether that involves a higher minimum wage plus tips or a share in a 19% service surcharge, or a minimum wage of $25, or an experiment like Danny Meyer’s, or whatever it takes), because feeding your family is more important than living in theory. Obviously that’s a straw man I just made up, but I can’t figure out what else the party so deeply opposed to any experimentation with the tipping system we have is trying to say.

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yastreblyansky 10.29.15 at 12:02 am

@231 BLS maintains that its numbers are accurate including unreported tips (they’re based on survey data, not tax receipts). The National Restaurant Association, representing the industry’s desire to hold employer-paid wages down, says the median is higher.

233

T 10.29.15 at 1:35 am

@232/3
The BLS survey is of employers (not employees) who are supposed to report tips as part of hourly compensation. My guess is that if the tips do not go through the employer’s system, some may go unreported. But the point remains that servers are paid about the industry median or more.

I have zero objection to experimenting with different compensation schemes. In fact, I think that would be great. However, unlike some others on this thread, I don’t know the outcome before the experiments take place. And in states that have a large employer bias, I’m not very optimist that the ex post wage would be higher. You have to assume that the current system is the worst of all possible systems to say that any change would necessarily be an improvement. I have faith that owners in a pro-employer states could figure something out to screw labor even more.

It seems that some people on the thread are objecting to the low wage and others to how the compensation is delivered (tips v hourly). It’s unclear that they are related since hourly workers in the industry have about the same wage.

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