Tipping as progressive bugaboo

The current trend in social justice circles is to disapprove of tipping, and not coincidentally wage and hour law has been ratcheting up the pressure on tip-based compensation arrangements, both by curtailing employers’ leeway to count tip income as a credit toward regular wages, and by more intense litigation pressure on tip pooling and similar arrangements. Such changes alone will probably not suffice to kill the custom, so we can look forward to continuing innovation in other legal weaponry aimed at it, such as — for instance — theories that tipping aids and abets pay discrimination [Workplace Prof]


  • The idea that they might receive less money because they do a lousy job terrifies some people.


    • Bad service is frequently not the fault of the server. The server may have an impossible work load. Food that is late or badly prepared is the fault of the kitchen, not the server. Even getting the order wrong may well be due to the poor system the restaurant uses for keeping track of orders. And why is it that we single ou servers? The staff of a clothing store, electronics store, or hardware store may do a bad job but they are not dependent on tips. If your doctor keeps you waiting or you find a nurse or dental hygienist abrasive, you don’t pay less.

  • As a customer, I would rather be billed for a reasonable price. If service is bad enough to deserve a bad tip, one should complain to the manager.

    Now that the standard tip is shifting upward to 20%, more owners are less enchanted with the system. It overcompensates waiters at the expense of kitchen staff and shift managers who do just as much to make the restaurant work. Attempts to compensate by requiring waiters to put part of their tips into a pool create ill-will, evasion, and lawsuits.

  • Empowered people are so much more difficult to control, and it starts with little stuff like tipping. Forward with vigilance!

  • Kudos to Bob. You nailed it.

  • As a non-American now living in North America, I would really REALLY like the continent to get over tipping. The rest of the world survives without it. When there is a ‘mandatory’ tip, its not a tip any more, is it. Its a huge cultural shift to get used to doing it, and I’ve never seen any real advantages from the system – my friends would not let me NOT TIP for bad service, ‘Its not the servers fault, the manager should have put on more staff’, ‘its unfair to the kitchen hands who did a good job. If you dont tip here, it doesnt tricke down to them’ etc. I’ve had truly awful service and was flatout told by my friends that they would come back and secretly tip if I didnt cough up right then.

    • Furthermore, in countries in which tipping is not the practice, the service is no worse than in North America. In Japan, for example, tipping is actually considered insulting as it is taken to imply that the server would not do his or her job properly without a bribe. Restaurant service is if anything better in Japan than in North America.b

      • Has it occurred to you that Japan might be too culturally dissimilar from the U.S. for its customs to provide a useful basis for evaluating our own? Lots of things are doubtless comparable or better in Japan (for some values of “better”). But that does not mean it would be sensible for the U.S. to do it the Japanese way.

        • Yes, there might be such cultural differences, but to my knowledge no one has suggested any. And Japan is far from the only country in which there is no tipping.

    • So, to summarize your argument:

      1. your friends insist on tipping under all circumstances, thereby undermining the incentive structure inherent in the custom, and this shows the custom is worthless; and

      2. as a foreigner you would very much like the U.S. to be more like some other place with a different custom than the U.S. one.

      Can you see why U.S. natives who do reduce the tip or refuse to tip when the circumstances warrant it might find these arguments unpersuasive?

      • I agree that my friends are a very small and poor sample of tipping across the whole continent. But someone independent to me wrote(same time I wrote my comment) that bad service is not always the fault of the server.
        And as a native US, how do you deal with restaurants that add 18% tip to your bill whether you like it or not? I remember an article about a diner in New York who refused to pay 18% that was ‘required’. He offered the 10% he thought the service was worth. The manager refused to accept this and called the police, and the diner dug his heels in and waited for them to arrive to explain his position on the subject. If you can still tout the logic of tipping in that example, then you’ll have a chance of convincing me of tippings merits.
        And as for changing the customs of the US, I have zero chance of doing that as a foreinger on my own. But there are North Americans that feel the way I do(I’ve met some), and restaurants are now experimenting with ‘no tipping’ rules(even if there are underhanded profit reasons for doing that to counter minimum wage laws). So I’m suggestings ways that the US could improve itself, but leaving it up to the US to decide if they want to adopt them or not.
        For now, I still tip the required 15% or more at every meal.

        • Dollars to donuts that management of that restaurant a had some sort of tip pooling arrangement, possibly with a few bucks winding up in the owner’s pocket.
          Either that, or he loved his wait-staff very much.

          Although I don’t like those mandatory tip arrangements, I would not refuse to pay the required percentage if it was made known to me before I ordered.

        • “And as a native US, how do you deal with restaurants that add 18% tip to your bill whether you like it or not?”

          Personally, I avoid patronizing such restaurants.

  • The custom of tipping is under fire now because it puts cash directly in the hands of the employee , before the union can get its rake-off.
    Unions (SEIU, anyone?) intend to organize all restaurant workers.

    The $15 per hour minimum wage law is being pushed for the same reason.