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Rethinking tipping culture


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#1 mkayahara

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Posted 07 January 2013 - 03:07 PM

I just came across this TEDx video from the University of Guelph that addresses tipping culture in North America, so I thought I'd share it. Particularly interesting is his claim that tipping is one of the key drivers in restaurant industry transiency in Canada and the US. Thoughts?
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#2 pastrygirl

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Posted 07 January 2013 - 03:30 PM

I watched that recently too. Nice to see someone actually sounding rational when talking about tipping. It does strike me as odd that the income disparity is so accepted as being part of the industry, and I wonder why more restaurateurs don't address it. Thomas Keller has policies to distribute the service charge equally between the front & back of the house (or something that helps equalize kitchen & floor incomes). What is everyone else so afraid of? The usual argument seems to be that you wouldn't be able to find good servers if they weren't taking home bundles of cash every night, which makes me sad. I would love to see things change but am not very hopeful.

#3 Tri2Cook

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Posted 07 January 2013 - 04:08 PM

Where I work, the waitstaff tip-out 10% of their tips at the end of their shift. At the end of each month, that collective 10% is divided among the kitchen staff. The waitstaff still come out way ahead overall and the kitchen staff appreciate it. I've never heard anyone complain on either end of the deal. Given the choice, I'd let them keep it all rather than have to do their job so I'm not much help in a fight for tip equality.
It's kinda like wrestling a gorilla... you don't stop when you're tired, you stop when the gorilla is tired.

#4 TheSugarChef

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Posted 07 January 2013 - 04:51 PM

The usual argument of not being able to find quality servers if they don't make tips explains our lack of professional service in this country.
Restaurant work isn't high-paying on the kitchen end but restaurants still attract good cooks. If tips are your servers' motivations for working for you, what will happen when the tips dry up or they can make higher tips somewhere else? They leave.

In a few places that I've worked, the disparity between incomes created animosity and a lack of teamwork. Cooks did not want to help servers clean plates or set up buffets because "it wasn't the cook's job and the servers got paid a lot more than them just to move the food from point A to point B." I've been on the receiving end of a very short stick when I fix servers' orders, rush food, or send amenities for regulars...servers keep the tip. On occasion, I'll get a "thank you". And before you think it's not a big deal, one of those tables in one night will tip more than I make in a week.

Ironcially, the best service cultures are ones in which tipping is not encouraged (i.e. France and Japan). Why? Because service is valued as a professional occupation and treated as such.

#5 pastrygirl

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Posted 07 January 2013 - 08:41 PM

Where I work, the waitstaff tip-out 10% of their tips at the end of their shift. At the end of each month, that collective 10% is divided among the kitchen staff. The waitstaff still come out way ahead overall and the kitchen staff appreciate it. I've never heard anyone complain on either end of the deal.


Dare we imagine what would happen if they tipped out 20%? 30%? 50%?

One thing that makes these discussions challenging is that state policies and minimum wages vary so widely. In WA, servers make the minimum wage of $9.19 an hour. I wouldn't recommend trying to live on that in Seattle, but it would go further in Walla Walla. When tips aren't quite as crucial to a persons survival, 16-20% of my dinner check seems awfully generous.

Yes, I think tipping culture does contribute to transiency. I have tried to get servers to name an hourly wage for which they would work, and nobody seems to want to name one. Nobody wants to commit to an hourly wage when they could potentially make so much more. Who would, when they might double or triple that on a really great night?

Edited by pastrygirl, 07 January 2013 - 09:30 PM.


#6 Lisa Shock

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Posted 07 January 2013 - 11:36 PM

Some states don't allow for complete redistribution, sometimes only certain employees can share. One day, if I get my own place, I'll do 'no tips' and pay everyone a living wage. (maybe a jar on the counter, to be split, but, customers would know that servers did not need to be tipped)

#7 Edward J

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Posted 08 January 2013 - 01:44 AM

There is no standard for what a server should know or be capable of, and this is one of the key elements to the whole debate. In most parts of Europe, a server completes a 2 yr apprenticeship.

Cooks too, don't stay longer than a few months at most places. Pay is one of the key motivators for this. In the U.S. there is no standard for what a cook should know or be capable of either.

There are hospitality Unions, always have been, but they have done nothing to implement standards, done nothing to address "tipping wages" in certain States, and have done nothing to further education within the industry. They do, however help themselves to a chunk of paycheques.

An acknowledgement has to be made that while the server works very hard, they are not responsible for the entire dining experience, and a tip-currently-- is expressed as a percentage of the entire dining experience.

No one wants to make this acknowledgement...

On another tangent, the media is doing nothing to improve the situation either. Servers get healthy tips, cooks get a verbal compliments, the public follows suit.

#8 Dave Hatfield

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Posted 08 January 2013 - 10:47 AM

Tipping!! I'm dreading it. We're coming to the states next month for three weeks & will be eating in restaurants quite a bit. HAVING to tip just drives me nuts.

Here in France one just does not tip. Well, maybe the loose change, but nothing serious. I'm not quite sure how the French did it as when I first started coming her in the late 60's - early 70's tipping was endemic. If you didn't leave 15% then the waiter would let you know about it. Now, no tipping.

So, it can be done. Maybe we can learn how in the states.

All I know is that I hate doling out the money.
Still, I'm not brave enough Not to tip when in the states.

The tyranny of the server!!

#9 Raamo

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Posted 08 January 2013 - 11:22 AM

That was a very interesting ted talk, my brother currently works as a waiter but he's doing it as a transitory activity.

The topic of tipping comes up often on cruise ship discussion boards but there it's tip sharing all the way around so even the cooks get tipped (granted pay is WAY lower then minimum wage in the USA so there's a whole lot more to go with that topic)

I to tend to notice a much better experience at the resturants on the top end so I can justify paying them more but less so on the mid tier, there's a chain we went to where it's easily $30-40 a head not including liquour and the service was worse then a place like applebees. I do adjust my tip in those situations so I guess I'm not a straight 15% all the timer :)

The topic of cooks pay is one I never thought about. At a fine resturant where the cooks are actually cooking I've no idea what those cooks make but I know the servers are doing very very well.

#10 annabelle

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Posted 08 January 2013 - 12:13 PM

Cooking and being a waiter are two completely different skill sets. Of course there is going to be income inequality. No one is forcing either set of employees to do that kind of work if they find the compensation distasteful.

#11 Tri2Cook

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Posted 08 January 2013 - 02:00 PM

Tipping!! I'm dreading it. We're coming to the states next month for three weeks & will be eating in restaurants quite a bit. HAVING to tip just drives me nuts.


Of course, you don't HAVE to tip. There's not a tip police or a big bruiser at the door that will shake you down for the cash when you try to leave. :raz:
It's kinda like wrestling a gorilla... you don't stop when you're tired, you stop when the gorilla is tired.

#12 pacman1978

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Posted 08 January 2013 - 03:00 PM

British culture has changed in the last 10-15 years where it is standard now to have 10-12.5% automatically added to the bill although it is labelled as optional so you can not pay it but they know us stiff upper lipped brits are unlikely to be that confrontational.

I have to admit I don't like the 20% tipping in the states as it seems ridiculous when you go out for a fine dining meal that costs say $400 and so are expected to tip 80 bucks. The service whilst good is not worth the cost of a family meal at a diner! If a meal is say 8 dollars I will happily leave $13 but there becomes a tipping point where the service can not be worth that percentage. I am coming to NYC in April and going to try and get a table at Eleven Madison Avenue and with a set menu at $195 per head that will already be up to a $80 tip for me and my wife already which is just crazy...

Just my thoughts...

#13 OliverB

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Posted 08 January 2013 - 04:06 PM

I agree, somewhere there's an end to the % scale where it gets stupid. No waiter on this planet is worth $80 for the couple min they wait on me. At high price venues like that I'd ask the maitre what the policy is, but 20% on top makes no sense there.

We used to just double the tax here in CA, then I read that's not enough, should be 20% or more. But you know what? Why? So the waiter can live somewhere? Well, take it up with your boss if you don't make enough money. In Germany we tipped the change sometimes, or if somebody was really nice and attentive you tip some extra. But they had to earn it by being nice and attentive. Not buy just doing their job.

I've given very little at times here in the US, if the wait staff was not up to my (not very high) standards. If I have to wait 15 min for a glass of water or a beer, the meter goes down. If my glass water gets refilled w/o me even noticing, it goes up. But yes, we're trapped in the 15-20% range of course. A stupid system.
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#14 Edward J

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Posted 08 January 2013 - 07:02 PM

Cooking and being a waiter are two completely different skill sets. Of course there is going to be income inequality. No one is forcing either set of employees to do that kind of work if they find the compensation distasteful.



Ahh, well there you go Mkayahara, that's the attitude you've got change. Good luck!

#15 pastrygirl

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Posted 08 January 2013 - 07:09 PM


Cooking and being a waiter are two completely different skill sets. Of course there is going to be income inequality. No one is forcing either set of employees to do that kind of work if they find the compensation distasteful.



Ahh, well there you go Mkayahara, that's the attitude you've got change. Good luck!


Well as long as no one is forcing the diner to tip if they find it distasteful, then we are all good.

#16 annabelle

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Posted 08 January 2013 - 07:57 PM

What attitude, EdwardJ? You can't pull a cook out of a kitchen and expect him to serve tables. Neither can you take a server off the floor and expect him to cook. They are different skills and require different training. Waiting tables is usually a transient job that one performs while training to do something else. Of course there are persons who make a career of it, but I've met few. The kitchen is a different story with a lot of lifers who also tend to move around a lot.

#17 Edward J

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Posted 08 January 2013 - 09:10 PM

Of course they are different trades, but the issue is tipping, not income inequality.

Look at it this way:

-The diner tips the server a percentage of the final bill. :
-By doing the above, the diner acknowledges that the server is responsible for the entire experience
-The server works very hard, but is NOT responsible for the entire dining experience.

Most diners don't know or care if the tip is shared or not. I know that in California, it is illegal for servers to share tips--what is given to them is theirs.

There is a problem with the current tipping culture, and we can't just say if cooks and servers don't like the pay to go and find something else.

#18 gfweb

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Posted 08 January 2013 - 09:32 PM

Institutionalized tipping of servers is, in an economic sense, a disruptive practice. It messes with economic forces, favors one class of worker (arguably the least skilled) over another, and allows owners to get away with gross underpayment of servers. A percentage system assumes that more and better service is given if I order Screaming Eagle than Thunderbird. Screwy. I can find nothing good in it.

#19 annabelle

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Posted 08 January 2013 - 09:50 PM

Of course they are different trades, but the issue is tipping, not income inequality.

Look at it this way:

-The diner tips the server a percentage of the final bill. :
-By doing the above, the diner acknowledges that the server is responsible for the entire experience
-The server works very hard, but is NOT responsible for the entire dining experience.

Most diners don't know or care if the tip is shared or not. I know that in California, it is illegal for servers to share tips--what is given to them is theirs.

There is a problem with the current tipping culture, and we can't just say if cooks and servers don't like the pay to go and find something else.



Pastrygirl spoke of income inequality in one of the first posts to this thread.

Edited by annabelle, 08 January 2013 - 09:50 PM.


#20 pbear

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Posted 08 January 2013 - 09:56 PM

The thing to understand about tipping in America is that it's not really driven by servers. It's driven by customers. Most of them (not all) like acting as beneficent feudal lords, dispensing a boon to their hapless servers. They'd like tipping cooks too, if they interacted with them, but the don't, so they don't. Whatever you may think of the system in principle, if you're visiting the country, tips for servers are part of the compensation structure. If you opt out (and you can), you're freeloading. Bear in mind that, if tipping were eliminated, wages would rise to cover the difference and so would prices. IMHO, this perennial topic is mostly a debate about form rather than substance.

FWIW, I last worked front of the house over thirty years ago, back of the house about ten (both pretty far from fine dining). I don't have an axe to grind either way. Mostly I'm just reflecting on this as a consumer.

#21 haresfur

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Posted 08 January 2013 - 11:36 PM

IMO American tipping culture is similar to American gun culture - it is unlikely that anyone is going to do anything significant to change it.

Ok, on second thought that isn't quite true - I'm baffled by the increase in 'standard' tip over the last decade or so from 15 to 20%.
It's almost never bad to feed someone.

#22 liuzhou

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Posted 09 January 2013 - 12:59 AM

I've never understood the percentage thing. Is it more difficult to carry a plate of expensive food from the kitchen to my table than to carry a plate of a cheaper choice from the menu?

Surely, tipping is paying for service. The service is the same no matter the cost of the ingredients of your choice.

Totally illogical.

Edited by liuzhou, 09 January 2013 - 01:02 AM.


#23 Edward J

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Posted 09 January 2013 - 01:00 AM

Pastrygirl spoke of income inequality in one of the first posts to this thread.


Ehh...No. Pastry girl spoke of income disparity

#24 liuzhou

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Posted 09 January 2013 - 01:16 AM

'Er?

'Disparity' means 'inequality'.


disparity

(dɪˈspærɪtɪ)

[ad. F. disparité (16th c. in Littré) = It. disparità, Sp. disparidad, after L. type *disparitās, f. dis- 4 + paritās parity.]

1.1 The quality or state of being of unequal rank, condition, circumstances, etc.; inequality or dissimilarity in respect of age, amount, number, or quality; want of parity or equality.


Edited by liuzhou, 09 January 2013 - 01:18 AM.


#25 ScoopKW

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Posted 09 January 2013 - 01:16 AM

I've never understood the percentage thing. Is it more difficult to carry a plate of expensive food from the kitchen to my table than to carry a plate of a cheaper choice from the menu?

Surely, tipping is paying for service. The service is the same no matter the cost of the ingredients of your choice.

Totally illogical.


It's the United States -- you expect things to be logical?

It would also be logical if we switched to the centigrade scale and used the same system of weights and measures as the rest of the world. I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for that to happen, either.


Our tradition in the restaurant industry is to pay servers next to nothing. And then to expect the diners to pay the servers' wages. The only thing I find appalling is people who don't tip because they don't like the system. People who don't like the system should not participate -- they should eat someplace where tips are not part of the equation. Or cook their own food.
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#26 liuzhou

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Posted 09 January 2013 - 01:33 AM

you expect things to be logical?


No. I didn' t say I expected anything.

Edited by liuzhou, 09 January 2013 - 01:34 AM.


#27 PSmith

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Posted 09 January 2013 - 02:33 AM

Now it is no secret that us Brits don't have the same generous culture as Americans when it comes to tipping.

But one thing that seems to be creeping into UK restaurants is service charge. More so now we have minimum wage. Bar staff, food servers and kitchen staff are now on the same hourly rate as a junior administrator in an office.

Many don't realise that the service charge often goes to the establishment and not the staff and is therefore not a tip.

http://www.timeout.c...not_to_tip.html

Personally I am not sure that this is a good thing.

ETA - restaurants were allowed to use tips to make up minimum wage, but this loophole has been closed

http://www.guardian....ts-minimum-wage

Edited by PSmith, 09 January 2013 - 02:39 AM.

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#28 PSmith

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Posted 09 January 2013 - 09:17 AM

Tipping!! I'm dreading it. We're coming to the states next month for three weeks & will be eating in restaurants quite a bit. HAVING to tip just drives me nuts.


In the UK we seem to be moving more towards the American culture of tipping. Like you, I hate it. If I see a price on the menu, that is the price I want to pay, not the price plus taxes, service charge and then tip. What was an average priced meal quickly becomes expensive. If the service and food has been good, then I will tip and I would expect the tips to be shared with the kitchen staff.

Since the introduction of minimum wage, we are also seeing a lot more establishments in the UK adopting a service charge, which a lot of people mistakenly think goes to the staff and therefore don't tip.

http://www.guardian....ts-minimum-wage

Personally, now we have minimum wage in the UK which applies to all trades, then I don't see why certain industries should have the culture of tipping, unless expectations have been exceeded.

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#29 sigma

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Posted 09 January 2013 - 09:27 AM

Tipping is neither particularly illogical nor economically inefficient. You are allowed to assess the product before you price it, which is a great benefit to the consumer. The cultural aspects and pressures are more problematic.

#30 Allura

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Posted 09 January 2013 - 10:48 AM

A question for the non-Americans: are restaurant prices higher (accounting for differences in currency) or equivalent to the prices in the US? In other words, does paying a regular increase the actual price of the meal? And does this affect how often people dine in a restaurant?
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