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Rethinking tipping culture


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The restaurant owners all shovel money at our government making sure none of that happens.

Do you have any suggestions that would actually work in the USA?

It's probably the best way, even if it is impossible. The amount of money the Hospt. Unions recieve from the institutional services and Hotels is huge. If you light a fire under their rears and try and get them (Hospt. Unions) to be accountable with what they have done with this money, it'll be like lining up all the noodles end -to -end in a bowl of chicken soup--they'll just keep on squirming and changing and lobbying, and you will never get them to be accountable.

Working on a farm for a few summers I very quickly observed that if you cut off a food source from an animal, it will do crazy and dangerous things to protect it's food source (Rats in a grain silo jumping 30 feet at a human intruder...) Cut the Hospt. Unions off from their only source of income, and they just might actually do something for it's members and the industry in general.

Hey, getting women the vote/holding public office was once considered impossible. It just took a huge amount of effort to change this.

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The restaurant owners all shovel money at our government making sure none of that happens.

Do you have any suggestions that would actually work in the USA?

(my bold)

Scoop, do you have a citation for this statement? Aren't you lumping all restaurant owners in with Union bosses?

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The restaurant owners all shovel money at our government making sure none of that happens.

Do you have any suggestions that would actually work in the USA?

(my bold)

Scoop, do you have a citation for this statement? Aren't you lumping all restaurant owners in with Union bosses?

The National Restaurant Association is the primary reason tipped employees are still sitting at $2.13/hour. This is the lobby that fights tooth and nail against any kind of wage hikes. They have the most to lose, after all. Google ANY story about "minimum wage" and "National Restaurant Association" and you'll get your citations.

As for other recent replies:

1) Edward J -- You seriously overestimate the power unions have. We get it. You HATE unions. But so few front-of-house workers are organized, there is nothing unions can do for them.

2) fvandrog -- If nothing else, thank you for proving everything I have said about foreign visitors and their tipping practices.

Edited by ScoopKW (log)

Who cares how time advances? I am drinking ale today. -- Edgar Allan Poe

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If you really look at it, the whole issue is a fair salary, right?

There are only two ways that I know of to make an employer pay more. The first is to strike (rise up with pitchforks?), and the second is to establish a series of benchmarks particular to that trade or profession, and then set a scale of salaries to match the benchmarks.

Most trades choose the second option, and usually in a series of 3 benchmarks or qualifications (Plumber's ticket 1, 2, and 3 etc.) The trade union is key in coordinating with the technical/schooling aspects of the trade--including the curriculum and entrance qualifications, as well as setting salaries to the level of qualification. Most of the standards or benchmarks for these trades are adopted by municipalities and written into respective codes--ie. plumbing code, electrical code, etc.

But there are no qualifications or benchmarks for servers. Most of Europe has a two year apprenticeship as a benchmark for servers, but not N. America. So in order to have a fair salary for all servers, you would need a series of 3 benchmarks: The first for basic service, the second for service with limited alcohol, and the third for high end houses. As with most of the trades, each benchmark would build on the last, and each benchmark would command it's own salary range. The server could choose to climb to a higher benchmark with a higher salary whenever s/he chooses to do so.

But there is no infrastructure in place to support this model. Again, using the trades model, the Union would be involved in establishing this infrastructure. So, for the last oh... I dunno, 80 years or so, what exactly have the Hospt. Unions been doing? There is nothing in place, only a National Rest. Association with some extremely powerful and successful lobbying efforts that has done nothing to establish any kind of benchmark or qualification.

So really, the only group or organization with a mandate to "look after" it's members are the Hospt. Unions, and they haven't. The best way to get the scene going is to light a fire under the Hospt.Union's butts, and the best way to do this is to have some kind of control over how much they can fleece from their members.

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So really, the only group or organization with a mandate to "look after" it's members are the Hospt. Unions, and they haven't. The best way to get the scene going is to light a fire under the Hospt.Union's butts, and the best way to do this is to have some kind of control over how much they can fleece from their members.

All well and good. But how is ANYTHING going to be accomplished when the National Restaurant Association lobby is shoveling money at our legislators to make sure the minimum wage stays at $2.13 for tipped employees? The culinary unions (of which I'm a member) cannot compete. And the legislators ALWAYS favor the big corporations over the workers. That's just how it is here.

Who cares how time advances? I am drinking ale today. -- Edgar Allan Poe

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Scoop, I looked up the NRA and their website doesn't contain any financial information disclosures. At least the financials are not in the usual places. Further, they have only half a million members. Who is their "angel", assuming they have one, that is providing these massive funds you are claiming they have? If you have this information, I would appreciate it if you would share it with us.

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How? Same way you bring down any entity, find the dirt, expose it, and watch them scramble. Paying someone $2.13/hr is pretty stinky, lobbying and creating a loophole to make this legal is even stinkier. Yet most people have no idea about this.

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They aren't really being paid $2.13 an hour, though, so I don't know why you are focusing on that. They are being paid, by common convention, $2.13 an hour plus about 17% of the price of what they are serving. Those are two different things entirely. I am left to wonder whether anybody in this thread has ever even taken Econ 101.

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They aren't really being paid $2.13 an hour, though, so I don't know why you are focusing on that. They are being paid, by common convention, $2.13 an hour plus about 17% of the price of what they are serving. Those are two different things entirely. I am left to wonder whether anybody in this thread has ever even taken Econ 101.

Well, some have, surely. All the way up to Econ 300 something here.

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They aren't really being paid $2.13 an hour, though, so I don't know why you are focusing on that. They are being paid, by common convention, $2.13 an hour plus about 17% of the price of what they are serving. Those are two different things entirely. I am left to wonder whether anybody in this thread has ever even taken Econ 101.

Most of us in this thread think that $2.13 per hour plus a large tip percentage is a ridiculous way to earn a living. The problem is people like fvandrog, who basically represents the vast majority of foreign tourists, along with homegrown cheapskates. Those of us who DO have a little empathy for our fellow man need to tip more and more to subsidize the tightwads and to keep up with inflation. Which is why 20% is the new "standard" and that's going up fast. We'll be at 25% before too long.

Annabelle:

http://washingtonpolicywatch.org/2013/04/16/politifact-rates-national-restaurant-association-statements-on-minimum-wage-false/

http://www.restaurant.org/advocacy/All-Issues/Minimum-Wage/Overview

http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=National_Restaurant_Association

http://inplainsight.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/03/18/17325972-looking-for-a-big-increase-in-the-minimum-wage-dont-bank-on-it?lite

Edward:

I can't explain why none of your suggestions can possibly be implemented without turning this thread entirely political. Short of a revolution to bring down the United States government, nothing you have said will work. The representatives who are keeping American workers down are popular with those same American workers because of a rabid hatred of anything that smacks of socialism. Half of America votes against their financial interests every election cycle because of promises to not be like France, and to keep discrimination (and cheap, plentiful handguns) the law of the land.

Edited by ScoopKW (log)

Who cares how time advances? I am drinking ale today. -- Edgar Allan Poe

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They aren't really being paid $2.13 an hour, though, so I don't know why you are focusing on that. They are being paid, by common convention, $2.13 an hour plus about 17% of the price of what they are serving. Those are two different things entirely. I am left to wonder whether anybody in this thread has ever even taken Econ 101.

Most of us in this thread think that $2.13 per hour plus a large tip percentage is a ridiculous way to earn a living. The problem is people like fvandrog, who basically represents the vast majority of foreign tourists, along with homegrown cheapskates. Those of us who DO have a little empathy for our fellow man need to tip more and more to subsidize the tightwads and to keep up with inflation. Which is why 20% is the new "standard" and that's going up fast. We'll be at 25% before too long.

Look, what I am telling you is that you are looking at the entire situation the wrong way. You have a perspective on it, and you aren't letting in other possibilities. To you it is all about good people and bad people, those who care and those who do not, and there are assumptions implicit in your citation of $2.13 that really aren't tenable. I am going to try to explain through another example what I mean.

When I was in college, I had a job valet parking at the Neiman Marcus in Beverly Hills. I received no formal pay for my work. I showed up, parked cars, took tips and went home. Customers were not required to tip. Using your logic, Neiman Marcus didn't pay me for my work. But is that really true? No. If they hadn't paid me, I wouldn't have had any incentive to work there at all. Letting go of your untenable assumption, that all compensation is exclusively monetary, lets you understand quite clearly that Neiman Marcus paid me well for my service. In allowing me to function as a valet under their official imprimatur on their property, they traded me a valuable commodity in return for my hours. I used their property to receive tips from the clients. Since our social norms state that valets in free parks get tips and valets in paid parks do not, there was a reasonable and quantifiable benefit to what they traded me, even if there was no check. My wages were not zero, as you would have us believe, but my wages were the average amount I could be expected to earn from their property in the allotted time. In effect, I moved from being an employee to being the owner of my own small industry using their rented property.

The economics of table waiting are much the same. The wage is the reasonably expected amount of tips given the average check and normal tip, plus whatever small wage is given. The owner is allowing the server to use the auspices of the restaurant to earn a percentage on their sales. There is a reasonably high expected value to this. The second untenable assumption is that in tipping the customer is paying you and under hourly the owner is. It is all the same money, and since it is very reasonable to expect that the demand curve for restaurant meals includes tip in price, the owner is in fact giving up revenue, but not profit, by not having service included, but the net is the same. It isn't through the grace of others that waiters are tipped, it is through the workings of culture, and a note about Jesus, a stingy European or otherwise bad tipper doesn't affect the mean enough to make it otherwise. Also, good service likely will earn an excess gratuity similar to what good service will receive as a pour boire in other cultures. It's all pretty efficient.

I hope that helps. You just need to be more flexible and nuanced in your thinking, and to try to understand why a system works rather than to look at it only on its face.

Edited by sigma (log)
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They aren't really being paid $2.13 an hour, though, so I don't know why you are focusing on that. They are being paid, by common convention, $2.13 an hour plus about 17% of the price of what they are serving. Those are two different things entirely. I am left to wonder whether anybody in this thread has ever even taken Econ 101.

Ehh.... No. Servers get paid exactly what their paychecks state, and if it states $2.13/ hr x "X" hours, then that's what they get paid. Tipping is discretionary, it's not guaranteed, Pay rates are.

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There is a significant problem about paying very low "wages" to servers in areas where there are a lot of foreign tourists and I have railed against this policy for years.

In many other countries tipping is not done and people who come to the U.S. for the first time are often not aware that tipping is considered part of the "wages" for servers.

A friend's daughter, who worked at one of the restaurants near Disneyland for several years told many stories about having a table full of people from Europe who demanded lots of service and then did not leave a tip. On one occasion she sat down at the table and was crying when one of the women returned to pick up a package she had left under the table. She asked why Donna was crying and Donna told her. The woman was shocked because in her country servers are paid a regular wage. She gave Donna ten dollars but there had been 8 people at the table and their bill was well over 100. so while she got something, it was nowhere near the "estimate" on which restaurants EXCUSE their paying pitiful wages.

Frankly, it is not much better than indentured servitude and in my opinion is degrading.

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

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They aren't really being paid $2.13 an hour, though, so I don't know why you are focusing on that. They are being paid, by common convention, $2.13 an hour plus about 17% of the price of what they are serving. Those are two different things entirely. I am left to wonder whether anybody in this thread has ever even taken Econ 101.

Ehh.... No. Servers get paid exactly what their paychecks state, and if it states $2.13/ hr x "X" hours, then that's what they get paid. Tipping is discretionary, it's not guaranteed, Pay rates are.

Being willfully ignorant is an unattractive trait. It is one thing to be unexposed, but this is different. Under your system, of course, bonuses are not pay, benefits are not pay, nothing is pay besides the hourly rate or salary. Think if this makes sense. Generalize it to other fields. Think on it.

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They aren't really being paid $2.13 an hour, though, so I don't know why you are focusing on that. They are being paid, by common convention, $2.13 an hour plus about 17% of the price of what they are serving. Those are two different things entirely. I am left to wonder whether anybody in this thread has ever even taken Econ 101.

Ehh.... No. Servers get paid exactly what their paychecks state, and if it states $2.13/ hr x "X" hours, then that's what they get paid. Tipping is discretionary, it's not guaranteed, Pay rates are.

Being willfully ignorant is an unattractive trait. It is one thing to be unexposed, but this is different. Under your system, of course, bonuses are not pay, benefits are not pay, nothing is pay besides the hourly rate or salary. Think if this makes sense. Generalize it to other fields. Think on it.

What bonuses? What benefits? Geez.
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They aren't really being paid $2.13 an hour, though, so I don't know why you are focusing on that. They are being paid, by common convention, $2.13 an hour plus about 17% of the price of what they are serving. Those are two different things entirely. I am left to wonder whether anybody in this thread has ever even taken Econ 101.

Ehh.... No. Servers get paid exactly what their paychecks state, and if it states $2.13/ hr x "X" hours, then that's what they get paid. Tipping is discretionary, it's not guaranteed, Pay rates are.

Being willfully ignorant is an unattractive trait. It is one thing to be unexposed, but this is different. Under your system, of course, bonuses are not pay, benefits are not pay, nothing is pay besides the hourly rate or salary. Think if this makes sense. Generalize it to other fields. Think on it.

What bonuses? What benefits? Geez.

You too? My point is that if only contracted monetary remuneration, wages and salary, are pay then our understanding of compensation in every field, and thus our understanding of labor market economics, is wrong. If we apply to the restaurant business what we do to other fields then tips, as they are an expected part of the normal course of affairs, are part of standard pay. If not, well then we get up on our high horses and piss in the wind.

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Tips are tips, they are discretionary.

Consider this:

In order for a sales person to work at a new job, both they and the employer have to acknowledge the terms of the commission. Once the sale has been processed, the salesperson has every right to expect the acknowledged commission, the employer has to honour the terms.

Tips are discretionary. A server can ring in $2,000 worth of sales at the end of their shift and might pocket $100, $200, or $300 in tips, they might pocket nothing, or might pocket $400. The employer has no part in this matter.

Here's another way of looking at the tipping situation:

My city has an abnormally high fare structure for public transport. This is mainly due to illegal (non paying) riders abusing the system. If everyone paid the required amount, the fares would be lower--for everyone.

Servers can't survive on $2.13/ hr or even $6.00/ hr, they need to rely on tips as well. There is no guarantee that everyone will tip 10% or 20%. Those who tip 20% are compensating for those who tip less. Sooner or later something will give

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Tips are only truly discretionary if you believe that social norms are not determinative. Does anybody believe that these days? No. In fact, the common refrain in this thread that Euros don't tip while Americans "make up for their stinginess" is just evidence of how determinative social norms are. Simply stating over and over that tipping is discretionary is begging the question.

But let's look at it another way, because you all seem to focus on an individual tipping event and not the mean. The average tip is pretty standard. It is about 17%. That means that some are more and some are less. This is fine, because nobody waits one table a pay period. The focus on an individual event is silly and it leads to silly conclusions. If you are saying that you believe the average doesn't hold, then you may have a point, but anecdotes don't make for good policy, and as long as people keep waiting multiple tables over multiple nights during a pay period, then individual tables don't mean anything.

Also, the idea that big tippers are running around making up for small tippers is not a sound way to understand the structure in place. Different people tip slightly differently and all means have standard deviations, but people in restaurants in North America tip a certain amount, and it is consistent enough that if you decided to bet against it on individual tables you would go broke quickly.

Edited by sigma (log)
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Lets get this discretionary thing settled first.

When an employer offers an employee a commission or bonus, the employer is obliged to honour his offer if the employee achieves the goal asked of him/her. The compensation offered by the employer is not discretionary, it was negotiated or at least acknowledged by both parties. In the event of non-payment, the employee has several options to get the compensation promised

A tip is not negotiated nor is it acknowledged prior to the diner sitting down. The diner pays the employer for services and goods rendered, and pays the server an additional sum of money. The employer has no say regarding to the sum of money given to the employee. In the event of non-tipping, the employee has no legal options to get what they believe are owed. And even so, there can't be a specific dollar amount to chase after, seeing as how "the average" tip is 17%, but it is unclear if this refers to high-end dining only, or includes casual dining, or even chain restaurant dining.

But you're right, I don't understand the (tipping) "structure in place". I don't see how a server can expect a percentage of the cost of the entire dining experience as partial compensation, when s/he was not entirely responsible for the entire dining experience.

Tips are only truly discretionary if you believe that social norms are not determinative.

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The woman was shocked because in her country servers are paid a regular wage. She gave Donna ten dollars but there had been 8 people at the table and their bill was well over 100. so while she got something, it was nowhere near the "estimate" on which restaurants EXCUSE their paying pitiful wages.

Frankly, it is not much better than indentured servitude and in my opinion is degrading.

This has been my experience as well. (Well, I'm back of the house, so I just hear the horror stories.) I have lived my entire adult life in tourist towns. I've watched this unfold for the past 25 years.

I think the ignorance excuse is becoming anachronistic. Most of the ignorance I see these days is willful ignorance. "How you do things does not square with my reality. So I think you are lying to me and I'm going to do what I please." While they don't come out and say that exactly, that's what I infer from what they do say. And yet if we don't kowtow to all their silly cultural idiosyncrasies when we visit their country, we're "ugly Americans who really should know better."

Our tipping practices is a silly cultural idiosyncrasy -- so when in Rome, NY, or Athens, GA, do as the New Yorkers and Georgians do.

Who cares how time advances? I am drinking ale today. -- Edgar Allan Poe

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I think the ignorance excuse is becoming anachronistic. Most of the ignorance I see these days is willful ignorance. "How you do things does not square with my reality. So I think you are lying to me and I'm going to do what I please." While they don't come out and say that exactly, that's what I infer from what they do say. And yet if we don't kowtow to all their silly cultural idiosyncrasies when we visit their country, we're "ugly Americans who really should know better."

Our tipping practices is a silly cultural idiosyncrasy -- so when in Rome, NY, or Athens, GA, do as the New Yorkers and Georgians do.

I've seen this said again and again, and honestly, it doesn't at all tally with my experience of people I know travelling from Ireland at least. Most of them simply don't know that 20% is considered some kind of norm. I certainly didn't until I learned it here, and most people are not on eGullet nor have anything like the interest in restaurants that's the norm for people on eG.

There are (of course) plenty of people who know that the norms are different but don't know why (they aren't aware that servers are paid below minimum wage) so they're reluctant to go over whatever they usually tip here. Again, servers earning less than minimum wage is news to most people I tell, because minimum wage "normally" means minimum wage. Finally there are, of course, some people who know everything all too well and just decide to feign ignorance and be assholes about it, but I think it's a bit of a stretch to label most European tourists who undertips in this way. Most of them DON'T know better. Most travellers I know AREN'T poring over guidebooks and learning societal norms before a trip to the US, because US culture is so ubiquitous we think we know it all already.

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Finally there are, of course, some people who know everything all too well and just decide to feign ignorance and be assholes about it, but I think it's a bit of a stretch to label most European tourists who undertips in this way. Most of them DON'T know better. Most travellers I know AREN'T poring over guidebooks and learning societal norms before a trip to the US, because US culture is so ubiquitous we think we know it all already.

Sorry, but this doesn't square with my reality of living in American tourist towns my entire adult life. I have sat in restaurants where I live and heard your countrymen brag about how they weren't going to tip at all, because they can claim they don't know better. (When the waitress was out of earshot, of course.) There is a PERVASIVE "well, we're never going to see HER again" attitude when it comes to visitors to the USA.

I am not suggesting that this attitude is common here on eGullet. I think most of us are more enlightened. But this is my reality. (To be fair, this is the reality of my friends in the front of house positions. I get paid the same no matter what.) But I absolutely assure you, no server in the US jumps for joy when a busload of European visitors pulls up at their restaurant. I truly wish more servers posted here so you could read just how bad things are.

Who cares how time advances? I am drinking ale today. -- Edgar Allan Poe

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Perhaps you can't hear the tourists who *do* tip normally, or you never realise they're European? Of course, if you're in that kind of tourist area, all bets are off. Those travelling by the "busload" are probably not the most sophisticated of tourists anywhere you go in the world! In any case, it's pointless my attempting to argue with your experience.

As a presumed-undertipping European tourist, I've encountered this "less-than-chuffed" reaction to my arrival at a restaurant. It doesn't always make for a pleasant dining experience, and it really makes it hard for me to understand those who doggedly defend the status quo. I don't think I'll ever agree that discretionary-but-not-really 20% tips are the best way to organise the system, but ultimately it doesn't matter to me. I'll continue to tip properly in the US, irrespective of the quality of service I get, and I'll just try to enjoy the moment of surprise when the server realises I haven't stiffed them.

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The woman was shocked because in her country servers are paid a regular wage. She gave Donna ten dollars but there had been 8 people at the table and their bill was well over 100. so while she got something, it was nowhere near the "estimate" on which restaurants EXCUSE their paying pitiful wages.

Frankly, it is not much better than indentured servitude and in my opinion is degrading.

This has been my experience as well. (Well, I'm back of the house, so I just hear the horror stories.) I have lived my entire adult life in tourist towns. I've watched this unfold for the past 25 years.

I think the ignorance excuse is becoming anachronistic. Most of the ignorance I see these days is willful ignorance. "How you do things does not square with my reality. So I think you are lying to me and I'm going to do what I please." While they don't come out and say that exactly, that's what I infer from what they do say. And yet if we don't kowtow to all their silly cultural idiosyncrasies when we visit their country, we're "ugly Americans who really should know better."

Our tipping practices is a silly cultural idiosyncrasy -- so when in Rome, NY, or Athens, GA, do as the New Yorkers and Georgians do.

I just don't comprehend...

Perhaps George Thorogood, in his song "one bourbon, one scotch..." explains it best:

"So Whatchyou want?!!!"

On the one hand, the tipping system doesn't work when servers complain bitterly that they regularily get stiffed on tips.

On the other hand, we should use this system because it's what the Romans and Athenians use.

Cheating employees out of wages is pretty serious business, yet no one wants to address this abuse--not the Unions, not the local or regional Tourisim boards, not any form of Gov't. The legal minimum wage is ignored and a loophole is put in place, no one will adress this abuse. And yet we should all follow this tipping system........

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