Well, that didn’t take long.
My latest exposé on the tipping epidemic — and specifically, the questionable act of soliciting even more money from someone who just paid the sticker price — drew a heaping spoonful of ire from readers, many of whom work in the service industry.
The response said more about the system than it did about these hostile service employees. But don’t get me wrong — it said plenty about them.
“Your article was absolutely horrible, one-sided, and poorly researched,” writes bartender Andrew Falkenberg. “I would suggest next time you have a stroke of literary genius you might want to look into the subject a bit further before you give a group of people an excuse to do harm to another group of people who are just trying to make a living and a difficult one at that.”
Horrible, I get. One-sided? Falkenberg should really read more carefully. I presented several perspectives on tipping. Poorly researched? I’ll correct the error as soon as you tell me about one, Andrew.
“A**hole,” wrote Jack Lyons. “Tipping is part of the total cost. Don’t go out if you can’t afford it.”
Yeah, there’s a compelling opening line. Next!
“You have to be a real d*ck to promote not tipping to people who are legally paid less than minimum wage,” wrote a furious Rob Shofner.
Did I really say that? Well, no. I quoted a restaurant owner who said a gratuity was something you offered for good service. I suggested employees who demand tips might be out of line. But I never said don’t tip.
“You should be ashamed of yourself!” Steve Yurchak added. “Tipping isn’t considered optional, Chris. It is an accepted part of going out to dine. At the end of the year, most if not all, servers pay in taxes! Stick to writing about what you do know.”
Wrong, Steve. Tipping is considered optional. That much I know. If it were mandatory, there’d be a law requiring it and it would be included in the price of dinner.
“You justify giving no tips at all on a $50 restaurant bill, because of overpriced food and a no-sharing policy, though there was no mention of bad service?” says Jeffrey Boen. “In short, you condone the reader to stiff and punish the server for reasons beyond his control. And you call yourself a consumer advocate?”
No — and yes. I was reporting on someone who paid a tip, but only after being chased down the street. I was drawing attention to the fact that he and his girlfriend were chased down the street. And yes, I do call myself a consumer advocate.
Not everyone disagreed with me as aggressively. Kevin Cole pointed out that most states have a tip minimum wage much lower than normal minimum wage. “There are some restaurants where the server actually pays to serve! The server then relies on the tips to survive,” he notes. “Non-tippers should feel guilty.”
Al Hinman, who owns two restaurants, says tipped employees are part of his business and service model. But he sees both sides.
“There is quite a discussion going on in the U.S. about customary tipping in the hospitality industry and a few restaurants, mainly in larger markets are testing a no tipping policy, by raising prices or adding a service charge, while paying their hourly employees a considerably higher wage,” he says. “Sounds great, with the exception that exceptional employees are punished by being paid the same as average employees, and the guests are paying a higher menu price, usually with a net final total, when calculating what the old menu price plus tip would have been.”
Hinman views tipped employees as commissioned sales persons — only, customers are paying the commission.
“The top tier loves it,” he adds.
And that brings me back to the readers who are apoplectic about even a hint that they aren’t entitled to a tip. Who are these people?
Are they servers? Probably.
But what kind of servers?
Not top-tier. Those folks don’t have to worry about their livelihood, because they’re competent, and they know it.
You don’t have to be a consumer advocate to connect the dots here. The people who are calling me a “d*ck” and telling me I should be “ashamed” of myself are, in all likelihood, the bad servers of the world.
They don’t care if you liked the meal or the service. They view you as a walking dollar sign. They think they deserve a 25 percent tip and that if you can’t afford it, maybe you shouldn’t be dining out. (“You either have the money to eat out or you don’t,” exclaims Eric Kelsey. “If it’s that big of an expense, stay home where you can serve and clean up after yourself.”)
I hope I’m wrong about all this, but I’m probably not.
Funny thing is, these incompetent servers and their friends are mad at the wrong person. I’m not the enemy. Neither is the customer who leaves less than a 25 percent tip. Come to think of it, it isn’t even the restaurant owner who takes advantage of the system.
Rather, it’s a set of clever laws that allow some businesses to pay less than minimum wage. These laws serve a specific purpose, allowing restaurants to set too-good-to-be true prices on their meals.
Consider the macroeconomic effect for a moment. People of all classes, but especially the working class, go out and spend, spend, spend on artificially cheap restaurant meals. No, they’re not paying $5.99 for a burger — once taxes and tips are added, it’s more like $9. But the low prices got them through the door. They subsidized the server’s salary with a $2 tip. It’s small but effective stimulant to the economy and keeps things chugging along.
Tipping is part of an economy of price deception. It’s wrong for consumers and employees, but maybe it’s right for the economy.