Why Tipping Needs To End Now

01_Wallet02_RockieNolanPhotographed by Rockie Nolan.
The concept of tipping is pretty bizarre. Imagine that I will get paid for this article by those whom I am serving — my readers. That's you. If you like what I write, you'll cough up some money. If you don't, I'll starve.
Advertisement
Tipping is based on the customer's immediate, subjective judgment of your service — whether they are showing off, whether they feel their meal was overpriced, whether they like you, whether they had a bad day, and countless other highly arbitrary variables. Not only does it distort the price of your burger, it creates creepy power dynamics and demeans the service procession.
Ahead of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s first wage board meeting on Monday, restaurants servers, bus workers, and their allies are lobbying to require their employers pay minimum wage ($9 per hour). New York state law allows restaurants and hotels to compensate the 230,000 tipped workers less than that ($5 per hour) with the theory that their tips will make up the difference. In practice, every shift is a toss up.
"If using tipped employees was a good way to run a business, then more businesses would do it," Brian Keyser, owners of Casellula, a cheese and wine bar in Hell’s Kitchen, says. (Full disclosure: I worked for Keyser from 2007 to 2009, during which time I earned tips.) "But they don't. Can you imagine paying at the register at The Gap or Macy's and being asked how much you'd like to tip? No, you can't."
We agree — tipping sucks. But, just how much? Here are four major reason why it's time to abolish it for good.
02_CoinsAndCash04_RockieNolanPhotographed by Rockie Nolan.
Advertisement
It's Unjust
The poverty rate among New York's tipped workers is more than double that of the regular workforce. Sure — tipping can pay big time. I remember working as a server on my first seriously busy night and coming home with a fat wad of bills; I felt high. I also remember working nearly empty daytime shifts. Hours later, I had logged a whole day of napkin-folding and glass-polishing, but my pockets were empty.
It can't possibly be fair for an entire workforce to rely on its customers' generosity to pay rent. Here's a revolutionary concept: Workers should be paid fairly for their job.
It’s Confusing
In Japan, tipping is not only unnecessary, it's insulting. Tipping etiquette in Europe is murkier territory: Travel guides suggest either rounding up, leaving 5%, or leaving nothing.
It is customary to tip 15% to 20% in the U.S. — in New York City, the number goes up to 20% or more. God help the server who gets the table of cheerful, oblivious European tourists who tip next to nothing. Is their ignorance real or is it a disguise for their rapacity? Who knows, but it’s the waiter/waitress who pays the price. As a server, it’s not more work presenting a $200 bottle of wine than it is opening a $20 bottle. If you're serving an asshole, you make less money. If you're a generous tipper, your meal will inherently cost more. The system is flawed. Period.
03_Wallet01_RockieNolanPhotographed by Rockie Nolan.
Advertisement
It Doesn't Make for Better Service
"Studies have shown, as has my personal experience, that there is very little connection between the quality of service and the size of the tip," Keyser says. "People hold onto the delusion that they have some sort of control over their server because they can tip. It's a power trip."
The idea (as some have proposed) that servers wouldn't do their jobs — or do them well — if they were getting paid hourly is preposterous. Just remember, in every other industry, employees get paid salaries or by the hour, no tips involved.
It's Degrading
If you've ever been a server, you've probably encountered a guest who sought to bribe you for a favor, something faster, or better. "I'll make it worth your while," they may say. Perhaps they’ll even grossly winked.
The word "serve" is derived from the same root as "servant" and "servitude," all of which stem from servus, the Latin word for slave. Unfortunately, there are class and money issues embedded in the idea of service: A sort of idea that your waiters are there at your beck and call, and your role as tipper comes with power. Plus, the idea that customers are better situated than restaurant management to motivate and evaluate workers — and determine their compensation — is fraught and uncomfortable.
So, what do we do? Do we all move to Tokyo? Or, do we hope that Cuomo and his government officials will adopt the revolutionary theory that restaurant workers are professionals who do a (really hard) job, and deserve to be paid accordingly? Here's hoping for the latter.
Advertisement