Restaurants are rough places to work. If you haven’t served a stint in one, let me break it down for you: You’re constantly on the move, the hours can be inconvenient, the atmosphere is stressful and a perpetual, seemingly Prozac-induced smile is required even while being patronized by patrons. Through all this, the tips make it worthwhile. But as anyone who’s worked in the restaurant industry will tell you, being paid primarily through them can be both a blessing and a curse. On one hand it’s possible to walk away with a wad of cash so large it would make Scrooge McDuck jealous. At the same time, tips are a fickle thing and all too often the shift’s a bust, leaving servers fantasizing about working a minimum wage job at McDonald’s.
Lucky, change is slowly creeping into the industry. More and more restaurants, like Danny Meyers ‘The Modern,’ are opting out of the age-old tradition of tipping, and are instead paying their servers a higher hourly wage. Unfortunately, The Modern and other restaurants will be forced to increase their prices by 21 to 25 percent to achieve this. But despite the price jump, this is a change that we should all be in favor of.
Currently, the average hourly wage of a U.S. server is $4.94. By itself this isn’t a living wage, but this usually triples with tips. Problem is, these employees are literally banking on customers’ sense of generosity and common decency, as well as fair table assignments and consistent ‘good days.’ For many people, especially those with children, this is a precarious existence. Additionally, this tradition causes rivalries among the staff who compete for “money making shifts.” These include holidays like New Years and — depending on where you work — Friday nights, Saturday evenings and Sunday mornings. As a result, mothers and fathers are often unable to attend important functions with their children and college students miss out on precious hours of binge drinking. On the same note, when a waitress or waiter doesn’t receive a tip from a large table or is swindled out of too many table assignments a secondary result occurs. Their mood plummets, which affects both the quality of the service and the overall vibe of the restaurant. Plus, the back of the kitchen — cooks, dishwashers, expos and the like don’t make tips which leads many of them to believe that the front of the house makes more for the same work. In many cases that’s the truth, but even when it’s not, this can lead to resentment and rumors, something restaurants already experience and don’t need additions to.
From a customer’s point of view, tipping can be a frustrating process as well. You’re often embroiled in lengthy arguments surrounding who will pick up the tip, how much to tip, and — if you’re a good person — what 20 percent comes out to be. If you’re a college student there are further complications. In this cash strapped percentage of the population many are unable to tip, which unfortunately, means that many college students feel a social obligation not to go to sit down restaurants. That’s an annoyance that most people could do without, and plans like Meyer’s would do just that. (having the money to tip)
With that said, there are many, many people in the U.S. who would strongly disagree with this position. They might argue that no tip equals no incentive to be courteous and personable. They might insist that many employees will actually be paid less as a result or that small businesses will be harmed by the plan.
While these are legitimate concerns, I doubt their credibility.
Most servers — and people in general — want to be good at their job and more importantly, make people happy. The only instance in which this is false is when customers are rude or difficult, in which case they shouldn’t be getting perfect service anyway. Furthermore, it is true that some servers may be paid less, however, on the whole the initiative would offer far more economic security to the majority and reduce work related conflicts. As far as small businesses go, it’s unlikely they’ll disappear overnight. This process would take a while and would need to be implemented by well established restaurants first. By the time it affects small restaurants, higher food prices will be a societal norm.
The end result of this plan would be better service, less awkward table manners and far more financial security. For all the hard work our waiters and waitresses do, isn’t it time that they get a consistent paycheck for it?
Paul Hazelton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at his twitter handle @HazeltonPaul