A Solution to the Tipping Problem?


Photo by locusolus/Flickr CC

Earlier this month, we issued a request for suggestions on how to fix the American tipping system, which many people find confusing, frustrating, and ineffective.

This weekend, former waiter Phoebe Damrosch placed offered her recommendation in a New York Times Op-Ed: Get rid of tipping altogether and replace it with a European-style service charge.

Her reasons for why we should scrap the current system:

Tipping provides American waiters with an incentive to increase their check average by pushing bottled water, extra courses, expensive entrees and pricey wines and by showing guests the door as soon as they stop chewing.

And why a flat service charge would be better:

The service charge shifts the focus from the money to the experience. Instead of worrying about how much money she will take home that night--and upselling and groveling her way to that goal--a waiter can worry about doing her job well: making people happy at whatever price and pace they prefer.

Serious Eats asked restaurateur Danny Meyer what he thought of Damrosch's idea. Meyer said he'd considered implementing an automatic service charge [service compris] in the past but decided to stick with the current tipping system:

We looked very hard at this policy fifteen years ago. We were going to call it "hospitality included." We felt people who worked in the dining room were apologizing for being hospitality professional[s]. I felt there was a resulting shame or lack of pride in their work. My assumption was that it was fueled by the tipping system, and I was troubled by the sense that the that tipping system takes a big part of the compensation decision out of the employer's hands. So we brought up the "hospitality included" idea to our people. To our surprise, it turned out the staff actually enjoyed working for tips.

Atlantic Food readers were split on the issue of whether we should keep tipping customs as they are or seek out a new, flat-rate-based system.

Reader Trefingers wrote that the responsibility for paying waiters a fair wage should remain on the customer, and so tipping should remain intact: "My personal opinion is, if you're not willing to compensate the people who bring you your food and drinks, stay home and make your own."

Twj, on the other hand, promoted the idea of a flat rate, saying restaurants, not diners, should pay the majority of a server's paycheck:

The cycle is unending, and the only solution is to terminate it altogether. Restaurants need to offer staff a fair wage & benefits, and the staff can decide if the wage is acceptable on its own merits. Customers, in turn, need to know that the prices on the menu reflect the additional overhead incurred by the restaurant, and not complain about how expensive everything has become.

Thoughts? Should we keep the tipping system, take on Damrosch's idea, or go with a third option?

Presented by

Eleanor Barkhorn is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well. Bestselling author Mark Bittman teaches James Hamblin the recipe that everyone is Googling.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus


How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.


Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.


The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.


Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.


Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses


Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in Health

Just In