A Solution to the Tipping Problem?

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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.

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