Faceoff: We’ve reached our tipping point

Danny Meyer, owner of local New York restaurant Union Square Café, eliminated tipping in his restaurant and instead will increase his menu prices to make up the difference. Some believe tipping is unnecessary and should be taken away altogether, while others think employees deserve tips along with their wages. Referring to tipping as an awkward American practice, Meyer hopes that removing tipping will promote outstanding customer service.


If history has taught us anything, it’s that social customs and expectations aren’t always the soundest basis for what society should and shouldn’t do. After all, we used to think smoking in restaurants and calling black people “colored” were socially acceptable norms. Tipping, or gratuity, is quickly falling out of fashion in the U.S., and for good reason.

A restaurant owner in Colorado said, “I never liked the idea of tipping. It shouldn’t be on a customer to decide whether or not my employee makes enough to pay the bills,” according to ThinkProgress, a political news blog. Ryan Wallace, owner of William Oliver’s, provides his employees with benefits like health care, 401(k) retirement plans, paid leave and more, according to the blog. William Oliver’s became the first establishment in Fort Collins, Colorado, to do away with tipping.

This seems to contradict the argument against tipping, since the benefits Wallace issues ensures that his employees have a good life without having to rely on gratuity; however, the fact remains that the obligation to make sure employees have livable wages is up to the institution at which they work, not the customers who receive the services the establishment provides.

According to tripadvisor.com, the average tip for restaurants in the U.S. is 15 to 20 percent of the meal cost, but it’s a lot more complicated than that. The travel site encourages tipping in proportion to quality of service and reiterates that many Americans don’t leave tips at all. In some places, gratuity is mandatory, so even if a patron feels dissatisfied with the service, he or she is still obligated to pay at least a 20 percent tip. The inconsistency of the U.S. tipping system alone is enough to warrant its eradication.

As if the confusing system wasn’t bad enough, Wallace’s research on tipping showed that it isn’t even related to employee performance and that, as aforementioned, many customers tip well below 20 percent or leave nothing at all, according to ThinkProgress.

If you give a person a tip because they showed you excellent customer service, and you feel as if they “deserve” a nice tip, well, news flash — you shouldn’t feel obligated to reward someone for treating you nicely. It’s a common courtesy to be amicable and as nice as possible. The fact that someone works in the service industry is an indication that he or she should be willing to serve people in a friendly and courteous manner. Hospitality and accommodation are traits that anyone who works in the service industry should have before he or she decides to whine and complain about not receiving enough tips.

It you want to give a tip because you want to be nice, that’s great. I’m not against tipping itself — I do give tips, and, most of the time, they’re pretty generous. What I am against is the mindset of those who work in retail that people have an obligation to tip, that people should feel bad if they don’t or can’t.

Stores like Publix even prohibit their employees from accepting tips, and in some countries like Spain and Japan, tipping is considered rude and socially unacceptable.

A Publix representative, in response to a query on Facebook regarding tipping of baggers, said, “Carry out is just another service we offer to our customers to help make their shopping experience a pleasant one… our associates wear pins on their uniforms that indicate ‘No Tipping Please’ to show that we offer this service as a courtesy.”

If we all took this stance on tipping and great customer service, we’d come to the conclusion that the expectation is on the establishment’s — and thus the employee’s — part to provide a nice and helpful attitude. You don’t go to a restaurant or hotel or hairdresser/barber to be treated like garbage.

The Publix rep said, “There really is no need to tip. If you appreciate the friendly service of the associate who helps you to your car, you could always speak to a manager and give that associate a special shout out.” This “shout out” has the potential to do more than any tip ever could, as it could result in a promotion or a raise.

Waiters, waitresses, sales associates and others in the service industry are sometimes paid below minimum wage to provide services to their establishment’s patrons ― that’s common knowledge. So if you don’t like the wages, find a different job. There’s no reason why you should settle for a job that pays less than you would like. And if you do choose to settle, don’t expect patrons to make up the difference. Any self-driven individual should seek a job that he or she believes provides adequate wages to survive. Yes, it’s not always possible to find the perfect job with the perfect salary, but you can’t blame others for your own inadequacies and failure to achieve your goals.

If you think retail sucks, and that rude or annoying patrons make your job unbearable, it’s not the nice customer’s job to fix the deficit and fill the gaping void that you feel inside regarding your poor career choices.

Tipping, while a nice gesture, shouldn’t be an obligation or expectation. Friendliness, congeniality, a pleasant attitude — whatever you want to call it — may be a trait that’s hard to come by, but it doesn’t justify the wildly inconsistent and exorbitant system of tipping in the U.S. Those in the retail or service industry have it backwards; the real social expectation is to provide quality service with a smile.

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