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Some restaurants are saying no to gratuity

Tipping. Everybody has an opinion about it, and nobody is completely happy with the practice.

Recently, plans to raise the minimum wage in California and New York to $15 have renewed the debate over eliminating gratuities. And some industry leaders are trying alternatives: Prominent New York restaurateurs Danny Meyer (Union Square Cafe, Gramercy Tavern, Blue Smoke) and Tom Colicchio (Craft) have drawn a lot of attention by banning tipping entirely in favor of a surcharge added onto the bill that is distributed equitably to the staff.

Chez Panisse, Alice Waters’ legendary Berkeley, Calif., restaurant, has been adding a 17 percent surcharge to its checks since the late 1980s. The money reportedly is distributed among the staff as an enhancement to wages and benefits.

To tip or not to tip?

Last month, critically acclaimed local chef Noah Blom instituted a “hospitality included” program at his two restaurants, Arc and Restaurant Marin. Instead of a surcharge, though, the extra cost is built into the menu.

In some cases, that means a 20 percent hike in prices. Servers and bartenders, in turn, get higher wages — up to $25 an hour.

Blöm said the menu sticker shock is scary for some customers. At Marin, a breakfast sandwich is $22, and refillable coffee is $7. “But it all comes to fruition when you get your bill: You sign, and you’re done,” he said.

Still, tip-free restaurants and bars across the country are rare. The National Restaurant Association sees no industry-wide trend.

“The move towards a nontipped environment is a new and somewhat small concept with only a handful of restaurants testing it nationwide,” said association spokeswoman Christin Fernandez. “As the industry of hospitality, we’ve found the practice of tipping has traditionally attracted millions of employees to our industry and still has strong support from American diners.”

Dann Bean, owner of Main Street Wine Co. in Huntington Beach, Calif., agreed.

“Our regular customers are especially generous to my employees and appreciate good, friendly service. I personally am a little turned off by business owners who have raised their prices to accommodate tips for their employees. I am a little old-fashioned and believe service will eventually suffer.”

CASUAL DINING CHAIN CAVES

New signs have emerged to show that America isn’t ready to do away with tipping yet.

This month, Joe’s Crab Shack said it was scaling back on its no-tipping test six months after it launched the program at 18 of its 130 locations nationwide.

“After listening to customer and employee feedback, we have decided to keep the no-tipping model in four Joe’s Crab Shack locations,” said Bob Merritt, CEO of Ignite Restaurant Group.

Orange County servers say they’d rather hold on to their tips, according to an informal study by UC Irvine Professor Emeritus Richard B. McKenzie.

McKenzie surveyed 40 servers working for moderately priced sit-down restaurants. He asked what hourly wage they would need to voluntarily forgo their current minimum wage and all tips.

“The hourly pay rate given ranged from $18 to $50, with a median hourly rate of $30. All the servers were quick to assert that if tipping were replaced by a fixed hourly rate of pay, service would suffer significantly, at least on average,” according to McKenzie’s study, published in March for the think tank National Center for Policy Analysis.

Blöm and his partner and wife, Marín Howarth, are unfazed by the no-tipping naysayers.

The “math works” for them as a boutique restaurant group.

“For us, ‘hospitality included’ is not an ‘experiment,’ but the future of our industry,” Howarth said.

Their servers, in fact, have embraced the no-tipping policy.

No one has quit, and some are actually working even harder because they’re working for Arc, not themselves, the couple said.

“The staff has responded well, and we haven’t seen a drop in work ethic,” Howarth said.

ONCE CONSIDERED DISTASTEFUL

Those who travel outside the U.S. know that our rules about tipping are not recognized universally by any means. In Fiji, Japan and Iceland, among many other countries, it’s frowned upon — most Japanese consider it an insult. Even in countries that allow tipping, the American norm of 15 percent to 20 percent for a restaurant meal is considered excessive. (Restaurants in some countries, though, add a 10 percent to 15 percent “service charge” to the bill, a la Chez Panisse. It’s easy to miss if you’re unfamiliar with the practice.)

So we’re a nation of unparalleled generosity when it comes to services rendered. Let’s set aside the whys and wherefores for a moment to consider this: Not so long ago, our country was more like the rest of the world.

Historically, rewarding the servant was an act of noblesse oblige and social dominance practiced by the aristocracy. Think of Shakespeare’s high-born characters, always paying off their underlings with little sacks of silver to ensure obeisance and performance of their dirty work. In the 16th century, guests at English mansions had to provide a tip, called a vail, to each of the owners’ servants at the end of a stay. (In larger mansions with more servants, the practice could be quite costly.)

Widespread tipping for services has also been traced to England. The word itself, according to some sources, is an acronym for “To Insure Promptitude,” a phrase that could be found on jars near the entrances of British taverns beginning in the 1600s. (Snopes, a website that discredits myths and old stories, says there’s little evidence to back that theory.)

Others claim that the word came from the criminal underworld. John Hendel, in his 2010 Atlantic magazine article “The Case Against Tipping,” claims that in 17th century rogues’ circles, “tip” meant “the unnecessary and gratuitous gifting of something somewhat taboo … or illicit money exchanges.”

The first literary instance of “tip” as a verb, in George Farquhar’s 1706 play “The Beaux’ Stratagem,” implies a monetary reward to a lowly employee: “Then I, Sir, tips me the Verger with half a Crown.” (A verger was a caretaker at a church.)

BENJAMIN FRANKLIN HAS THE LAST SAY

It’s understandable that a practice designed to reinforce the class system would not make its way across the Atlantic, particularly in the years after the American Revolution. But after the Civil War and the rise of fine dining in larger cities, tipping slowly began to take hold.

At first the custom was practiced by worldly and moneyed travelers who had encountered it in Europe. Yet for decades, tipping was treated with general disdain in the United States.

In his popular 1916 book, “The Itching Palm: A Study of the Habit of Tipping in America,” William Rufus Scott decried the rise of “flunkyism,” which he defined as “a willingness to be servile for a consideration.” He proclaimed it “democracy’s greatest foe.” Scott invoked the passions of the Founding Fathers when he declared that “tipping, and the aristocratic idea it exemplifies, is what we left Europe to escape. … In a republic where all men were supposed to be equal, some cannot be superior until they grind other men into dust. Tipping comes into a democracy to provide that relation.”

Scott wasn’t a lone voice in the wilderness. In 1904, the Anti-Tipping Society of America was created in Georgia. Its 100,000 members had to pledge not to tip a soul for a full year. Tipping was banned in several American states. Washington was the first to pass a law in 1909, followed by Arkansas, Iowa, South Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia. Labor leader Samuel Gompers and William Howard Taft, the 27th U.S. president, were among the leaders of the anti-tipping movement.

But by the 1920s, tipping in its modern form existed throughout the country. By 1926, every anti-tipping law at the state level had been repealed. So how did something that was so universally despised become common practice in only a few years? One word: Prohibition.

According to Kerry Seagrave in “Tipping: An American Social History of Gratuities,” the ban on alcoholic beverages in 1919 severely affected the revenue of hotels and restaurants. The resulting financial pressure quickly changed proprietors’ and especially servers’ minds about the practice. In other words, tipping replaced lost cocktails.

In the 1960s, tipping became even more deeply ingrained in American culture when Congress passed a law that workers could receive a lower minimum wage (presently $2.13 an hour) if at least $30 of their monthly salary was earned in tips.

Most states allow employers to pay tipped workers less than the state minimum hourly rate (in 19 states it’s pegged at the federal minimum, which hasn’t changed since 1991), and the real value of this “tipped” minimum wage has declined about 60 percent since 1968. Many people are aware of this situation, which leads to another level of motivation for paying your server, one that turns its aristocratic origin on its head. “We tip because we feel guilty about having people wait on us,” writes Cornell University professor Michael Lynn, an expert in the psychology of tipping.

Benjamin Franklin captured the dilemma even more succinctly: “To overtip is to appear an ass: to undertip is to appear an even greater ass.”

——

EMILY POST’S GUIDE TO TIPPING IN THE U.S.

Wait service (sit down): 15 percent-20 percent, pretax

Wait service (buffet): 10 percent, pretax

Host or maitre d’: No obligation for greeting you and showing you to your table. $10-$20 for going above and beyond to find you a table on a busy night or on occasion, if you are a regular patron

Takeout: No obligation; 10 percent for extra service (curb delivery) or a large, complicated order

Home delivery: 10 percent-15 percent of the bill, $2-$5 for pizza delivery depending on the size of the order and difficulty of delivery

Bartender: $1-$2 per drink or 15 percent-20 percent of the tab

Tipping jars: No obligation; tip occasionally if your server or barista provides a little something extra or if you are a regular customer.

Restroom attendant: $0.50-$3, depending on the level of service

Valet: $2-$5. Tip when the car is returned to you.

Source: The Emily Post Institute

——

©2016 The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.)

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  • For a sit down meal I’ll generally hover around 15% the pretax amount, but it really depends on how many times a server is obligated to go back and forth to complete the meal. If I’m at a real hole-in-the-wall where service means one trip to the table and done, then I’m liable to leave closer to 10%. I’ll sometimes decide to leave less than 15% if inexcusable stuff is allowed to happen: if you opt for a “complete meal” at a long-established franchise like Zippy’s and the appetizer and main course come out right on top of each other, or as happened to me a few times, together, then it’s a clear indicator that somebody in the place has his priorities bass-ackwards. That said, in only once in my life have I ever felt it necessary to withhold a tip completely from a restaurant in Hawaii. That’s a horror story for some other time.

      • You need to read more carefully. The 15% is just for “run of the mill,” “nothing special,” or “minimally competent” service. For really great service I’ve left as much as 50% behind, but that’s for something unexpectedly good or exceptional. Personally, I don’t feel in rewarding someone for indifference or for just showing up. You might, but I suspect you may not be the type that tries to do a good job because of personal pride in your work.

        • wow…15% is a very good tip and is the current norm for normal or average service. One nice man last Monday who comes in often put several dollars in my jar because he likes my smile!

        • It wasn’t your pizza joint allie, but I once left a $5 bill in the tip box at Big Kahuna Pizza for a $10 order. Why? Because the operator/manager remembered I used to patronize her place quite often when I worked in and around Pearl Harbor. Sometimes it’s those little “make your day” kind of niceties that count.

      • If those wait staff care more about the tips instead of just providing good service to make those customers want to come back often, then that’s not the kind of workers you want anyway. Those restaurants should pay those workers a decent wage in the first place instead of making them have to rely more on tips to survive. The tip money should be just something extra instead of workers having to rely on that to make payment on the rent.

      • “Adding” 15% or whatever to the bill is complete nonsense. Any place should just show what a darn item costs including this or that ridiculous “add-on”. Tipping is left over from a time when servants were next to beggars, so they could buy themselves a drink.

        • I agree, it looks like some sleazy way to jack up the bill.

          Restaurants have costs of doing business, just like everyone else, and that includes paying the employees.
          I would like to see the whole thing ended, both tipping and this offensive forced add on to the bill.

          It was one of the things I liked about visiting Japan: if an American tried to tip someone it was turned down, and it was almost as if you had offended the person offering the service.

      • Please, get off your high horse and get a real job rather than act like some entitled waiter at some 5-star joint. Waitressing is supposed to be a temporary job that requires minimal skill job that anyone can do with little skill or effort. It’s not a patrons duty to offer anyone a tip, it’s optional and was intended for great and exceptional service. But out of habit, many in the US restaurant employers have ingrained into the mindset that patrons should subsidize your pay since the very employer that hired you doesn’t think you should even be paid minimum wage for the little value you bring into the business and how little your skill is worth so we as a society give tips a.k.a. donations because we feel sorry for you knowing your employer probably pays you dirt. In reality, it’s your employer’s duty to ensure you get paid, at the very least, minimum wage should a customer not like your service and fail to tip. Just look up the word “tip” and remember the main reason why it is called a “tip” before mouthing off about someone not giving you more than 15% because we’ve all had bad service once in a while and not every waiter deserves a tip.

        • seems a little mean. We don’t have waitresses but I know that they are not at all just minimally skilled. Many men and women hold their job very seriously and it is a profession. Some do it full time and can make a living wage at upscale restaurants. Don’t be so arrogant and mean. WE work hard for our money and the opportunity to serve the public!

  • gyotaku and highway inn are two that include a charge on the bill for a kitchen tip. that drastically cuts into waitstaff tips. waitstaff pay is way below minimum to offset tip income. wonder if kitchen staff at these two restaurants are paid below minimum to offset their tips. if not, waitstaff is unfairly absorbing management’s greed.

    as it is, i will not return to any restaurant that charges for kitchen staff tips.

    • Unless it’s a sizable group affair, then I’m leery of most establishments that automatically compute a fixed tip in the tab. The only incentive to provide good service then is the hope you’ll someday return or, these days, that you won’t leave them a truly terrible Yelp review in your wake. And yes, I’ve known a few people to give poor Yelp reviews over personality conflicts with the staff, not because of bad food or less-than-decent service.

      • A customer should always expect to get excellent service without a surcharge. Do you give supermarket or mall employees a tip when you go shopping ? What’s next?

  • I’d rather eat at a restaurant where you get your own food and bus your own tables instead. Seems like the 15% tip isn’t much incentive for the wait staff anyway and the cooks who do a lot of the work aren’t allowed to get any of those tips too according to regulations.

    • Great question. We often go to a momma and poppa place where momma is the cook and poppa is the waiter. We have always given a generous tip but have often wondered if we should be doing that. Also, I remember having dinner in Spain where the bottom of the menu said, in Spanish, that the tip (propina) was included. An American couple at the next table who did not speak Spanish asked the waiter if the tip was included and he said “NO”. We showed the couple the menu where it said it was included and as a result, the waiter didn’t get a tip from either of us. Many places in Spain include the tip but they must say so on the menu.
      We went to an island off the coast of Venezuela one year and looked at the menu posted outside the restaurant. When we went inside, we received the same menu. When we got the bill, the prices were much higher so we asked to see the menu again. This time they brought us a different menu with much higher prices that matched the bill. When we complained, they said the menu posted on the “inside” of the restaurant had the higher “correct’ prices and the menu posted “outside” was an “old” menu and they just didn’t get around to changing it. When we threatened to call the police, they gave us the much lower prices.
      When we were on vacation in Hungary, a Swedish party at the next table wanted to buy a round of drinks for the musicians. They got a bill for $700 and had to pay it because the musicians only drank imported French champagne and cognac. Everyone should beware in Hungary. They will give you the business whenever they can. Very dishonest people.

  • Tipping is up to the customer! Give what you feel appropriate according to the service, product and how much you you have in your pocket!

  • I prefer Europe…or at least Germany. Super efficient, well paid server working a LOT of tables carrying a waist pouch full of change making cash to immediately settle the bill so you can quickly be on your way WITHOUT being guilt tripped/forced into paying a tip.

    I love how restaurants here now have tip “suggestions” (15%, 18%, 20% options) at the bottom of the check for even their most mediocre service and food.

  • Gratuity? Being grateful what for ? They should be grateful to you to be allowed to serve you and have a job. You don’t have to be grateful to be a paying customer providing them with a job.

  • The problem with percentage tipping is the cost of the food served. At Zippy’s you really can’t get out of there with a family of 4 for under $50. $10 dollar tip? For Zippy’s? I dunno about that.

  • Personally I favor doing away with tips and I’m okay with raising prices a bit to accommodate it. 20% seems a bit high but something in the 10-12% range would be okay. As pointed out in the article, many countries do not regularly accept tips and I know from experience that in Japan service without tips generally beats the US.

      • I suspect, and certainly can’t prove it, but I think some otherwise honest folks sincerely believe a tip or gratuity is some kind of entitlement or something they’re owed outright instead of something to be earned. (See TMJ’s comment above.) No matter how the custom began, I feel it’s true today that a tip is supposed to be an incentive or reward for good service – not some kind of perverted “participation award.”

      • primo1,

        I can vouch for the work ethic the Japanese are known for. A Pearl Harbor engineer (who happened to be a white man) told me a couple of times that the Japanese welders whose work he oversaw, always seemed to take that little bit of extra care and effort to insure an excellent welding job.

  • Acronym: TIPS, to insure prompt service. If the service is less that stellar tip accordingly. If a gratuity is included in your bill for any reason, tip 5% or less to discourage this practice.

    • If I see a gratuity already on my bill, there is no tip period. Origin of the word “gratuity” – from the latin word “gratus” meaning “pleasing” or “thankful.” If neither of those words apply to my dining experience, the tip will be minimal (if any).

  • IMHO, it’s not customary to tip someone for simply taking your order and handing you the bag. It really irritates me when I place a take out order at a counter service restaurant, and I get the “stink eye” and bad service when I don’t put anything into the tip jar or leave a tip amount on the credit card receipt. Those places have lost my business forever.

  • I will not eat at a restaurant with mandatory tipping, i.e. a surcharge. Tipping is voluntary and should be done for good service. The better the service, the more the tip. Ordinary service 15%, although I always tip 20%. Bad service a buck or my pocket change I want to get rid of. Restroom attendants — leave me alone, why are you even here.

  • Tipping does NOT work. Whatever its original intention, it’s not motivating workers to do a better job. Go to any non-tipping country in Europe, Asia, Central America, etc. and you will get better service from dignified professionals.

    Another problem is the inconsistency of different diners. There are cheapskates who tip too little or not at all. Some others feel sorry for the server and will over tip. Not a fair situation, and one that encourages groveling and preferential treatment to known tippers, and neglect of new faces.

    Solution: No tipping, no gratuity charge. Just charge the right amount for food + service, and pay servers a fair salary. Everyone wins (except the cheapskates)!

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