Friday, March 5, 2010

Should Bad Tips Earn You the Boot?

I read an article today about Kanpai Japanese Steak and Seafood House in Winston-Salem, NC banning a woman from the restaurant for not tipping well. There's been a lot of division in the food community around here about whether this is acceptable behavior or not. The establishment claims that since none of the staff was willing to serve her, they were forced to refuse service to her. The woman, who is black, claims discrimination.

I'm of two minds on this. On one hand, restaurants pay their servers below the minimum wage and expect them to make up the difference in their tips. Which means that if this woman truly didn't tip, or tipped below the socially accepted 20-25% all the time, the staff has a right to be upset about it. In that sense, the management team was looking out for their staff's well being and congratulations to them for it.

However, there are two problems I see with this philosophy. Firstly, the business the establishment drove away by banning a patron over tips is likely to affect their bottom line. I would certainly think twice before dining somewhere if I thought my tip was subject to inspection and approval. The article doesn't state whether the woman habitually didn't leave a tip or if she just grossly under tips, but the point is irrelevant. Tipping is NOT required. I understand all of the arguments servers want to make for condoning her banishment from the restaurant, but at the crux of the argument, she was banned for not performing what is still technically a voluntary action.

Which brings me to the biggest problem I have with the entire argument. Tipping is voluntary, yet servers depend on tips for their livelihood because of the way the system is set up. They are under-paid because the system expects customers to make up the difference by tipping the server. Most patrons feel a sense of entitlement though. As if good service deserves a good tip, while what they perceive as poor service deserves a poor tip. Which means that, basically, you are left with a system in which payment rendered is based solely upon the customer's perception of how well the job was performed. Why do we accept this as a valid system?

Think on it some and tell me what you think? Keep the tipping system, ban the patron, or fix the system?


  1. I've always thought the tipping system was stupid. Servers should be paid hourly wages (minimum wage and up) and then tipping should be added in if someone cares to tip. Sure, it's set up as an incentive for servers to give great service, but that could still be the case if they were paid a regular wage along with the tips. Sure, the cost of food will have to go up to accommodate the higher wages, but the cost to the consumer was already there in the form of expected tips.. it was only hidden. This way, the tipping would truly be optional & those that choose to tip would be tipping even more b/c the total would be higher to calculate the tip from.

    Tipping as a percentage of the total has inherent problems. Servers have an incentive to recommend expensive items on the menu and to take better care of larger tables (unless the gratuity is included for tables of 6 or larger, in which case the reverse is true)... Servers also sometimes are unappreciative of customers who simply drink water & order something less expensive... or perhaps come in & only order coffee. They can act as though it's a waste of their time to serve these individuals b/c they were hoping for a larger ticket. Perhaps it's best to be rid of the social norm of tipping altogether?

    I've also noticed the percentage that is socially acceptable to tip has been increasing over the years... which is REALLY odd considering when food prices go up, so should the tips when given a flat percentage. The standard was once 10%, then 15%... now it's still 15%, but 20-25% for "fine dining". My friends generally agree 15-20 is the norm now. What's next? 30%? When tipping gets to 50% and I'm still tipping my usual 15%, I suppose I'll just have to get banned for poor tipping.