Should the US Abolish Tipping?

The tipping debate rages on. The restaurant industry in the United States relies upon customers tipping for good service in order to pay waiters and waitresses their wages. Servers try to give fast and friendly service in order to be rewarded with additional monies. But does it work?

(Photo Credit: Manny Hernandez/Flickr)

As waitresses who serve international travelers can tell you, they don't tip in other countries the way diners are expected to here. However, the tradition began in Tudor England with the aristocracy essentially sprinkling change to their social inferiors. Tipping reached the states not long after the Civil War, but was met with resistance because the aristocratic practice was at odds with democracy and egalitarianism.

Times have certainly changed. Not only are diners in sit-down restaurants expected to tip up to 20 percent of their bill, but every bar and service counter has a tip jar. If you want to eat or drink, you are expected to tip.

The common rationalization for tipping today is to reward good service. It's not true. The federal government allows the restaurant industry to cash in on server tips by mandating a tipped minimum wage of only $2.13 per hour (some states require tipped employees be paid more.) The law states that if a server does not earn enough in tips to make full minimum wage, the employer must make up the difference. The difference between tipped minimum wage and full minimum wage is called a "tip credit."

Think about that. When you eat in a restaurant, the owner does not have to pay the waiter as long as you tip. You are expected to pay his wage instead of the employer.

Proponents of tipping today claim that without tips, service will suffer. Consider that tip a bribe to the waitress to do her job well. Employees in almost any other profession are simply expected to their jobs well for the same pay every day. In other professions, poor job performance may result in job loss. In truth, servers who consistently perform poorly also lose their jobs; therefore, waiters and waitresses have the same incentive to give good service to bad tippers as well as good tippers. The difference is they would rather wait on good tippers.

That $2.13 per hour goes to pay the server's income tax. Servers must claim their tips as income to the IRS, and if they don't claim enough the IRS will assume they are lying. If a server has a bad night, she ends up paying taxes on tips she did not earn, paying to work, and paying to wait on you. Remember, the tip credit gets her up to minimum wage, but the IRS is expecting her to make more in tips.

In some cases, tipping causes bad service. The only way a waiter can earn enough or more money is to take more tables. The more tables he takes, the harder he is working, the more he has to remember, and the more likely his tables will have to wait for service. Customers wait for attention in busy restaurants because the dining room is understaffed.

If given the choice, most wait staff would take another table. The restaurant does not pay their bills; the customers do in the form of tips. However, if waiters and waitresses were paid a living wage, they would be happy to take a reasonable amount of tables and would welcome new recruits. As long as wait staff rely on tips for their livelihood, their colleagues are also their worst competition, which creates dysfunction among them and understaffing in dining rooms as "strong" wait staff convince managers they are fine and can take more tables.

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