The Argument For Abolishing Restaurant Tips

As any Consumerist reader knows, tipping is a hot-button topic, with some people arguing that they will only leave a tip when they receive excellent service, while others point out that most tipped employees — especially in restaurants — make well below minimum wage and rely on tips for survival. Then there are those who attempt to make the case that tipping should just be done away with, as it has been in most of the world.

In a piece for Slate.com, writer Brian Palmer makes no effort to hide his distaste for the current state of restaurant tipping, calling it an “abomination” and a “a repugnant custom” that is “bad for consumers and terrible for workers.”

Palmer’s not a member of the Mr. Pink “I don’t tip” school of thought (NSFW language in that linked clip, for the two of you who didn’t know). Instead, he argues that restaurant staff needs to be paid a living wage, and that tips would then be up to the customer.

Only a handful of restaurants around the country have gotten rid of tipping, but even some of those have simply replaced the tip with a mandatory “service charge” that is even less negotiable than a tip.

The Slate piece also alleges that the current tipping situation creates a “racially charged feedback loop.” Put plainly, if servers are of the belief that members of a certain race will tip less than others, then they may be more likely to provide a lower quality of service to those customers, who then may be more likely to perpetuate the stereotype by not tipping as much.

Toward the end of abolishing tips, Palmer puts forth a suggestion:

First, ask your state and federal representatives to abolish the tip credit, which would turn tips back into actual gratuities: something given free of obligation. Second, announce your tipping practice to your server as soon as you sit down. Virtually every other employee in America knows how much they’ll be paid up front, and somehow the man who sells me shoes and the woman who does my dry cleaning still manage to provide adequate service. I have no doubt waiters and waitresses are the same. Finally, tip a flat, but reasonably generous, dollar amount per person in your party. Around 20 percent of Americans, mostly older people, tip a flat amount already, so it’s not exactly revolutionary. A server’s pay shouldn’t be linked to whether or not you have room for dessert.

In a recent Consumerist.com poll, nearly 78% of readers were in favor of doing away with tipping altogether, with another 10% willing to consider the idea if it didn’t drastically impact menu prices. Only 12.7% of readers were in favor of keeping the current system intact.