Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Hello, My Name is Scott and I'll Be Your Waiter

     Today I was talking to some coworkers about cruises and looking forward to going on one. (It's a slow day in the office. Nothing new.) I remarked how cost effective they were when one coworker commented how extra costs piled up, including 3 days worth of his wife's duty-free shopping, an $800 bar tab, and the usual "voluntary" tips. (God help me, I'd better not get Dooced for that.) Do you ever think about the process of tipping? I'm sorry if I offend any of you current or former waitstaff, but it's a pretty corrupt way of doing business, and it's probably time to put a stop to it.
     The straw that broke my proverbial back was at a bowling alley. I had ordered chicken fingers at the greasy food bar and saw the ubiquitous "tip cup". I'd always been led to believe that tips at restaurants made up for the low wages that servers made, usually far below minimum wage. Tips apparently make up a large portion of their salaries. But at the bowling alley, this guy was making minimum wage. In addition, his job was not complex. If I ordered chicken fingers, his job was to get them for me. Somehow I got the feeling from this guy that I needed to tip him - not a feeling I usually get from tip cups in Subway's or Dunkin Donuts. Sure enough, when I got my food, it had a double portion of fries. My fried who didn't tip, had a single portion of fries and it looked as if he was missing a piece of chicken as well. All I could think about was how the tip cup encouraged corrupt behavior. The owner of the bowling alley paid for my extra fries, yet I paid off the server. And my friend developed a little bit of "bad will" for the place, which the server got a mouthful of chicken. I can't understand why any fast food manager would allow a tip cup in his or her store, and to this day I refuse to contribute a penny.
     Tipping in full service restaurants promotes bad behavior as well. Shouldn't the employees treat the customers well all the time, not just when they're being bribed? The arguments I've heard are that servers aren't paid enough (fair complaint) and that I can't expect someone to be on their feet that many hours and still be pleasant. You know what - I can. I've been very consistent with this issue. If you have a job, you are expected to fulfill the obligations of that job. And if you can't, you need to find a different job. This applies to bowling alley attendants, to waiters at fancy restaurants, and to pharmacists who balk at dispensing birth control. This is not to say that employees should get taken advantage of. But when the job description is clear from the start, I have no sympathy for not fulfilling your duties to the job.
     In addition, when I pay good money for dinner, I expect to be treated nicely. If I'm not, I simply won't go to that restaurant again. Is competition so lax between restaurants that they can afford to alienate customers? This brings me to server pay. Why am I, the customer, asked to subsidize the cost of employment for the restaurant's labor? If the restaurant advertises steak for $25, why should it cost me $30? Put $30 on your menu and don't expect me to pay your waiters' salaries. Can you imagine another business that relied on customers to pay the salaries of its employees? Imagine tipping the UPS guy $10 so your packages arrive on time. Imagine having to pay off the woman at the DMV to get a new license before the old one expires. Imagine having to pay off the cops to get better treatment. These are stories we attribute to 3rd world countries like Mexico or Pakistan.
     It's not that difficult to ensure quality in a world without tipping. Those of you lucky enough to be familiar with Publix supermarkets know that tipping is prohibited. Yet you'll have a hard time leaving the store without someone asking if they can help you with your bags. Why? Because service is an expectation of the staff, and because salaries compensate for the lack of tips. Surprisingly, Publix also has lower prices than its competitors. Maybe it's because customers feel more comfortable in their stores and come back. You may recall when Saturn was launched 15 years ago, it touted its no-haggle policy at dealerships. It made money because people preferred to know the price of the car before they went in to buy it. No sneaky dealers, no trying to outfox the foxes. They promised great service with no hidden extras. And guess what - they charged less, too.
     I'm pretty sick of tipping for mediocre service, having the true cost of goods and services hidden from me until the end, and allowing poor service to exist in exchange for a few dollars of tip. What happens when I get bad service at a restaurant? I withhold $5 from the server? $5 buys a server a night of misbehavior with no other repercussions? And even that $5 I feel guilty about, because I know part of that gets split with the dishwashers and the busboys and the cooks. Isn't it time to stop tipping?


ORF said...

You've evidently never waited tables...I think everyone should be required to at some point in their lives. Seriously, forget learning college algebra because it is so useless compared to the host of things you learn by being a waiter or waitress.

I kind of like that I get to control how much money someone makes as a wait-person. It IS an incentive for them to treat me better as a customer and I think that's a good thing. If I get attitude from a waitress, I can totally put my money where my mouth is. And besides, if you didn't have to tip, the prices of things would go up at restaurants everywhere because as customers we'd still be depended upon to help cover the cost of paying the wait staff, particularly since waiters tend to make more than minimum wage from taking tips, so they'd expect a decent wage. As far as tip cups go at Starbucks, etc., I tend NOT to tip because I think it's tacky.

Mike said...

I only ever took one cruise, and it will be my last. My jaw hit the floor when I saw the $1300 bill afterward. They charged $2 for a can of coke. I thought that was tacky.

I have to agree with ORF on this one. Don't make your point by jipping the waiter/waitress who isn't responsible for how he/she is paid. I always tip 20% for good service. Only once did I not leave a tip, and that was because the waitress gave me attitude. And like ORF, I never leave anything in tip jars. Although when I'm in a bar I always tip a dollar a drink.

Come on Scott, what happened to the compassionate democrat? Champion of the downtrodden? I'm reminded of John Kerry who reported he made like $5 million last year and only gave $100,000 to charity, and I think that was one of his wife's organizations.

Scott said...

Um - OK - let me clarify. I do tip at restaurants, and I generally tip well. I think the whole system is corrupt and encourages bad behavior and should be scrapped. Kinda inappropriate to bring Kerry's name into this - doesn't have a lot to do with tipping. Especially since tipping is not charity. ORF, the problem is you can't control what kind of service you get. You can only reward/punish. And the punishment is pretty slight, unless you're eating with a group of 20 people or more. And no, I don't want to be depended on to cover the cost of the wait staff. The restaurants need to pay them what they're worth. The price you see would go up, but your true cost would stay the same. And maybe service would be a little better.
Is it OK for a waiter to be rude to a customer because he thought about the tradeoff between getting to yell at a customer vs $5 of tip? As an employer, I would not be able to stand that. But by fostering the notion that waiters are "independant contractors" earning their own money - we give them license to act against the restaurant's interest if they wish, and without reprisal, except maybe $5.

sideshow bob said...

I can agree with you, Scott. Except you have to keep tipping pizza delivery guys/girls. That shit is sacred!

Ben said...

Hacing worked for tips, I can tell you it's definitely worth sacrificing a tip in order to yell at a customer. Sometimes they just deserve it. Furthermore, I was a delivery guy for several years, and if it weren't for tips, there would be no pizza delivery. So much wear and tear on my car, had I not been making tips, the pizza company could not have paid me enough to do that job unless they started charging like 50% more for a pizza.

Since I'm on the pizza topic, a few tips for people who order:

You've had half and hour to 45 minutes to get your money ready, so don't wait until I get to the door to start looking for your 1000 pennies. This slows me down and idiot custoemr are the primary reason that the next customer on my list will get their pizza late. It's not the driver, it's not the pizza shop, it's usually the previous customer that delays your pizza. If you want to tip and are paying by check, just raise the amount on the check, the tip doesn't have to be in cash. At the end of the night they take our total money, and the money we were supposed to bring in, and subtract. I get the difference. If you order to a public area like a pool, please pay attention, it's annoying to wander around a pool yelling pizza while kids make fun of you, and adults make bad jokes about "Come on, just one slice," and the whole time the customer has been chatting on the cellphone next to the entrance not paying attention. Please go outside at night and try to see your address from the street. If it's not readable in the dark, or you need to search for 10 minutes to find it, put new numbers up. I found the white numbers that reflect headlights work quite well on a mailbox, better than anything else, really. Not being able to figure out which house you're delivering to is very annoying.

That's it for now. If everyone did these things, I'd have been happy with lower tips because a lot of the frustration would be gone.

Mainline Mom said...

Thanks for the tips, Ben. I agree with you in theory, Scott, but unfortunately that's the way the world works and it isn't going to change anytime soon...so keep tipping. When Mike and I used to eat out every single meal (pre-kid) we really didn't have the luxury of boycotting certain resturants because of a bad service experience. So our tips told our story. Or sometimes we did actually tell the manager.

Sylvana said...

I'm with you Scott. I don't think tipping is a necessary institution. The prices should just go up to what they should be to pay the staff and tipping should end.

Not Crunchy said...

I can see your point Scott, but I still tip well for good service (as you do) because I feel like the waiter deserves a break for getting sub-minimum wage while SERVING me (how luxurious is that?). If the system of tipping were to suddenly go away, there would little incentive, other than personal integrity, to provide good service. I think that Americans are uncomfortable in general with items and services that do not come at a fixed price (and hence the popularity of Saturn-style pricing; is there any purchasing process worse than buying a car???? I break out in a sweat just thinking about it.). Even in Tijuana I just wanted to pay full price for my Mexican blanket and get it over with!

Sylvana said...

Of course there would be an incentive for good service, it's the same one that keeps all the other service industry workers in line, it's called "job security". If the waiter is a bad server, they will lose their job.

Anonymous said...

Your blog came up as I was searching the web this afternoon, because several customers came into my store today and asked us if we had heard that "dunkin' donuts was banning tips". Of course this news upset my staff, and many said they'd quit unless the owner upped wages to compensate. I would be all for wages being higher and no tips, it'd solve alot of sillyness... but many franchisees are tight wads and would rather have the customers supplement the wages of their hard working employees thru tips. Case in point, I had been offered a Human resource/Trainer position within my comapny, but upon informing the frnachisee that to take the position I would need the loss of tips supplemented in my salray, they gave the position to someone else. I had been the first choice and more qualified for the job, but they didn't want to pay me what I was really making. Which I felt was deserved through senoirity, dedication, and hard work.

Amber said...

Scott, I usually agree with what you write, but I have to disagree here. Tipping is a good thing and I'm not going to stop. If someone waits on me then they deserve some credit! Of course, if the service is awful, then don't tip. But make sure it is the fault of the server and not the kitchen or someone else.