Should Tipping Your Server Be Eliminated?
Every customer who goes into a restaurant and chooses to not leave a tip for their server has a reason for doing so. Maybe the service didn’t live up to their expectations. Maybe the food wasn’t to their liking. Or maybe they feel that a server’s income should be the sole responsibility of the restaurant itself.
There’s a huge push across the country right now to do away with tipping at restaurants and pay everyone who works there a living wage. New York City restauranteur Danny Myer eliminated tipping at many of his restaurants back in 2015 and paid a “fair wage,” but plenty of employees claimed it led to less pay and higher turnover. In July of 2020, he reintroduced tipping explaining that “the slashing of revenues during the pandemic” made it necessary. “We’ve come to believe that it’s the inability to share tips that is the problem, not the tips themselves,” said Meyer.
Tipping the server has been the custom in our country for decades, but it has created a income disparity between the front of the house (FOH) and the back of the house (BOH). On a slammed Friday night when the entire restaurant is balls to the wall busy, servers can make a lot of money in one shift. However, the folks toiling away in the kitchen and behind the scenes are making the same amount of money they’d make on a slow Tuesday night.
The majority of servers want to keep things the way they are despite recognizing the pay inequality. In a very, very scientific poll on the Bitchy Waiter Instagram account, 82% of respondents said they’d rather work for tips than earn a straight hourly wage. But when they were then asked how much they would expect as an hourly wage, the numbers were significantly higher then the proposed $15 an hour minimum wage. “I make an average of $38.50 an hour, so that’ll work,” said one server. “I wouldn’t do it for less than $40 an hour,” said another, Obviously, no restaurant can afford to pay servers that much, so what’s the answer?
Stefanie Williams, a writer and restaurant worker, has an idea. “I believe commission based payouts for servers would be the best middle ground. Raise menu item prices by about 20%. If a server does 1000 in sales, 200 bucks to them. Takes the uncertainty of the ‘kindness’ of strangers out for tipping, guarantees them appropriate pay for work.” That’s not completely unlike what Danny Myer attempted back in 2015.
Restaurant managers always like to remind their servers that they are essentially salespeople, so why not a commission based environment that eliminates tipping? It seems likely that servers would be willing to work for $15 an hour if they knew they would also be getting a piece of the proverbial pie they are selling. Even a 10% commission would work. If a server works six hours and has sales of $1000, the commission would be $100. When you tack on the hourly wage, that comes up to earnings of $190 which breaks down to $31 an hour. Not too bad. It would also incentivize servers to sell more food which would ultimately help the restaurant. As for the back of house workers and a more equitable situation, maybe a 20% commission would work, with 10% going to the sever and the other 10% going to BOH.
The truth is, no one knows what’s going to work. If servers don’t continue making what they are accustomed to making, they will abandon the world of food service. Restaurants will be stuck with unmotivated, untrained newbies unable to provide the level of service that customers and restaurant owners alike deserve. If things continue as they are now, the gap between FOH and BOH will grow wider and wider making it more difficult for a restaurant staff to work as a team. For now, with Covid making it virtually impossible to run a restaurant “regularly,” it’s unlikely things will change, but it’s coming whether servers or customers like it or not. In the meantime, keep tipping servers 20% and rest assured that when the change does happen, you’ll hear all about it.