There. I said it. Now bring it, bartenders and waiters and valet drivers of the world. Bellhops, we’ll get to you later.
In a piece titled “15 Percent? 20 Percent? It Doesn’t Matter Because Tipping Culture Is Fundamentally Broken: Even those who earn their living via tips despise them,” self-described bartender, writer, cocktail nerd and columnist Haley Hamilton (@DigBoston) has reached the tipping point and drawn a line in the (tipping) sand: No more tips at bars and restaurants. Instead, it’s time to be fair and bring about a profit-sharing plan that benefits everyone.
As a consumer, I hate tipping. You just handed me a cup of coffee, so why am I expected to give you more money? Oh, because your boss is a dick and pays you sub-minimum wage? Wow! You carried that single pint of beer all the way from the bar to my table? C’est magnifique! Here’s an extra fiver for the effort.
For those who have never worked in the service industry, specifically bars and restaurants, here’s a dirty secret nobody talks about: those who work the hardest jobs get paid the least. When I was younger, slimmer and so much more handsomerest, I worked my way up from the bottom to the top, from dishwasher to busboy to bartender. As a dishwasher I made minimum wage and 0% in tips at the end of my shift, even if I was bleeding from broken glass. As a busboy, I made somewhere in the vicinity of 10% of all bartender and waitress tips, usually about $45-$80 a shift, depending on how busy it was that night. One New Year’s Eve, after busting my ass for 12 hours (and throwing up during my shift), I got $200 from our top waitress – she took home a cool $2,000. As a bartender, I began understanding why people were drawn to thinkers like Karl Marx a century earlier. My busboy had my bar set up for me when I cruised in to the establishment five minutes before my shift. Unlike him, I wore cool clothes and had my beautiful hair coiffed and styled in such a way that even men swooned. Six to eight hours later, after being flirted with (wait, I get paid to have babes ask me home, drink for free and then get tipped on top of it all?), I’d cruise home with at least three digits of tips in my pocket, at least one phone number and an inflated ego.
So, the first problem with tipping is that it’s complete bullshit in terms of who gets paid what.
The second problem, as Ms. Hamilton points out, is that it leads to destructive relationships at said establishment. Employees would do seriously f***ed up things to each other to snag New Year’s Eve shifts as well as Thursday to Saturday night shifts. There’d be bitterness, not teamwork, as the mantra between the higher-ups and the peons because, really, how could you trust that the waitress/waiter pulled in exactly $356 in tips? Competition is healthy, but when you’re all supposed to be on the same team, it’s not cool to be thinking of ways to sabotage coworkers.
The third problem is that it can strain long-term patronage. If I tip 10 percent on the cost of the meal (not including tax like us bleeding-heart Canadians do, which, by the way, I’ve always wanted to ask fellow Canucks: Why the hell are you tipping 15 percent to Ottawa when you pay for your stupid marshmallow Pumpkin Spicy Hot-As-Sin! Latte?), the server will most likely not be happy and, in some instances, not treat me well the next time I visit. That, in turn, drives me away from the place and makes me want to look for somewhere else to take my business.
As the American William R. Scott wrote 101 years ago in his book The Itching Palm, “Tipping, and the aristocratic idea it exemplifies, is what we left Europe to escape. It is a cancer in the breast of democracy.” Yeah, you read that right and rightly: People have seen through the veneer of tipping and its inherent flaws for more than a century.
So where on Earth did this tradition begin? Here’s a clue. What do Canada, the U.S., South Africa, India, Australia and New Zealand have in common? Aside from being beautiful countries, we’re all former British colonies. While the concept of tipping goes back to 15th-century England, it wasn’t until the early 20th century that “tips were so ingrained in upper-class British culture that a trip to a friend’s mansion meant bringing nearly $100 in cash for the servants.”
– Hey, Billy, wanna sleep over this weekend?
– Sorry, Jacqolinne. I only have $156 in my bank account.
I’ve had the good fortunate to travel all of the continents in my lifetime, and while no place is perfect – and “there” is no better than “here” – it’s amazing to note that 1) nobody tips more, and with more guilt, than Canadians (Americans are a close second); 2) that you have to tip random “parking guys” in South Africa so that you don’t lose your tires while you’re gone; 3) how did Western Europe, home of feudalism and the aristocracy, get it right with tipping: one euro per patron is the accepted custom; 4) how is it possible that nobody in East and Southeast Asia accepts tips? I spent 10 years living in Korea and traveling extensively throughout the region and could not force a tip on drivers or servers if I tried; 5) I don’t think I’ve ever met more entitled service industry workers than in India, where people judge the tip to be equivalent with your skin colour (yes, an inflammatory statement, but when you’re not actually allowed to leave an establishment until the person feels sufficiently rewarded for their hard work, it leaves a bitter taste in your mouth).
As Ms. Hamilton noted, “[In the past], a tip wasn’t only paid for services, it was a mark of social and economic superiority, which is why, when the custom crossed the Atlantic in the 1800s, it was originally shot down as un-American.”
Forget about un-American, I say. Do what Danny Meyer is almost single-handedly doing in New York today – at Michelin-starred eateries, no less. He’s abolishing tips (“Nope, your tips are not welcome here!”) and instead pooling the 18 percent service charge added to the patron’s bill so that it can later be divided more fairly among servers and kitchen staff.
Haley Hamilton concludes her own piece by writing, “In an industry that exists to create and augment the experiences of others, I don’t think it’s too much to ask that staff be fully included in that philosophy.”