Is there an end in sight for the American institution of tipping? The New York Times reports that as several cities begin to implement minimum wage increases, "an expanding number of restaurateurs are experimenting with no-tipping policies as a way to manage rising labor costs."
The Times cites Seattle seafood chain Ivar's and fine dining restaurant The Walrus and The Carpenter as two restaurants that are experimenting with a no-tipping model, following the city's recent steps toward an eventual $15-an-hour minimum wage. The former raised menu prices by 21 percent, while the latter opted to add a mandatory 20 percent service charge to every check. Staff at Ivar's have reported wage increases of up to 60 percent since the change, says Eater Seattle.
Other restaurants following similar models include NYC's Dirt Candy, and Sous Beurre and Manos Nouveau in San Francisco — two other cities where new minimum wage laws have recently gone or will soon go into effect. The Times mentions several reasons restaurateurs might be drawn to such a model:
In some cities like New York, where tipping is subject to a confusing welter of federal, state and local regulations and tax laws, eliminating it would simplify bookkeeping. Managers say it would also allow them to better calibrate wages to reward employees based on the length of their service and the complexity of their jobs. Several also cited research showing that diners tend to tip black servers less and that the system can encourage sexual harassment of women. Additionally, unlike tips which can't legally be shared with kitchen staff, "the revenue from certain types of surcharges and higher menu prices can be distributed to everyone."
It also, of course, eliminates the possibility of servers getting stiffed by their tables.
One Manos Nouveau waitress tells the Times that with her new $25-an-hour wage, "she is earning as much as before with no worries about slow nights," but not all servers are enthusiastic about doing away with tips. Some argue that eliminating tipping would result in servers taking a pay cut and a reduction in the quality of service. There's also the issue of customer resistance: "Restaurant tipping is deeply ingrained in the American psyche," the Times points out.
As minimum wage hikes spread, there's a good chance no-tipping systems might, too. Coastal cities have been early adopters of the widely publicized — and highly controversial — wage increases, but the movement is expanding to new parts of the country: Birmingham, Ala., may soon be the first Southern city to institute a minimum wage hike, with an eventual goal of $10.10 per hour.