Is the end of tipping at hand?

I tried out a new burger joint in the St. Paul skyway a few weeks ago. The food, though overpriced, was decent, especially by St. Paul skyway standards.

I’ll never go back, however.

Why? Because after you give the cashier your credit card, she turns the monitor around so you can add a tip.

“The big issue here is that this is putting a new social pressure on customers,” said Michael Lynn, a professor of consumer behavior at the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration, who studies tipping, told the New York Times in a recent article. “It’s up to me to leave the change in the tip jar, or not. Yet when you turn the screen around and I have to explicitly click ‘No Tip’ in front of you, that’s a lot harder.”

It’s the sort of thing that can make tipping a thing of the past, and apparently it is, the Times says.

Lockhart Steele, a founder of the restaurant blog Eater and editorial director of Vox Media, suggests that tipping may soon be a thing of the past. “It seems that the great minds of the restaurant industry have decided that the era of tipping is coming to a close,” Mr. Steele said, noting that battles over tipping are a popular topic among Eater’s readers. “It’s all being helped along by technology.”

He noted that Uber’s all-inclusive fare approach (so that passengers never have to think about money at the end of a ride but instead use a rating system to give feedback) is now starting to happen with restaurants, albeit mostly at higher-end establishments. Places like Dirt Candy, a vegetarian restaurant in the East Village, has banned tipping and instead adds a 20 percent service charge on all checks.

Others are turning to apps like Reserve and Cover that seek to disrupt the way diners pay for meals. Instead of having to ask for the check after dessert, the bill and a preset tip are automatically calculated. The beauty of this experience is that, like Uber, you simply walk out at the end of the meal, and your card is charged through the app.

Last month, MPR News’ Nikki Tundel reported that at least one coffee shop in Minneapolis is forging the new era, banning the tip jar.

The owner started paying workers more, instead.

Part of this is a reaction to legislation like that introduced this session in the Minnesota Legislature that provides a lower minimum wage to employees who get tips.

Part of it, however, is a reaction to the discomfort between wait staff and customer, evidenced in an essay recently on xoJane.

The art of tipping is, for most people, really freaking annoying. How much is too much? How much is too little? Is this the only reason I had to learn how to calculate percentages in 5th grade? Am I really supposed to tip this floral delivery guy when I didn’t even know he was coming to deliver me flowers that I didn’t even buy? Also, I don’t carry cash anymore, so, crap.

And I could write a whole separate article on “Automatic Tips.” There is no such thing as an “automatic” tip. If it’s “automatically” included, it is “automatically” just part of the regular price. The very definition of tipping suggests it should be extra. It’s a reward, not a right.

But the bread and butter of my tip annoyance is the mandatory tip of your server in a restaurant. Why do I owe someone extra money just for doing their job? I work retail, and get paid crap for it. I’m expected to be courteous and helpful and provide “excellent customer service” with absolutely no possibility of a tip or commission. Why should it be any different for someone working in a restaurant? The way I see it, the restaurant is paying the employee, not me.

Tipping won’t disappear anytime soon, Los Angeles Times columnist Michael Hiltzik writes. But it should.

“Eliminating tips and incorporating their value into workers’ paychecks is a long-term project, but it will yield long-term benefits,” he contends.

  • MrE85

    Tipping point? Saw a feature on this last night. I’m not a fan, either.

  • Name

    I agree. Employers are responsible for paying the employees. i work in the elder care industry, and would be appalled if a family member offered me a tip for assisting their relative in the bathroom. That’s my job and it comes with the territory. And for that reason (doing what your job requires), I seldom leave a tip.

  • Gary F

    Probably. And many of the great servers will get out of the business because the money isn’t there.

  • Postal Customer

    “adds a 20 percent service charge on all checks”

    Why can’t they just raise the food price by 20%? At least diners wouldn’t feel like they’re being fleeced if the service is bad.

    • BJ

      Food is such a competitive business. I could see how this would work for some places and not for others.

      Completely agree with you BTW – just charge me the price and pay your people.

      • Postal Customer

        But that’s not how we do things in this country. For example, it seems like in Europe, sales tax is included in advertised prices. Not in this country. The marketing department doesn’t like that. Plus, here you have politics dedicated to helping businesses pay their employees the least amount possible.

  • pedro

    The next time someone flips you the screen at bill time, just say, “cool.”

  • Jeff

    I’m sorry to report that the aforementioned burger joint is now out of business (I’m pretty sure it’s the same one). I had the same experience and accidentally hit the 20% tip instead of 0% jacking up the price of my luxury burger even more but there was too much social pressure to take it back. For counter service I refuse to tip.

    I am of the opinion employers should pay employees directly instead of begging customers. However, I’ve spent a lot of time in Europe where they don’t routinely tip and servers are paid pretty well. But the service is very poor compared to here. I don’t know if the expectations are lower there or if tipping makes a difference.

    • Not too surprised. I opined to a colleague when we walked passed it a few weeks ago that it was only a matter of time.

  • Maura

    Ever been to Europe? Nobody tips there. Why? The servers/bartenders get paid a livable wage. There are still plenty of servers/bartenders filling those jobs. As an American, not adding a tip takes some getting used to – but it’s nice. There’s a coffee shop in S. Mpls that has a little sign saying they raised their prices so they could pay their staff more. No extra service charge. No tipping. Bravo.

    • Jeff

      I agree tipping is a pain and the business should pay, but as I commented before, in my experience service is terrible in most places I’ve been in Europe. Most of the time the servers act as if they don’t care. They hardly every come back to the table to check on you, getting the check sometimes involves getting up and tackling them. I know it’s a slower pace and us Americans are always in a hurry, but my European friends also notice how much better service is here.

  • Justin M.

    As someone who regularly works 2-3 extra shifts a week at a local restaurant/bar on top of my normal 40-45 hours a week at my “regular job”, I can tell you that not getting tips makes a big difference in my take-home. If I could get the same kind of scheduling flexibility, along with the total pay that I make when combining my minimum wage plus tips, I would gladly work a second job that just paid that much. Unfortunately, that’s not a reality. And there are plenty of times when I work a weeknight shift and go home with next to nothing in my pocket, and thank God that at least I am getting paid minimum wage, or else I am working for nothing. If they take away tipping, I will be forced into working a different job, which will have a negative impact on my ability to attend my children’s activities, etc. While I appreciate the general attitude of “I don’t like being forced into tipping”, and “Why should I tip, they’re just doing their job”, I can tell you with 100% certainty that most of the people I work with in the service industry in my community bust their butts to earn those tips, and will definitely treat those customers differently than people who regularly leave no tip. Right or wrong, it’s the reality of the situation. Unless we’re going to be paid more, it needs to be this way, and people should tip for good service. I am not even going to get into the argument over what constitutes “good” service, but rest assured, people put forth this service to demanding customers with a smile, so a few extra bucks on top of your 50-60 dollar tab shouldn’t be a burden. There’s a saying in the service industry, “If you can’t afford to leave a tip, you shouldn’t be eating out.” Not a bad idea to consider, especially if you’ve never tried to make a living doing this type of work.

    • Jeff

      I think most people would agree that servers shouldn’t be denied tips, just include it in their wages.

      I’m curious, do you see much variation in tips? I usually tip around 20% but even if the service is substandard then I might go down a little bit, but never under 15%. I read somewhere else from a study that people usually tip the same regardless of the quality of service.

      • Justin M.

        Honestly, the tips are all over the map. It seems to average between 10-15%, but the younger people (the dreaded 18-34 demographic, with it being more heavily weighted towards the top end of that group) seems to tip more. The percentage drops as the age increases, as well as when the individual is younger. We live in a college town, but it’s a small college, and most of the students don’t tip that much (to be expected on a limited budget, so don’t mistake my statement as a gripe). Most people that I talk to in the industry and that I am friends with tell me the same thing you do, that 20% is their baseline, with a reduction for poor service, but a boost if the server/bartender really does a great job. For what it’s worth, when we’re training new servers/bartenders, we tell them that they need to be earning their tips by being attentive to their guests’ needs, and being positive. They’re not there just to collect a paycheck and expect to be tipped for doing mediocre work.

    • Ulysses Tennyson

      No reason to act so put-upon, JM. I think the whole thrust of the piece was that paying waitstaff more and eliminating tipping would go hand in hand. Win-win. Also that people shouldn’t feel pressured to tip in the manner Mr. Collins describes….sounds almost like a form of cyberbullying, to stretch the definition a bit. Anyway it is a provincial custom. I remember the amused incomprehension with which my naive gesture was met by one French waitress after I failed to realize that a service charge was included in the bill. And even more vividly how the maid who cleaned my room in a small town in Brazil came running after me saying I had left money in the room (and her pleased smile when she found out it was for her.) So, hey, nobody wants to keep you from attending your kid’s soccer games, they just want to raise your pay, motivate you to stick around and keep providing good service, and minimize the possibilities for misunderstandings and bruised feelings on anyone’s part.

      • Ulysses Tennyson

        And for anyone who’s interested, “tip” is not an old English acronym for “to insure promptitude (or promptness)”, for the very good reason that the old English didn’t use acronyms. They only became popular around the time of the First World War. “To tip” is thought by some to be theive’s cant for “to pass, or give.”

  • Kevin

    Kopplin’s is in St Paul.

  • Jay Sieling

    Sinatra was a big tipper. CBS Sunday morning had a feature on him presented by Mo Rocca. Sinatra’s daughter told a story about how he gave a big tip to a parking attendant. He gave him like a $200 tip and the guy exclaimed “wow, thanks Mr. Sinatra! That’s the largest tip I’ve ever got! Before this my biggest tip was $100!” “Who was the cheap SOB that gave you that?” “You did, Mr Sinatra!”

  • Postal Customer

    BW-3 (aka Buffalo Wild Wings) used to do counter service only. You walked up to the counter, ordered food, and somebody brought it to you. No tips. It was cheaper and easier this way. Not only did I not have to tip for lousy service, I also didn’t have to wait for someone to come along when I needed something, wait for the check, wait for my card to be processed. Then like ten years ago they dispensed with this model, presumably because there wasn’t enough selling going on (“would you like to start out with some overpriced appetizers that no one ever orders? did ‘we’ save room for dessert?”), but of course you didn’t have to put up with the insufferable “how’s everything ‘tasting?'” or “still ‘working’ on that food?”

    Yeah, I don’t go out much.

    • Justin McKinney

      If you were to go out to a fine-dining establishment, or even a place that’s just more of a sit-down restaurant vs. a chain sports bar, would you expect to have counter service, or a wait staff? Not trying to sound rude, I am just curious as to where you’re coming from on this one.

      • Postal Customer

        I don’t eat at “fine dining” places often because I feel like I can make a better, healthier meal at home for a fraction of the cost.

        • Justin McKinney

          I agree, I also choose to prepare meals at home more often for the same reason. However, this does not address the question. Would you expect the same type of service at this type of establishment, vs. a chain-type restaurant? When I go to McDonald’s, or even B-Dubs, for that matter, I don’t expect a wait staff. More often than not, my experience at B-Dubs has been negative, so I don’t go often, but that’s beside the point. When I go out to a nicer restaurant though, I expect a wait staff. I would find it tacky to go to a nice place and then have to go to the counter to pay my bill.

    • jon

      I’m always amazed at how wait staff can swoop in the moment you take a big bite to ask “How is everything?”
      I can’t answer because my mouth is full, they usually move on before I can finish chewing and swallow…

      I’ve moved on to a thumbs up thumbs down, and the “eh” hand gesture (flat hand parallel to the floor wiggling slightly. Doesn’t really matter what I do though, they say “Great” and move on… to be fair I don’t eat at places that ever got a thumbs down again, and “eh,” places usually have obvious reasons why things are off, crowds or some such, not much the servers can do about it…

      • Justin McKinney

        At least at the places I have worked, the reason for the wait staff checking in is to ensure that the food is satisfactory. The general rule of thumb is 2-3 bites in, because who wants to go through half of their meal if it’s not done properly without the staff showing enough concern to check? Granted, your kitchen should be preparing the meals to a high enough quality standard to avoid issues altogether, but kitchen staff are human too, and mistakes happen. The best a restaurant employee can do is minimize them and make sure that the guests are satisfied with their experience. As you said, you don’t generally go back to places that got a “thumbs-down”. I am often very surprised at the lack of knowledge people have about the reasons service industry employees do the things they do. I’d like to see an article about that, just to bring understanding to the rest of the people. I’d even be willing to contribute.

        • jon

          I understand why it is done.
          It isn’t the intent that bothers me, it’s the execution.

  • Waitersurvey

    Being a waiter is hard work and since base pay is legally below minimum wage, tips are essential. I worked for $2.35 an hour before tips to pay college tuition. Now I’m doing undergraduate economics research on tipping. I’d really appreciate if restaurant servers would take this anonymous 3-5 minute research survey:

    • Ulysses Tennyson

      Is there any remuneration? One of the big differences between physics and economics is that physicists don’t rely on self-selected surveys. Maybe that’s why physicists predicted that the bomb would work and economists predicted that the housing bubble would last forever.