The Many Sides of Tipping Culture
By: Ethan Mathieu
You walk into a small, local restaurant. There are only a few patrons sitting at a small table in the far corner. A young waiter named George walks up to you and guides you to your table. He is in college and was unable to get a scholarship in order to pay for his room and board. There isn’t enough foot traffic for the restaurant owners to justify a high salary. State laws allow the owners to pay him below minimum wage. The difference is dependent on you. The difference depends on how much you tip.
Let’s imagine that you are not exactly rich either. You are living paycheck to paycheck and need the money to pay off bills and loans. This is your first outing in months. You simply cannot afford to pay, essentially, part of his salary. Tipping in American culture has moved from a gratuity to a necessity in the industry. Instead of rewarding good service, people are expected to fill a part of someone’s livelihood. The conscious goodwill is removed, replaced by social peer pressuring. The solution, however, is not as simple as just forcing restaurants to pay their employees minimum wage. Not all establishments, for one, can afford the maneuver. Now, instead of getting paid below minimum wage, George is not getting paid at all.
This is the dilemma, and genius, behind the tipping system in the United States. Restaurants can guilt you into helping file their income brackets. Waiters can actually be disincentivized from working well due to the robust nature of the system; they know that the public is so accustomed to this tradition regardless of their service quality.
Other countries have solved this issue by simply eliminating the gratuity and factoring it directly into the bill. While this removes the psychological choice the patron needs to make of whether or not to cover part of their waiter’s salary, it does not solve the motivation aspect. Also, can individuals still tip on top of that for what they consider to be remarkable service? It becomes unclear.
My solution forces the government to play a bigger role. For restaurants who are identified as being financially insecure, the government would insure a certain number of paid minimum wage positions. This would allow the restaurant to hire more people like George, who need the job, without going under and also eliminate the forced tip. People, in the end, should tip if they want to tip. Horrible service does not deserve a reward and workers also should not have to rely on the whim of the public. Wealthier restaurants should have no problem paying their waiters minimum wage and would be compelled to by a new federal law. Ultra-millionaire and corporate taxes would cover the costs of these new acts.
Tipping culture has multiple angles that require a multi-angle solution. It’s time that America progresses from this archaic method of exchange in which everyone but the restaurant owner loses.