Is Tipping an 'Abomination' or Should it Remain Common Practice?

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In many ways, tipping can be an annoying practice.

Consumers get stuck trying to figure out how much to tip per level of service, while restauranteurs get away with paying waiters as low as $4.77 per hour in the state of Florida.

An article written by Brian Palmer, recently published on Slate, claimed that tipping is an abomination and we should abolish the practice.

"Tipping is a repugnant custom. It's bad for consumers and terrible for workers. It perpetuates racism. Tipping isn't even good for restaurants, because the legal morass surrounding gratuities results in scores of expensive lawsuits."

While it did raise some valid points, we decided to look into it further a bit further. We chatted with some local servers and bartenders to see how they felt about getting rid of common gratuity procedures.

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The author claimed removing the tip system would benefit restaurant workers by ensuring they make a living wage.

The real problem is that restaurants don't pay their employees a living wage. The federal "tip credit" allows restaurants to pay their tipped employees as little as $2.13 per hour, as long as tips make up the shortfall--which turns a customer into a co-employer. Although federal and state law requires restaurants to ensure that tips bring employees up to minimum wage, few diners know that. (Hosts/hostesses, bussers, and food runners, who receive a small fraction of the servers' tips, often fall short of minimum wage on some nights.) The tip credit has turned the gratuity into a moral obligation, and we ought to cut it from our statute books with a steak knife.

Both the bartender and server to whom we spoke disagreed. Neither believed they would be paid the same hourly salary if restaurants paid an hourly rate.

"I don't see how it would be beneficial to servers if you were to do away with tips, unless, of course, restaurants paid $18 to $20 per hour," said server Kyle Childrey. "And how many restaurants can afford to do that? Who doesn't want to know what you're going to exactly what you're going to make each work day or week? But, in many ways, you'd be shortchanging yourself without tips."

Hourly wages and tip percentages vary by region. As the author noted, some states do pay tipped employees as little as $2.13 per hour. Florida, however, requires an hourly rate of $4.77. Not exactly a living wage, but when you add an average of tip of 19.2% on top, it equals out to a higher salary than what is received by a large majority of employees.

The author goes on to argue that tipping does not affect the quality of work performed by service industry employees.

"Tipping does not incentivize hard work. The factors that correlate most strongly to tip size have virtually nothing to do with the quality of service. Credit card tips are larger than cash tips. Large parties with sizable bills leave disproportionately small tips. We tip servers more if they tell us their names, touch us on the arm, or draw smiley faces on our checks. Quality of service has a laughably small impact on tip size. According to a 2000 study, a customer's assessment of the server's work only accounts for between 1 and 5 percent of the variation in tips at a restaurant."

While we understand the author's point, we beg to differ on the logic. Of course, personal touches are going to increase tip size. In a society that is as disconnected as ours, it would make sense that someone who is made to feel 'special' is going to increase a tip. Restaurant servers do fall under the category of the 'hospitality' industry -- being hospitable is part of providing quality service.

As for the small tips left by large parties, many restaurants preemptively include tips for parties of six or more.

The issue of prejudice is a slightly more difficult subject to tackle.

Tipping also creates a racially charged feedback loop, based around the widely held assumption--explored in an episode of Louie, in the Oscar-winning film Crash, and elsewhere--that African-Americans tend to be subpar tippers. There seems to be some truth to this stereotype: African-Americans, on average, tip three percentage points less than white customers. The tipping gap between Hispanics and whites is smaller, but still discernible in studies. This creates an excuse for restaurant servers to prioritize the needs of certain ethnic groups over others.

We can't deny that many tipped employees may hold tip-based prejudices. As a society we need to address preconceived notions about other races as whole, but we would hope that individual servers and restaurant managers would not allow judgments on customers to affect the quality of service. Not offering the same level of service to each customer is unprofessional; regardless, of public perception serving and tending bar are professions

"Even though he does make some valid points anything can be proven or disproven with 'statistics' and blanket statements," said bartender Jeremy Toste. "I work my butt off and get better tips because of it and would never intentionally give lesser service to someone because of their background. Also, if we were to do away with tipping now, resturants wouldn't pay a wage even close to what I can bring home. It's a broken system, but many systems in this country are and to just do a 180 on tipping would cause mayhem with the livelyhood of service industry workers, nevermind the economy as a whole."

While the numbers are different across the country, in South Florida bartenders frequently take home upwards of $400 on a given night. Servers do tend to earn less, but easily walk out with more than your average office worker.

Brian Palmer makes some great points, but for the restaurant servers and bartenders in South Florida, abolishing the tip would do a great disservice.

Tipping might be annoying, but the real issue should be addressing stagnant wages in the overall economy -- then we can move on to the tip.

Follow Sara Ventiera on Twitter, @saraventiera.

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