We recently published a blog entitled “Four Reason Why Tipping Sucks.” The headline was intentionally provocative and the content formatted as a listicle to make it more consumable. Our goal was to engender a discussion around this important issue and, boy, did we achieve it. The post was the most commented-on piece we have run in the last six months and lion share of the responses were critical --some strongly so.
We at The Rail truly value our subscriber’s opinions, even when they are critical of us. Consequently, we are sharing some of the highlights from those comments. Through critical exchange we can achieve a better understanding of our industry and maybe even ourselves.
Racism & Tipping
Let’s go straight away to some of the more visceral comments the post received. To say many of you repudiated the content would be like saying some people have reacted poorly to our most recent election cycle. Thematically, most were dismissive of the assertions that the post made. Specifically, the post cited the racist origins of the American tipping culture.
Between Guest & Server
One response from Mark Moreno asserted that, “The only racism in relation to tipping that I've read about takes place between the guest and the staff, based on their own personal racist beliefs, which would exist with or without tipping. The correlation presented has no basis in the modern world. The reason we tip is out of appreciation of the experience provided and a growing successful economy affords us the ability.”
We completely agree with Mark on the reality of racist behavior associated to human biases and not tipping itself. However, the post didn’t assert that current tipping IS racist, only that it was originally based on a racist motivation.
On the Inequity of Tipping
Another reader, Jack Stewart, offered this comment on the racist origins of tipping. “The origins of tipping are most probably racist (the post-Civil War origin is generally accepted). However, the current association with racism is present, but not necessarily intentional. A current study (2006 Cornell University School of Hotel Administration) determined that blacks generally tip less than whites. This is perceived by servers and sometimes leads to poorer service. It has also been determined that black servers are tipped less than white servers on the whole (2008 Cornell University School of Hotel Administration). In fact, buxom blondes tend to be tipped more than other servers, regardless of service.”
So, while we may not conclude that tipping is racist, we can certainly see inequities in the culture that can cause damage to a variety of participants in that culture.
“Shoving” a Liberal Agenda
Further criticism of the post focused on its “liberal” nature and even accusations that we were shilling for unions and the Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC).
Mac observed, “If you really want to know, this article absolutely confirms that you are under the influence of ROC and you are baiting for Unions,” and Dave wrote, “This is another example of the left leaning media shoving their agenda on the public. If they wanted to be fair, they would also post articles showing options from BOTH sides of the argument that would then allow the intelligent public to make up their own minds.”
Well, Dave, here we are doing just what you asked and sharing the opinions of the “other side.” I’ll be clear, we are members of no ideology when it comes to our industry except as pertains to the needs of operators and their businesses. The tipping model may become unsustainable with increasing minimum wages and we have run multiple posts that both acknowledge the issues with tipping as well as alternatives available to operators. We’ve also done posts where no-tipping has failed at restaurants. We’ve even done posts on things to consider, should you be flirting with the idea of no-tipping.
Not Everyone Disagreed with Us
There were some folks that agreed with the tone of the post, and offered their own experience as proof there is a different way.
Sue shared that her staff is, “paid a fair wage, and from day one has not relied on tips. Nevertheless, generally speaking, our customer base consists mostly of the over-60 generation and prefers to tip. In an effort to address the wish to tip, our staff long ago decided to donate all tips to local non-profits. This means that gratuities are re-invested into our community throughout the year by between 140 to 180 agencies. Bless our staff and bless those that support their mission!”
Could No-Tipping Hurt Servers?
One reader who also identified as a tipped employee added, “I know that the tipping model isn't broken and shouldn't be tampered with. Tipped employees make a good amount more than minimum wage. Getting rid of the tipping would force some restaurants to close, and forcing tipped employees to make about half as much as they do now, and that wouldn't be a living wage, it would be minimum wage.”
Overall, the responses we received were thoughtful and animated. We are grateful that those of you that did add your voice took the time to comment. We will acknowledge that the post performed like throwing a hand grenade in a crowded room, but we are still gratified that those of you that escaped lent your voice to the conversation.
Have more thoughts on tipping? Leave it in the comments below or email us!