It’s Time to Stop Tipping Waiters and Waitresses

Photo Credit: LuckyLife11, Pixabay; Creative Commons License

It’s time to stop tipping waiters and waitresses. It’s the restaurants’ responsibility to pay them a liveable wage, not ours! One of the things that surprise foreigners most in the United States is the expectation to tip at restaurants. We’re one of the few countries that does it, and for good reason.

If you do not tip 15-20% at a sit-down restaurant in America, you will be regarded as a rude customer who does not care about the waiters. In fact, on several occasions, people have been shamed online for giving “low” or no tips, and this has cost them their careers in some cases. Tips are even moving into the quick-service food industry, with credit card kiosks asking for tips at many fast-food restaurants. We tip waiters because it’s a social norm, nothing more. We don’t want to be perceived as jerks by our friends and other customers. We also tip waiters because we believe their salaries are too low, but we don’t tip delivery drivers, mail carriers, janitors, or even chefs. Therefore, why do we tip waiters?

In the U.S., employees that receive tips are only required to be paid $2.13 per hour, much lower than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. If the tips do not bring their salary up to the minimum wage, the employer is supposed to make up for the difference. This does not always occur, however, and waiters are likely to fall into poverty.

Tipping is bad for waiters and waitresses because they literally lose out on money they deserve (as part of their salary), because when the chef makes a mistake and your food is late, people may not tip the waiter. It’s not their fault, but they lose out anyway. Many tipped employees defend tipping every time it is challenged, but this is because they needed tips for economic survival when they were tipped. They would happily take money at that time so they could pay their bills, so they needed tips. However, if tips were removed and waiters were suddenly paid $15 per hour on salary, a lot of the pressure would be taken off of them, and they’d likely still be able to pay their bills. Restaurants get away with this phantom markup, and risk gets transferred to waiters, who suddenly have to bear the burden of chefs’ and food suppliers’ mistakes.

The RamPage reached out to two former waitresses for statements on the tipping system, but they both supported the system. The fact is that most waiters and waitresses like the current system because they have not considered the alternatives. One of the main arguments made by one of the waitresses was that if tipping was no longer customary, restaurants would increase food prices to pay their workers minimum wage. Additionally, she argued that the chefs at many restaurants don’t really care about the quality of the food since they often don’t get tipped, so tips are an incentive for waiters and waitresses to give you good service. However, the issue with these arguments is that restaurants can avoid raising costs by saving on utility costs and cutting back on free menu offerings such as bread. Additionally, waiters and waitresses will still tend to the customers’ needs in terms of quality and service, thereby keeping the chefs who may not care about quality in check.

Waiters are taught that the customer is always right. However, when they are working for a tip from every customer they serve, they could be prone to abuse from the customers, which they cannot stand up to under any circumstance. Why? Because they need tips to make ends meet, they can’t stand up to a mean customer, in fear of losing out on a tip.

Many believe that if a waiter isn’t making enough to survive, they simply aren’t doing a good enough job, but that’s not true. Some argue that waiters are paid for their performance via tips, and therefore will work harder, but a Cornell study rebukes this theory. It shows that tips were associated not with service quality, but rather with customers’ sex, group size, and the individual bill amount. This indicates that people in the U.S. only tip because they’re expected to, not necessarily because they had an exceptional experience with their waiter or waitress. Professors at Cornell and Mississippi College determined in a study that there is also racial discrimination in tipping, as Black servers received fewer tips than their white counterparts.

In other countries, waiters simply are not given tips. In Japan, for example, it’s actually considered rude to give tips, as you’re already paying for good service by your servers. In Europe, restaurants simply pay all their employees at least the minimum wage, so tipping just isn’t customary. However, different countries have varying customs on tipping hotel workers, taxi drivers, and bartenders, so read up on tipping customs before you travel abroad. After all, you don’t want to look like a jerk like a foreigner who doesn’t tip in America, do you?

The solution is simply to stop tipping. If you stop tipping, waiters and customers will hate you… for a little while. Then, as more and more people stop tipping, servers will suddenly be making way under minimum wage. Restaurants will have a new cost of paying the employees more money, and they will shut down. The public will revolt because they’ve lost their favorite restaurants, and the economy will suffer. The government would then, finally, realize that the tipping system is wrong, and they would uphold minimum wage for all workers, even tipped ones. Tipping should only occur if you get the nicest, most accommodating server of all time, but it should not be customary.

Several states–but still not even close to the majority–have voted to end the two-tiered pay system in restaurants, in which tips belong to front-of-house staff, who then get paid less of a salary. More states are following suit, however, so America is headed in the right direction. Some restaurants have also eliminated tipping altogether, just paying salaries instead by choice. They do this to address the pay discrepancy between servers and more highly-trained cooks, who sometimes actually make less than servers because they don’t get tips. However, these restaurants have had to increase prices to cover employees’ salaries, angering customers and turning them off from those restaurants.

Essentially, companies get away with paying their employees under minimum wage, and you–the consumer–pay the difference. Tipping not only screws over the customer, but it screws over the servers as well. They get abused by customers and have to deal with it, and get pressure heaped on them for no reason. It’s time to hold restaurant owners accountable and stop tipping waiters and waitresses.

I’m Isaiah Steinberg, editor in chief of the RamPage. I’ve been a writer since I was a freshman, and I greatly enjoy journalism. I am very excited to be working with the wonderful RamPage staff this year!