Restaurants Without Tipping

Jay Porter at Slate on a restaurant that banned tipping:

These two principles probably apply at your work, too, if you work somewhere other than a restaurant and with your clothes on. They’re a well-established way of compensating people, in part because if you don’t have to always think about money, you can focus on doing your job well. Software engineers, marriage counselors, bridge builders, you name the profession—in almost every industry, it’s expected you’ll be able to do your best work if you’re not constantly distracted by compensation issues. Why don’t we want that for restaurant servers?

This is a weird comparison to make. Software engineers and bridge builders are not doing customer service jobs, they are creating products. Their evaluation is judged by the quality of their output. With servers, it’s much harder to do this because the only people who truly see their output are their customers. If a bridge builder is doing a crappy job, their crappy work will be observed by inspectors and other people who review it. If a software engineer does a crappy job, their work is caught be software testers. If a waiter is doing a crappy job, it’s possible no one will notice munless the customer complains, which is probably not something that happen that often.

There’s more:

Servers are motivated to do a good job in the same ways that everyone else is. Servers want to keep their jobs; servers want to get a raise; servers want to be successful and see themselves as professionals and take pride in their work. In any workplace, everyone is required to perform well, and tips have nothing to do with it. The next time you see your doctor, ask her if she wouldn’t do better-quality work if she made minimum wage, with the rest of her income from her patients’ tips. I suspect the answer will be a version of “no.”

It’s pretty silly to compare a super specialized, highly trained skill, like being a medical doctor to waiting tables. While it’s safe to say more servers want to keep their job, and get a raise (not as quick to agree with taking pride) the problem with the no tipping concept is how do they get feedback?

There are probably restaurant managers who are very good at observing and determining how well a server is doing, but unless customers start filling out surveys after every meal how are the people running these places suppose to know how well they did? A UPS delivery person, for example, likely mostly is graded on having a safe driving record plus an ability to complete all their deliveries on time, in the allotted time. It seems like restaurant service goes beyond that, and tracking all aspects of serving food probably goes beyond what is easily observable. That is where the tip system fills a void. It at least allows the customer to give feedback that can act as a raise or bonus for good service.

Having never managed a restaurant, I have no idea if the above scenario is accurate. I do personally hate the concept of tipping though. And I am sure, as this article states, that there is a ton of bias involved. I would love to see more place try the method of skipping tips in favor of some other system just to see if it can work. But I am skeptical of one example proving a point, and still worry that restaurant service is such a unique field that it has to have it’s own solution.