Should Customers Pay Servers By the Hour as a New Concept Pertaining to Tipping and Gratuities?

hould customers pay servers by the hour as a new concept pertaining to tipping and gratuities? That is a new concept being proposed by FlyerTalk member Brahmin pertaining to tipping a waiter or waitress based on the amount of time he or she spends catering to your every need. If your server spends an hour with you, simply pay him or her a “wage” of ten dollars per hour: “For a $ 200 dinner where you spend two hours, you should only tip him $ 20. Remember that the server is double and triple dipping as he is serving other tables at the same time. Maybe then $ 10 per hour is also too much.”

That idea apparently emanates from the belief that waitpeople have “become very greedy and feel that they are entitled” in what appears to be the latest “salvo” in the heated and controversial debate pertaining to tips and gratuities in general — but especially when dining in restaurants: “This is not a job that requires education or technical skill. $ 10 equates to about $ 20,000 per year”, posted Brahmin. “For this task, no one should be making 50K, 80K or 100K.”

Should Gratuities and Tips in Restaurants Be Discontinued?

When I first wrote this article on Thursday, pertaining to whether or not the practice of giving gratuities and tips to servers should be discontinued in restaurants, the federal rate of $2.13 per hour in the United States had not changed in almost 24 years…

…and effective as of April of last year, all employees at one restaurant in Pittsburgh were to be paid a base salary of $35,000.00 per year — meaning gratuities would no longer be accepted — and work between 40 and 44 hours per week maximum with two days off plus one night, as the restaurant is closed on Sundays; and ten days of vacation time. Additionally, each employee receives health care benefits from the date of hire; and 500 shares in the restaurant — each worth one dollar after three months of employment — and the shares increases in value as they mature.

Since then, other restaurants have jumped onto the no tipping bandwagon: back in November of 2015, employees of Joe’s Crab Shack working in the front of the restaurant — such as servers — were to earn $12.00 to $14.00 per hour with the potential to earn more money per hour, according to this article written by Kathryn Vasel of CNN Money; and Danny Meyer of the Union Square Hospitality Group eliminated all tipping at his restaurants and significantly raised prices to make up the difference, a move that “will raise wages, save the hospitality industry, and forever change how diners dine”, according to this article written by Ryan Sutton of New York Eater.

There are the holdouts as well, as tips and gratuities will remain as standard practice at all locations of Chili’s Bar & Grill restaurants. “We like it from the standpoint of it allows servers to really understand the importance of great service and what’s in it for them when they provide great service,” said Wyman Roberts, who is the chief executive officer of Brinker International, which is the parent company of Chili’s Bar & Grill and Maggiano’s, according to this article written by Katie Little of CNBC.

Tipping and Gratuities Outside of the United States

Unfortunately, tipping is not solely an American phenomenon, as some may erroneously believe — although the procedures and policies of tipping do vary from country to country. In some countries, an obligatory service charge of ten percent may be levied on a restaurant bill, for example; while in other countries, tipping may not be customary at all and may even be considered an insult in some cases.

“Whether or not you agree that tipping is a necessary part of the service industry here in the United States, the practice becomes even more confusing when you’re traveling”, Christine Krzyszton wrote in this article pertaining to taking the confusion out of tipping while traveling for Frugal Travel Guy. “If you tip too much, you may be wasting money. In some cases, it may not be appropriate to tip at all and in certain cultures, it’s even considered an insult. As Americans with generous tipping practices (compared to the rest of the world), we may be inclined (like I am) to take these tipping habits with us when we travel. But being educated on the tipping expectations of your destination before you leave home may help you save money and even avoid a minor international incident.”

Summary

“If the server does not want to improve his education and other skills, why should we be pampering him with huge tips”, asked Brahmin. “The restaurant owner should be responsible for their server’s income, not the patron. The owners have been reaping profits without paying their due to their staff.”

While I have never been a waitperson — well, actually, I was one for four days in a place which did not stay open very long; but that is a whole other story on its own — I find some of the remarks posted by Brahmin to be condescending.

I have dined out in a wide range of eating establishments. While there are certainly slackers who tend to be too slow; get the order wrong; or seemingly disappear from sight altogether, there are plenty of servers who work very hard for their money and deserve to be compensated accordingly — and I will give them a gratuity despite my not liking the practice of tipping in general…

…but what exactly is the solution to replace tipping? Is it to have a service charge automatically added onto the bill, as is done in many restaurants in Europe? Is significantly raising the prices of menu items to compensate for the difference — as is being done with restaurants of the Union Square Hospitality Group — the answer? Would a customer paying a server “by the hour” as a gratuity be fair compensation? Should tipping even be eliminated at all?

The answer to that conundrum is simple to state but not easy to execute: it is the one where a person can enjoy dining on a good meal with attentive service for a reasonable price at a dining establishment; while the servers and other restaurant employees receive at least a decent wage with benefits — with the owners and management of restaurants earning profits. I would think that that ideal threshold — or “sweet spot” — would vary based on a variety of factors: location, kind of dining establishment, culture, type of food served, style of service being offered as only five examples…

…but that win-win-win balance needs to be achieved for all possible even though “one size does not fit all”…

Photograph ©2016 by Brian Cohen.

5 thoughts on “Should Customers Pay Servers By the Hour as a New Concept Pertaining to Tipping and Gratuities?”

  1. rick b says:

    Let customers who want to save on tip get their own plates and fill their own drinks. I would gladly do that and skip the waiters altogether. Only in very high-end restaurants where presentation and ambiance are part of the experience, would I need a waiter.

    If anything, I’d rather take that money and tip the kitchen staff. They work even harder and actually make the food, they deserve it more.

    I feel like tipping in the US has become a dining tax. You can’t really NOT tip, even after poor service, so most waiters expect to get at least 10%, and 20% has become the norm.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      I would be all for self service in restaurants, rick b, as I am the type who likes to help myself…

      …but there are times and places where wait service just feels more civilized — like at a premium steakhouse, for example…

      …and I would agree that the kitchen staff are usually the hardest workers in the restaurant.

      1. rick b says:

        Of course…a michelin rated high end restaurant or premium steakhouse is an exception, although at such places I don’t feel waiters deserve the $50-100+ tips per table. It’s not THAT much work to bring out plates that they should make more per hour than engineers or even chefs.

        I won’t even mention coffee shops and fast casual dining. Those people should just be paid normal wage and be done with it. They’re glorified buffets…which incidentally work just fine without waiters.

  2. Simon says:

    I worked at a restaurant a decade ago when I was in HS. Host, kitchen, waiter, dish washer, everything.

    Clearly oversimplified in logic. Say you’re doing a dinner shift, 7-9 is your peak where may have 4-5 tables in a hour and tips make it seem like you’re getting a lot, but you’re also spending a few hours without tips prepping for the night, and then clearing for the night. Tip out the bartender for making your drinks, then tip out the people clearing the tables, you’re hour wage gets depressed a bit. Granted some though they didn’t need to do a thing until they had a table and free-loaded off others work.

    Correct, kitchen staff are the hardest workers in the place.

    I say kill the tip. At wage staff would not locked to ‘their’ section and could help any table, service could in theory improves. At higher-end staff take their jobs seriously mostly, so easier transition. Lower-end, likely worse. Lower-end restaurant staff is too segmented and server is ripe for cutting. Do I need a server at Chili’s? No, as they’ve done, put a tablet at every table. Host seats you, you order from tablet, a food-runner brings you items. Tables will turn faster, profits should in theory raise in lower employee costs and table turn efficiency.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      I have been to Chili’s since they put a tablet at every table, which does reduce the amount of time a patron requires from a server, Simon

      …but could that lead to what rick b commented above pertaining to self-service restaurants in the future?

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