The US tipping system poisons the eating out well

As this IMHO thread about dining out got steadily more personal and heated, I was thinking how this is simply not an issue here in the UK.

Here all waiters get minimum wage ($10.50/hr) and tips are a bit of a bonus on top of that. I feel slightly cheap walking out of a UK restaurant without tipping about 10%, but if money’s tight I have absolutely no hesitation. Whether I tip or not, the staff will have made money serving me.

Do you think that the US system of making waiters rely directly on capricious customers for their wages contributes to a certain venom in the whole area of dining out?

I mean, here there is AFAIK much less of an issue about things like customers staying a long time after eating - sure they are costing the restaurant money, and maybe the waiter by some small amount, but nothing like what I’ve heard American waiters complain of.


Hang on a minute, do US waiters pay income tax on tips?


Yes and no. If they report the tips, they pay income tax. I think there is also an assumption that make a certain amount (8%, IIRC), so the IRS will tax them on whatever their income is, plus some. But that still leaves plenty of room to cheat, and that’s why waiters almost always prefer to get their tips in cash.

Personally, I like the tipping system. I’ve been in too many countries where tipping is not the custom, and where crappy service seems to be the norm. I go to several bars and restaurants frequently, and I always tip generously-- that gets me great service, and plenty of comp’ed drinks or appetizers or whatever. Well worth the price of admission.

I dunno about the waiter side, but as a customer, I never worry about the tip while eating unless I’m noting some aspect of the service that deserves credit or punitive attention. (Leave my water cup dry for too long = no tip, for example.) Other than this, I just eat merrily along, carefree and cavalier, untroubled by the situation.

Only if they declare them.

However, it is that ‘capricious’ system that leads to Waitstaff who make 6 figure salaries.

:dubious: Unless you’re including cents I’d like to see a cite.

I don’t have a specific cite but let’s look at it like this.

You go to the Striphouse on 12th and University in Manhattan. After Dinner, Drinks and Dessert the bill is around $ 250.

As the service is impeccable at the Strip House you drop a generous 20% tip, which is about average in NYC. 20% of 250 is 50. Now, your waiter is probably waiting on 3 other tables simultaneously. You were there for 2 hours, so lets average that he does about 4 tables every 2 hours. He works an 8 hour shift.

Let’s say that everyone spends $ 250, which for the Strip House is pretty cheap, considering if you buy a bottle of wine you might pay that much for a single bottle. I am using that, because it’s generally what I pay for a dinner for two when I go there. So we’re also assuming that each table only has two people.

So that’s an average of 50 per table, 4 tables every two hours, so it's about 100 an hour. We’re going to forget about paying the bus boys because they’re share is cancelled out by the fact that we aren’t factoring in the fact that most tables are dropping a grand or more in reality.

So the waiter is pulling $ 100 an hour in tips. He works 8 hours a day 4 days a week.

800 x 4 = 3200. 3200 x 50 weeks = 160,000 a year.

Now sure, my math is extremely fuzzy, but I think you get the picture.

I know some waiters who make 6 figures. This is, obviously, at pretty upscale places.

I bet a good waiter at Houlihans or Fridays could pull 50k a year.

Waitstaff don’t make 100K. There are some that make 50K or a little more but those are in some of the most exclusive, famous restaurants like you might find in New York or New Orleans or at a very hot, upscale bar. I worked in a very nice, famous New Orleans bar when I was in college. It attracted famous people like U2 and very well off thirty-ish professionals. You had to have a certain look to work there and we all had to wear our own tuxes. It was fairly common on a Friday and Saturday night to make $350 to $500 a piece in tips (mostly cash and no we didn’t feel the need to report it all). However, the rest of the week was much quieter and we switched off the Friday and Saturday night shifts just like staff does in most bars.

I think the productivity of the wait staff is higher when they depend on tips.

Saturday Night in New Orleans is like Tuesday Night in New York.

Sure, a waiter at a top New York City steakhouse might make $100k. That’s about a hundrenth of a tenth of one percent of all waitstaff slaving over tables.

No, guys, you don’t understand. Waiters make far too much money!

It only creates venom among people who are insufferable asses to begin with. Normal human beings who can relate in an adult manner with others have absolutely no problems with the US system of tipping.

It’s a different way of doing business, which can seem odd to those not brought up with it, but waitrons can earn a decent living here, and diners automatically account for the tip when budgeting a night out.

Tipping is something of a bizarre practice. If the rationale is really to reward good service, why don’t we tip our doctors (heck, their services are a LOT more important than whether our burger one night is how we like it)? Why don’t we tip EVERYONE? Why only a select few more “menial” service professions?

If it’s to “help out” people who are supposedly impoverished, it’s probably irrational, because if there is good competition (and the restaurant industry is one of the most brutal out there), all customers tips are ultimately going to just be returned to them in the form of lower menu prices, and wait staff will simply have their wages bid down to where they were before (if wait staff can really all make a killing, then lots more people are going to want to be wait staff, and suddenly the killing goes away). Tip or don’t tip: the individual waiter might benefit or be harmed, but overall, waiters can’t be made better or worse off by the custom.

Looking at it another way, wait staff are on average going to ultimately make about as much as the market will support them making. The fact that most of their wages are in tips seems, in its effect, to mostly make their lives more unpredictable and stressful. So it’s unlikely that it really helps them much at all, and probably hurts them a little.

I think the only rationale that really makes sense is consumer power + making things easier on managers: consumers for some reason really like bossing around waiters more than other service workers, and tipping is a great way to make this more direct than in other industries (where if you don’t like the service, you take your business elsewhere and the employee is ultimately hurt via that, but more indirectly and probably less reliably). It’s also probably the most efficient way of managing employees: let the consumers rate their service directly rather than having to spend time worrying about watching their behavior and sorting out whether customer complaints are valid or not.

If the restaurant was required to pay its staff a wage that would make up for you not having to worry about a tip, the cost to you would be the same. They would just have to jack up the food/beverage prices. Restaurants tow a pretty hard line as it is, and waitstaff do too (when I worked at a Manhattan restaurant last year we all made 3.85/hr before tips). The waiter probably has to pay the bussers and hosts as well, and he probably gets taxed on that money before he gives it to them. So if you give a shitty tip, or tip not at all, he might end up actually paying to wait on you. Like the above posters mentioned, if waiting tables was a gold mine and/or easy, we’d all be doing it. If you don’t like tipping, make dinner at home.

I’ve never seen this to be the case, in my experience. Canada has a slightly less tip dependent service industry, and food prices always seem higher when I’m in the US. There’s a limit to how much someone will pay for a plate of chicken, after all.

Which is just another way of saying that you made only 3.85/hr BECAUSE of tips. :slight_smile:

If you only made that much and there were no tips on top of it, virtually no one would be waitstaff, and they’d have to raise wages to attract more.

I honestly think we should try, as a social experiment, applying this philosophy to other professions. If you don’t like tipping your bank teller, keep all your money in cash under your mattress!