Tipping

August 31, 2009 By: erik Category: Complaining, Musings, Spain, Spain-v-USA, USA 481 views

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One difference between the US and Spain – and the rest of Europe, I think – is the practice of tipping in restaurants and bars. In the US, tipping is such a common custom that the waiters’ salaries are reduced, sometimes below minimum wage, under the assumption that the tips that they make will put them back over the minimum wage. In Spain, waiters are paid at least minimum wage, and there is no tipping whatsoever. None. If the check comes and it says 4.80€, you put down a 5€ bill and you wait for the change to come back. That’s the norm. I submit to you that the European system of non-tipping is inherently superior to the American system of tipping.

1) Myth: Service is better in the US because of tipping.

I have lived in Europe for over eight years now, and I can see no difference in the overall nationwide level of service between the US and Europe. This is, of course, only anecdotal evidence, and it would be awesome to see some hard data, like average wait time, etc. The problem is that good data on this topic would be impossible to obtain. There are too many other variables, e.g. server mood, how many customers in the establishment, how many waiters, what kind of food is being ordered, what quality and price of food is being ordered, waiter experience, etc. Anecdotal evidence is all we have to go on here, which renders this point completely a matter of opinion. However, if you you are an American and wish to argue this point after having spent a week in Paris, Barcelona, London, or Prague and never having left the tourist zone, I suggest you defer your opinion to an expatriate. I would love to hear what other American expats in Europe think about this, and especially from any European expats living in the US.

2) Tipping demeans waiters.

Across the entire service industry, from the cable guy to the auto mechanic to the barber, the person performing the service is, for the duration of the service, in a lower social position than the client. The client has requested something, and just sits there while they service provider is doing all the work. But the temporary difference in social standing is much greater for someone putting food on the table in front of you. It’s one thing to say, “Bring me food,” but it’s another to say, “Bring me food, and if you are slow or don’t smile at me, then I’m lowering the negotiated price!” Suddenly the waiter’s social status has plummeted. It’s demeaning.

Now that I think about it, I can’t think of any other non-tipping-based service where the client has the right to raise or lower the negotiated price after the service has been provided. To anyone who has not grown up in that culture, the idea is ridiculous!

3) Tipping favors the rich over the poor.

Tipping is broken in the same way that the US Health Care system is broken. It unfairly gives rich people the power to hurt poor people on a whim. It’s true that not all restaurant clientèle are rich, but it’s also true that very rarely is a waiter much richer than their customer.

Conclusion

I admit that I have never worked as a waiter, but I have often imagined myself in their shoes, and it’s this empathy that feeds my distaste in the American tipping system. I can’t imagine that it’s more common for a waiter to see a tip and think, “Hey, wow! What a nice tip!” than for him to see a tip and mumble, “Cheapskate!” under his breath. Surely the latter is at least twice as common. Isn’t it obvious that the most fair thing to do is to just pay the waiter the extra 15% and let customers respond to bad service by either talking to management or just not going back to the restaurant (two things that they already do under the tipping system!)?

Points #2 and #3 are similar and are based on my distaste for the social divide between rich and poor. Even if I concede point #1 to you and agree that service is really better in the US because of the tipping system, that still doesn’t make the injustice acceptable. And if you’re an American waiter that disagrees with #2 and #3 and you think you make more in the tipping system than in a flat salary system, then A) there’s still some flat salary that would equal your tipping income, and B) you must be one abnormally charming and attractive person.

I’d really like to hear the opinion of someone who has worked as a waiter on both continents.

If you disagree with me, please try to avoid ad hominem arguments attacking me as a cheapskate. I tip when I’m in the US because it’s not the waiters’ fault that the system is broken. If you’re going to argue, tell me why you think the American tipping system is better than the flat salary, flat price system of Europe.

No, I don’t know how to fix the problem, other than a blanket law and going cold turkey. It’s painful, but I watched Europe convert to a new currency and it only hurts for a year or two. Ditto for the metric system. You just have to do it and recover from the change.

Update – 2009-09-17

I admit that I never really liked my argument in this post. It’s the first post that I sent to someone to see if he had any ideas on how to improve the argument (he didn’t). The main weakness is that my argument is entirely based on trying to put myself in someone else’s shoes, trying to imagine what it is like to work a job I have never worked. One of the reasons I write these posts is to help myself organize my thoughts about a particular topic. Often times I don’t have things very clear even when I finish the post. This is why I asked openly for opinions from waiters with experience in both continents.

I certainly didn’t expect the level of response this post received. A fellow blogger by the name of Teleburst clearly disagreed with me strongly, because he wrote more than six thousand words, well over six times the length of my original post, informing me just how wrong I was. I have read every last one of them, and I must say that, when he gets around to it, he makes some very good points and raised some important issues I had not thought of. The restaurant and bar cultures in the US and Europe are sooooo different that – as I surmised in my original post – it’s really impossible to compare the two in a way to isolate tipping as a variable.

This has been a learning experience for me. Primarily it has humbled me into realizing that my ability to empathize with others is a lot weaker than I assumed. It sounds to me like professional waiters, at least in the US, are a lot happier than I originally assumed they must be. Tipping is yet another issue where both sides have to be classified as different, but not necessarily better or worse.

Thank you to Teleburst for his patience in loquaciously educating me, despite me not being very nice to him at all.

 
  • http://simonlitton.wordpress.com simon

    On the one hand I agree (during the “I don’t tip” speech in the first scene of Reservoir Dogs I kept thinking “Yes! Yes!”).
    On the other hand I think the level of service in Europe varies enormously, and when, as is often the case, you get bad service, you can’t punish them by withholding the tip.

    • http://www.erik-rasmussen.com/ Erik R.

      Mr. Pink was always my favorite. I love Steve Buscemi.

      If “no way to punish” is a valid argument in favor tipping, then we should implement tipping on every transaction in the economy.

  • Paul

    Not tipping is very very hard for newbie Americans abroad. Especially now, when they are weak in language or dialect skills, they want to be liked, and they are used to expecting friendly (I like you!) behavior on their way out, partly because they are admired for their tip. Sort of a dessert. Sometimes, but I think much less often, high tipping is actually based on “I’m a regular here, and they will recognize me and treat me well knowing I tip regularly and well”. I think those people will be more able to adapt to the non-tipping environment, but they will still labor with the notion of extra money on the table buying them respect. The last person to adapt to non-tipping will be your mother, who, after working hard one year as a breakfast waitress for $2.00/hr. plus tips will forever want to increase the take-home pay of any person laboring as a waiter or waitress.

    One other point – you can’t fully trust the friendliness of a server in a tipping environment. I just finished reading your grandfather’s travelogue about their trip to Ireland in 1989. How beautiful the red-haired colleen was who waited on his needs! In a tipping environment, could you love her without suspecting her?

  • http://www.thegradys.net Alan

    I’m a regular here, and they will recognize me and treat me well knowing I tip regularly and well

    Paul, I totally agree with you on this. When Amy and I were kidless we tipped crazy big at the places that we frequented a lot. As a result (maybe), when we entered those places we were greeted with open arms and no matter how busy the place was, we jumped to the top of the drink queue.

    A German friend of mine were having a to tip or not to tip argument over the course of a few days once when I was in Munich. One night we went into a Very crowded bar… one that I had been in with another group a few nights earlier. On my earlier visit I probably gave the waitress the biggest tip she had seen in a long time. My second visit found my friend and I in a sea of bodies. We had been there only a few moments and through the crowd appears the waitress from my earlier visit. She hands me a beer and says, “welcome back”. My friend turns to me and says, “maybe there is something to this tipping thing”.

  • http://simonlitton.wordpress.com simon

    By the way, this guy is currently writing a book about tipping and the service industry in general.

  • http://kramblings.blogspot.com Kristin

    Oooh I could go on about this for days, as I spent almost a decade bartending and waiting tables, through uni and during my horribly paid magazine jobs. Tipping earned me a very good living, for an early-20something ($600+ a week, more if working weekends, in the 90s**). Don’t feel sorry for them. If they’re working at a decent place, they’re probably doing fine. If you enter the service industry, you know what you’re getting yourself into. Yes, it sucks doing salad dressing duty and cleaning up after messy children, but that stack of cash at the end is worth it, especially when they claim 15% of their sales to the tax man.
    **Of course, I am ‘abnormally charming and attractive’.

    Since moving to Euroland in ’01 I’ve been scolded by natives for overtipping. I feel it’s karmic, though – I was taken care of, now I want to take care of others; I also want them to take care of me next time around. This works.

    I agree with Simon that the level of service in Europe varies tremendously. I suppose I’d disagree with Erik’s (1) because in America, service tends to be consistently good, and in Europe it depends entirely on the location, type of place, your knowledge of the language, the waiter’s like/dislike of your nationality, etc. And I don’t go anywhere in Europe and expect good service, so when I get it, I reward it. If not, it’s 10% or the country’s norm. I do expect good service in America, though, and am rarely disappointed.

    And no, I would NEVER wait tables, bartend, etc. in Europe. Not worth the meagre salary.

  • teleburst

    Apparently, Erik doesn’t want real counter arguments to his post, because none of my posts are showing up.

    Oh well.

    • http://www.erik-rasmussen.com/ Erik R.

      This is the third time I’ve gotten similar “You’re censoring all my comments!” comments from you. I’m removing the link to your website, approving this comment (thus automatically approving all your future comments) just to see if you’re spamming me or not. Let the contradiction commence…

  • http://teleburst.wordpress.com/ teleburst

    Oh, you thought that I was spamming you simply because of the link. I also remove comments that have links to their websites but ONLY if seems that they’re generated by a bot. If you don’t want people to link to their own website, could you PLEASE let us know so that we can leave the mention of our own blogs out? I think it’s perfectly fine to have that restriction, but please let us know up front so that we don’t waste an hour constructing a careful reply comment as I did. As the operator of a non-commercial blog myself, I am senstive to getting spammed, especially by bots, but I personally don’t mind if people add their blog link to their comments. If you feel differently, I apologize, but it would have been nice to know the reason why instead of not knowing why.

    My original post was clearly not the product of a bot as I addressed each of your points. And my non-commerical blog is clearly on point so I didn’t think it would be a problem to link to it (it wasn’t about naked celebrities, weight loss or Viagra). I thought that you and others might want to read some of the background and see how I sometimes address issues important to your ideas about tipping (I’ve even discussed the tipping here vs tipping overseas argument in the past.) Some might even enjoy it!

    Feel free to delete this once you read it as it’s not intended to be as public a rebuke as you gave me. As it will be posted automatically, I hope you’ll read it and delete it promptly so it doesn’t clog up the comments section.

    If I have time in the near future, I’ll try to reconstruct the post. If by some miracle, you happened to save it (I don’t save deleted comments myself, so I certainly understand if you didn’t), I’d appreceate you reposting it so I don’t have to redo all that work.

    All the best,
    teleburst

    • http://www.erik-rasmussen.com/ Erik R.

      I’m sorry, teleburst, but the only comments in my database were (I’ve deleted a couple) of you saying that your comments were rejected. I’ve still seen no real substance from you other than complaining about my alleged dictatorial fist.

      I am truly sorry if your wise comments derailing my point of view were lost between your browser and my blogging software. Please repost your objections/opinions about this topic. I would love to hear your point of view.

      I do not mean to be condescending, but I have no choice but to be skeptical of contentless complaint comments from strangers. You have proven yourself to not be a bot and are even the polite type of human, and thus deserve my ear… Post away!

  • http://teleburst.wordpress.com/ teleburst

    Perhaps there was a glitch when I posted my first post. Basically, I commented on each of your points.

    I’ll try to find the time to reframe my thoughts.

    With humility, I offer this post as a stopgap:

    http://teleburst.wordpress.com/2009/07/28/why-tipping1314/

    This discusses the rationale and underpinnings of the tipping system in the US.

    But this conversation reminds me that I never followed up with a post regarding comparing the tipping system with the rest of the world, so this certainly hasn’t been a waste. I need to correct that.

    I’ll do it here first and then follow up on my own blog. Also, I’m going to post a link to your post here so that people can see your opinions on the subject, because I want to present both sides and try to show a full picture of the issue.

    My blog is called “So You Want To Be A Waiter”.

    Thank you for your consideration and I’m sorry that my original post got lost somehow.

    • http://www.erik-rasmussen.com/ Erik R.

      Okay, I’ve read your Why Tipping? post. Your points, as I see them, are:

      1) Tipping means less initial capital is needed to start a restaurant. I fail to see how this is obviously superior to European restaurants, or any other industry in the US where employee salaries are part of the initial budget to start a business. This is not a reason why tipping is superior to non-tipping.

      2) Changing the system would be difficult, and people don’t like change. Sure. Obviously. I think you’ll find that I said this in the last paragraph my post. This is not a reason why tipping is superior to non-tipping.

      And then you go on to say that this is just the groundwork for your argument that will be forthcoming in subsequent posts, but I’ve looked at several pages of your archives and found no other pro-tipping posts. Perhaps you could direct me there.

  • http://teleburst.wordpress.com/ teleburst

    One thing that seems to be screwed up is when someone tries to edit their comment after it’s posted. I tried to change something in yesterday’s comment and the edit screen just hung up after making the change. The same happened today when I tried to correct the misspelling of “certainly” in my last post. You might want to look into this…

    • http://www.erik-rasmussen.com/ Erik R.

      It sounds like your browser is having trouble with the javascript on my site. I’ve seen no such problems nor received any other complaints.

  • http://teleburst.wordpress.com/ teleburst

    I just thought of something. Do you know whether your blogging software limit comments to a certain size? If so, this might have caused the original problem, because my comment wasn’t much shorter than your original post. Perhaps it was filtered out before you even got a chance to view it.

    It might be better for me to address this directly on my blog and then link to it here.

    What do you think?

    • http://www.erik-rasmussen.com/ Erik R.

      No, my blogging software (which is the same as yours) does not limit comment length.

      I’d prefer you leave your comments here, but that’s up to you. Make sure you copy them to the clipboard before hitting ‘submit’ just in case.

  • http://teleburst.wordpress.com/ teleburst

    Okay, I’ve read your Why Tipping? post. Your points, as I see them, are:

    1) Tipping means less initial capital is needed to start a restaurant. I fail to see how this is obviously superior to European restaurants, or any other industry in the US where employee salaries are part of the initial budget to start a business. This is not a reason why tipping is superior to non-tipping.

    2) Changing the system would be difficult, and people don’t like change. Sure. Obviously. I think you’ll find that I said this in the last paragraph my post. This is not a reason why tipping is superior to non-tipping.

    And then you go on to say that this is just the groundwork for your argument that will be forthcoming in subsequent posts, but I’ve looked at several pages of your archives and found no other pro-tipping posts. Perhaps you could direct me there.

    As I said clearly in my post, I actually DIDN’T follow up on that initial post.

    None of the things you listed are counters to the tipping arument. They are basic reasons why they exist here.

    I’d prefer you leave your comments here, but that’s up to you.

    I will do that. I have also deleted your header from my post and taken out the link back to your blog.

    BTW, my browser is the latest version of Explorer as is my version of Java. Just thought you should know.

    • http://www.erik-rasmussen.com/ Erik R.

      I will do that. I have also deleted your header from my post and taken out the link back to your blog.

      Wonderful. Now you have a post that says “I found some blog post on the internet that I disagree with that you’ll have to google for because I’m too angry to link there, and I might, if I have the time, respond to it.” That’s some great blogging.

      BTW, my browser is the latest version of Explorer as is my version of Java.

      Wow. This sentence is very telling. I’ll leave it as an exercise to the reader to find the mistakes in that sentence.

      Just so we’re clear, you’re going to get angry because I politely requested that you not steal my copyrighted material and, as a result, not leave your enlightened response to why I am wrong?

      • http://teleburst.wordpress.com/ teleburst

        Wonderful. Now you have a post that says “I found some blog post on the internet that I disagree with that you’ll have to google for because I’m too angry to link there, and I might, if I have the time, respond to it.” That’s some great blogging”.

        Why, thank you.

        Why should I drive traffic to your site after you got pissed that I tried to put a face on your blog?

        “BTW, my browser is the latest version of Explorer as is my version of Java.

        Wow. This sentence is very telling. I’ll leave it as an exercise to the reader to find the mistakes in that sentence”.

        I’d be interested in that myself.

        “Just so we’re clear, you’re going to get angry because I politely requested that you not steal my copyrighted material and, as a result, not leave your enlightened response to why I am wrong”?

        I’d say that I’m angry that you are accusing me of “stealing” your image. It was a good faith effort to help display your blog in a positive light. I have no personal use for your image. However, I do (and have) apologized for not asking you first. As I said, nobody has ever been annoyed that I showed their header as a graphic representation of their blog.

        As I’ve already said, I’ll be addressing your comments in toto on my blog when you get the chance to respond to my objections to your comments. To do so before you get the chance would do a disservice to you. But I am under no obligation to promote your blog considering your attitude about the image.

        Reply

        • http://teleburst.wordpress.com/ teleburst

          Oh, I get the mistake. I’m sorry to have written quickly. Obviously, what I meant was that I have both the most current versions of IE and Java. I suspect that you were able to decode it though.

          I suppose this is “telling” in some way. Basically, I guess it’s telling that I’ve tried to post quickly between some late shifts and doubles. I guess that makes me a bad person.

          • http://www.erik-rasmussen.com/ Erik R.

            Just to be clear, it was you that began things with an accusatory “you asshole!” tone here.

            “BTW, my browser is the latest version of Explorer as is my version of Java.

            Wow. This sentence is very telling. I’ll leave it as an exercise to the reader to find the mistakes in that sentence”.

            Okay, I’ll inform you. I’m a computer geek, and you’re a waiting expert, so I forgive you. “Explorer” is the program in Windows for looking at files on your hard drive. “Internet Explorer” is the web browser. I see that you’ve understood this now.

            However.

            Java and Javascript have nothing at all to do with each other. This mistake irks those of us that program in both languages at least as much as you were irked by reading my opinion that “tipping is dumb”.

          • http://teleburst.wordpress.com/ teleburst

            “Just to be clear, it was you that began things with an accusatory “you asshole!” tone here”.

            Wow, this is far and away different than what you wrote in your first reply to me:

            “You have proven yourself to not be a bot and are even the polite type of human, and thus deserve my ear… Post away!”

            And it’s funny – it was you who was pretty “assholic” with your ” Let the contradiction commence…” after throwing in some words like “spamming” in your initial response to my dismay that my initial post hadn’t come through because of some glitch. I thought I was pretty reasonable in the face of this (you didn’t bother to even email me to see what my problem was). And so did you, if the above quote is to be believed.

            Thanks for the info about Javascript. Frankly, “Explorer” is oft-used shorthand when used in context so I don’t mind being pegged as an anal computer techoid geek, but I’m pleased to be informed that Javascript is a browser issue, not an issue of the unrelated Java program. Still, you have an issue on my computer using Internet Explorer version 8.0.6001.18702 128 bit.

            “Java and Javascript have nothing at all to do with each other. This mistake irks those of us that program in both languages at least as much as you were irked by reading my opinion that “tipping is dumb”.

            Well then, I’m glad that I didn’t get as snarky with you as you got with me over this. Instead of making an obscure lefthanded comment about you personally, I tried to educate you, figuring that you made a rash judgment based on a lack of knowledge about the restaurant industry and having never been affected by tipping as a tipped employee. Nor did I mock you for not having clearly read a couple of my posts. I just figured, “Hey, the guy is probably busy and didn’t really read them closely”.

            Thanks for “forgiving me”. I forgive you for calling me a demeaned worker.

            Finally, you wrote” “I found some blog post on the internet that I disagree with that you’ll have to google for because I’m too angry to link there, and I might, if I have the time, respond to it.”

            Here is what I REALLY said:

            “I will address his points when time permits”.

            That’s a little different, wouldn’t you say?

            And when you say, “not leave your enlightened response to why I am wrong”, I remind you that you requested that I answer you *here*. which I did.

            Well, I’m now off until Saturday after pulling three doubles in a row. So, if you have any counters to things I’ve written other than what you’ve already written, I’ll include them in the wrap-up on my blog. Remember – you wanted me to respond here. I’ve done that and I’ve patiently waited for you replies (thanks for the couple that you have already written).

            Do I seem a bit ticked at this point? Why yes I do. I spent an hour writing a reply to you post which I duly submitted. It never showed up. I wrote a post basically asking why it didn’t show up and was I being muzzled after another comment showed up a day later. That too never showed up. So now I assume that I *am* being muzzled as it would be very hard to misconstrue these messages as coming from a spammer. If I got messages like this, I would probably contact the sender to find out what his or her problem was. Also, when I try to tell you that I can’t edit my replies after the fact, you basically dismiss it out of hand.

            So, now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, I await your responses and I’ll post a wrapup on my own blog no later than Saturday. To keep this from being unwieldier than it already is here, if I have a response to *your* response, I’ll post it in the wrapup and you’ll be free to comment further there. I’ve tied up too much of your comment area already.

  • http://teleburst.wordpress.com/ teleburst

    Part 1:

    1) Myth: Service is better in the US because of tipping.

    I too have lived in Europe (7 years in Germany). The dining culture is different in Europe than it is in the US. First of all, we have much larger restaurants that have to be staffed up. I live in a medium sized city (about a million) and within a 5 mile radius of me, I can count at least 25 restaurants that seat over 150 people. There are probably over 120 restaurants of that size in the metropolitan area. Restaurants in Europe tend to be much smaller. Most of our restaurants goes on a wait around 12 noon and 7pm almost every night (except for Sunday and Monday perhaps) because Americans tend to dine out between 12 – 1:30 for lunch and 7- 9pm for dinner). People wait between 30 minutes to 2 hours just to get seated. And Americans are far more focused on speed. If they don’t get greeted within 2 minutes, they start complaining. If they don’t get their first drink within 4 minutes, it’s horrible. How do I know? Because we have “secret shoppers” who grade us on these time standards.

    “Service standards”are more relaxed in Europe, which allows them to staff at lower levels than the US. Comparing service standards here and there are futile because there are too many variables. Europeans tend to treat dining out more socially than Americans do. They spend more time at table and aren’t as concerned about getting their entree five minutes after their salad. this allows a restaurant there to have 5 servers instead of 10. heck, in the restaurant that I worked at before this one, we had 10 servers (12 when the patio was open), 3 bartenders, a bar back and FIVE server assistants just to handle the crush. And you couldn’t get a table for at least 45 minutes if you got there after 6:30. and this was for a casual mass market restaurant that sat 175+ people.

    I ate a lot in Central Europe (although never in Spain) and was just fine with the slower pace. Many of the restaurants that I frequented only have a handful of servers (and were MUCH smaller). I might wait a couple of minutes at the door just waiting for someone to acknowledge me so I could be sat because the servers were also responsible for seating people. That would be unacceptable here in the States due to the expectations of Americans. However, I didn’t complain about it because that’s just the way things were. You adapted quickly.

    Here in the States, we don’t have a lot of street food. So, most of the dining, especially during the day, is funneled into restaurants. Hence the crush.

    That’s all I have time for right now since I’m going to work shortly. I’ll pick this up in the next couple of days.

    • http://www.erik-rasmussen.com/ Erik R.

      Thanks for this, Teleburst. It’s nice to have another anecdotal account about the differences between the dining experiences in US and Europe, particularly from a country where I have dined only a handful of times.

      I agree that Europeans are in less of a hurry than Americans. I count this as a win for the European side. Another difference is that the vast majority of American restaurants are huge franchised chains. How many of 25 restaurants close to you are of the TGIFridays, Applebee’s, Outback Steakhouse variety? And how many of the “small” restaurants you went to in Europe were owned by national corporations? This is exactly what I was referring to when I mentioned that tipping was about the rich (corporations) taking advantage of (paying shitty salaries to) the waiters in the US. Call me a liberal commie, but this goes against my moral values.

      I must point out, however, that you have not countered any of my arguments. Just saying, “It’s different,” doesn’t cut it. Of course it’s different. What I want from you is, “Why is the tipping system superior to the non-tipping system?”

      • http://teleburst.wordpress.com/ teleburst

        You can count it as a “win” for the European side, but it ignores the *reality* of my rationalization of tipping being better for this type of service.

        “How many of 25 restaurants close to you are of the TGIFridays, Applebee’s, Outback Steakhouse variety?”

        Probably about half. There are 5 high-end steakhouses alone (two of which are non-chains but none of which are of the “variety” that you mention). There are at least 2 American bistro independent restaurants large enough to fall into the 150 seat or more size. There are probably another 5 “independent” type restaurants of various types of the variety that you mention. The rest would be your TGI Fridays’ Chilis sort of places. And I didn’t count the handful of smaller “fine dining restaurants”, the ubiquitous Starbucks/cafe-sytle bakeries, Mexican restaurants, Chinese buffets, smaller Vietnamese pho shops. Throw all of those into the mix and you have another 30 restaurants, some of which like the Chinese buffets, tipping is only incidental and the servers *are* paid higher wages.

        ” And how many of the “small” restaurants you went to in Europe were owned by national corporations”?

        Many of them were family owned. And it’s easy to do that when you’re not servicing 600 people a day. It’s easy to pay a wait staff of 3 people a full wage, especially when Uncle Luigi is the chef.

        “This is exactly what I was referring to when I mentioned that tipping was about the rich (corporations) taking advantage of (paying shitty salaries to) the waiters in the US. Call me a liberal commie, but this goes against my moral values.”

        You are simply ignoring the difference in scaling from here and there. I can assure you that I’m not being “taken advantage of”. I, and most of by bretheren, are making more than most other service sector jobs. We are tipped a lower wage *because* of the fact that tipping is the system.

        America is quite different logistically than Europe. With the exception of places like Manhattan, the small family neighborhoor restaurant paradigm isn’t something that’s particularly successful there. Sure, it might be successful on a case by case basis, but not as a majority of the dining operations. This is because, let’s face it, America is a driving/commuting/parking lot society. This is based on geography. While I personally prefer the idea of mass transit/biking/walking/neighborhood shops of Europe, you can’t deny geography. While I prefer the more relaxed and quaintness of European dining, I can’t ignore how this is allowed by a wage system, and I can’t deny American’s impatience with just about everything, especially including dining.

        “I must point out, however, that you have not countered any of my arguments. Just saying, “It’s different,” doesn’t cut it. Of course it’s different. What I want from you is, “Why is the tipping system superior to the non-tipping system?”

        I must point out that I’ve only responded to the first of your points. Since it wasn’t a real point in the first place (you yourself said that it’s hard to compare the service in each environment), you made no case *against* tipping. You also didn’t show that it was a “myth”, while I showed how changing the system might actually be detremental to service. Ignoring the reality just doesn’t cut it.

        So, your “Myth Number One” doesn’t prove the point you were trying to make.

  • http://teleburst.wordpress.com/ teleburst

    Quickly, between a late shift last night and a double today:

    I maintain that each system has evolved a payment scheme that reflects the expectations of the diner. If you tried to change the system in Europe back to a tip system, chaos would ensue. It wouldn’t be reflective of the staffing requirements nor the expectation that you won’t be rushed. And if you tried to change the system here to a salary system, once again chaos would ensue. There is no more reason to change this system than to change the European system. Each dovetails well with the way restaurants work within the dining culture.

    Many Europeans find the bang bang dining pace and the constant interaction with the server annoying. Americans don’t always mind the slow pace of Europe, because, let’s face it – they’re “on vacation” most of the time. So, it’s easy to remember that slow pace as “good service” even though they wouldn’t tolerate the same pace in their neighborhood restaurant. And those of us who have lived there for any length of time adapt to the slower pace.

    As servers, we are not *only* motivated by the great tip, many of us are also beholded to the secret shopper. I (or somebody if I’m not available) have to greet my guest within 1 minute. I have to have a first drink on the table by 4 minutes. I have to mention the brand names of the bottled water I carry, I have to check back after the deliver of each course within 2 minutes. I have to offer dessert. I have to offer coffee…the list goes on and one. This checklist reflects the demands of the American diner. Personally, I’d love it if everyone slowed down, but you think it’s hard NOW to get a table at the most humble Chili’s in the most humble strip mall in surburia at 7pm? Good god, we’d have to have twice the restaurants with double the size. And restaurants are already almost on every corner.

    I’ll take on Point Two later when I can.

    • http://www.erik-rasmussen.com/ Erik R.

      And you think that the system of low salaries and expected tipping is the root cause of this “drink on table in 4 minutes” service in the US? I’m not so sure about that causation.

      Are these strict rules you have to follow passed down from the franchise corporation or are they specific to the locale owner? Or are they self-imposed by you in an attempt to better your tips?

  • http://teleburst.wordpress.com/ teleburst

    “And you think that the system of low salaries and expected tipping is the root cause of this “drink on table in 4 minutes” service in the US? I’m not so sure about that causation”.

    I think that it’s probably the other way around. Americans are impatient (and restaurants are large an need lots of service people to help wait on them) *so* tipping has evolved as the most efficient transactional system. And it’s a win/win/win, which is rare today. It’s a win for the restaurant – they get to keep their payroll low (which has the benefits that I outlined on my blog), the server gets to act almost as an independent contractor paid on commission based on the level of service that he or she provides, and the guest sees lower menu prices upfront and has the ability to weigh in on the service that he or she receives (many people actually like the idea of directly rewarding the person that they’re waiting on). There’s very little downside. the main downside from a server’s standpoint is that we don’t get enough hourly wage for our tax withholding so we end up owning taxes at tax time (we don’t actually *owe* more taxes, just less has been withheld throughout the year and if we don’t make extra withholding out of our tips, we hit hit with a big bill at tax time).

    “Are these strict rules you have to follow passed down from the franchise corporation or are they specific to the locale owner? Or are they self-imposed by you in an attempt to better your tips”?

    In my case, this is a 100-point-based form that people who have signed on as ‘secret shoppers” have to fill out based on our specific restaurant (there are probably about 30 things they’re expected to report on, from the time they make their phone reservation to the valet service that we use to whether we “thanked them for dining with us tonight on their way out”. My last restaurant (a completely different style of restaurant) actually used the same company but some of the questions were different and the time standards weren’t the same down to the second (every restaurant tailors their form to their own style of service). These “steps of service” are based on many years of research by the dining industry based on the fact that we Americans are quite fussy and imatient when it comes to dining. The time standards I quoted are pretty close to the type of standards that you’ll find in most restaurants, whether or not they use a secret shopper service. They reflect current expectations from US diners.

    We are expected to get a perfect score everytime. anything less than a 90 is considered by my management a “bad shop”. Miss two 5 pointers (like forgetting to mention the bottle water by name), and you’re pretty much there. And we’re not the only ones graded, so if the valet doesn’t open the door for someone, BANG! that’s 2 points.

    The scores definitely affect your job. But no, not all restaurants use a mystery shopper service. But I brought it up to show the kind of service points that we require here that aren’t required in most European restaurants.

    When I came back to the states, my ex came over and brought her mom. I took them to the only German restaurant in town. They had one server for about 10 tables (at least 6 of them were seated) and she was also having to seat. We were sitting when I saw a four top come to the door. “Watch this”, I told my ex. I’ll bet that within a minute, they’re start looking around for the “hostess”. Sure enough, hands went on hips, heads started swiveling, foreheads started creasing. It took the server close to 4 minutes to seat them. By then, they were almost livid. As they got seated next to our table, all we could hear was grumbling about how long it took them to get a table. My ex was laughing – “You guys are pretty spoiled, aren’t you”. I said, “Just wait until it takes them 10 minutes to get their beer”. Sure enough, all we could hear was annoying grousing about how slow everything was.

    I think that moment crystallized a lot of things that I had already subconciously noted about my time over there (and no, I actually wasn’t back in the restaurant business at that point). I was actually a disspassionate/amused observer at the moment.

    don’t get me wrong – I prefer the european way of life personally. I like things close, I like to be able to use mass transit, I like the smaller scale of restaurants and the slower pace. But I can’t ignore the reality. and the reality is that the tipping system seems like the best fit for a “turn your table/I want to be seated now /give me my drink yesterday” mentality.

    But I’m not through with my comments. I haven’t started on the second and third of your points.

    I’ll get to them when I can.

  • http://teleburst.wordpress.com/ teleburst

    As far as the second point, I think it’s a bit presumptuous to decide for someone else what they might find “demeaning” or might actually *be* demeaning.

    The tip turns a subservient service position into a sales position, which affects the “social standing” somewhat. The tip is somehwat analagous to a commission in the sense that it’s based on a percentage of what is sold. It’s a little different in its application of course, since it’s not only broken out separately and not included in the price of the product, it’s also”voluntary”. Many commissions can certainly be negoiated (auto sales being one of the primary examples, but having been a sales representative I know that commssions are often negoiated in other areas as well).

    I am happy being compensated on the quality of my service (generally speaking, of course). If I”m a salary person, I’m no better than a *true* servant. Personally, I find this more “demeaning” than getting paid for the quality of my service directly by the guest who received my service.

    The fact that someone might, on rare occasion, act like you describe, it’s far more common for the guest to appreciate the type of service that they’re being given. We have a big responsibility to the guest, and most of them are appreciative and aren’t at all like “master and servant”. I’m speaking from the viewpoint of someone who has waited on over 10,000 tables in three different levels of restaurants for over 11 years as a server and 4 as a manager in a restaurant (I got the job during my first waiting job when I got back from Europe – I also had over 2 years as a server in the early 70s and 2 years in 1980 – 1982.)

    I also think it’s a plus to be able to pay a true price on a product that reflects the amount of service that you received and it’s probably one of the most efficient, as the consumer gets to pay for the service that they receive separately. I usually don’t get a lower price on my tuneup if I’m ignored when I bring my car in and I have to wait an extra hour to get it finished because most of the mechanics are on lunch. I don’t get a lower price on the widget that I buy in a department store if a stocking clerk was rude to me.

    If I’m in Germany, I’m going to have to pay the service charge whether I get good service or not unless I “negotiate” with the owner. So, “negotiation” isn’t a distinction that is unique to tipping. If I am surly and slow, then I probably shouldn’t get compensated as well as if I were pleasant and efficient. Sadly, inefficiency and unengaged gets a pass way too often in our commercial interactions. I’d argue that tipping gets an advantage in this area. I don’t see tacking on a mandatory service charge which pays the wait staff has any inherent advantages.

  • http://teleburst.wordpress.com/ teleburst

    Your third point doesn’t do much to further your argument.

    Actually, rich people help subsidize the server by spending lots more money than the average person would. Are there some rich people who screw a server by not tipping approriately? Sure there are. But less off people screw servers as well. Do all less off people screw servers? Of course not.

    The tipping system is far from broken, which is a “myth” that you yourself has just cooked up.

    I could easily find 5 reasons why tipping is better than service charges, but you won’t find me advocating for people in a continent that I don’t live in living in a situation where I haven’t consdered all of the “issues” and possible ramifications of change. I don’t claim that because tipping seems better to me, Europeans should adopt it. I know better because I know that there are significant social and financial factors that are at play.

    Since you seem to take offense to it from a social and political standpoint, just ask yourself if those greedy restauranteurs are going to pay me what I’m making now if they add service charges. I don’t think so. I actually like the idea that most of my money comes directly from the people I serve, not from the “restaurant-industrial complex”. It’s far easier for that big comglomerate to screw me every day than for a random person out of 100 to screw me every few days.

    Here’s what will happen. Restaurants add 15% service charge. Even if they passed that service charge directly over to me, I’d be in the hole almost 5% of my sales. My income would drop about 25% overnight. and, even if they took those service charges and folded them into their cash flow and paid me a straight salary as they do in Europe, I don’t think that restaurants can afford just adding the difference back out of their own pocket. The average bottom line profit on all full-service restaurants runs between 5 – 7%. Obviously, some do so well that they get into double digits, but they’re rare. There are also some that barely squeak by.

    In my former restaurant, a large restaurant that seats almost 200 and sells around 5 million a year, they required about 177 manhours a day from their sub-minimum wage employees. That’s what we needed to manage doing 600 – 800 covers a day. Now, imagine going from 2.13 an hour to the roughly $13 – $18 an hour we were making with tips. If you run the math, you’ll see that there is probably a shortfall of serveral hundred thousand dollars with the addition of the income of a 15% service charge. Even if you added a 20% service charge, I personally don’t trust the restaurant to pass all of that money along. Maybe you have more faith in the industrialists than I do.

    You write:

    “I admit that I have never worked as a waiter, but I have often imagined myself in their shoes, and it’s this empathy that feeds my distaste in the American tipping system. I can’t imagine that it’s more common for a waiter to see a tip and think, “Hey, wow! What a nice tip!” than for him to see a tip and mumble, “Cheapskate!” under his breath. Surely the latter is at least twice as common.”

    You shouldn’t imagine anything about it. why not? Because it can lead to some wrong conclusions. For the overwhelming number of servers in the States, it’s FAR more common to get an above average tip (above 15% percent) than a below average tip. I’ve averaged around 18 – 19% since I’ve been a server in 4 joints (two of them mass market $20 per per head/dinner, one of them $45 per head/dinner and my current one $75 per head/dinner. I don’t know any servers out of the hundreds that I have known or worked with that haven’t averaged over 15% for any time frame over a couple of days period. Most of us, and I’m going out on a limb here, average around 17% day in and day out if you run an average of at least a week (because, let’s face it, there might be a werid day or two tucked in there). Believe it or not, I average over 20% if you look at the post tax total instead of the pretax total, because more people tip on that total than on the pre-tax subtotal. AVERAGE over 20%. And I’m not unusual, or the greatest server that ever lived or look like Cary Grant or Angelina Jolie, for that matter. Having said that, because of tipout to fellow service workers, I don’t get to keep all of that money. Yes, there’s some distribution of income. I probably walk with about 13%. But I can guarantee you that some of the “service charge” moeny would also get to go to those bartenders and server assistants and food runners that currently get paid less than minimum wage.

    If it sounds like I don’t want to change the status quo because it would hurt ME, the server, you’re spot on. But it’s not just me as an individual, it’s a collective “server me”.

    If you want to argue against tipping, here are the real reasons:

    The state (i.e. the Federal Government) gets shorted on tax income by many servers due to underreporting (I’ve always reported 100% of my income for several reasons – first of all, it’s the right thing to do and I don’t want to be a tax cheat. Second, my Social Security is based on my income. I think it’s stupid to short that. And third, my ability to get credit is based on my income) This means that money that could go to the social network that a good government provides its people and that the US falls short on by modern standards doesn’t get paid into the system. You could argue that this is one of the reasons that the US can’t seem to get a really good health care system rolling. Having said that, most tip income actually does get reported these days due to tighter enforcement by the IRS and because most people pay their tips by credit cards, which leave a paper trail (I’d say 95% of my transactions are credit card based).

    Tipping often leaves the server paying a big tax bill on April 15th. However, the server isn’t paying more taxes, they’re just having less able to be withheld, so really, this is a server not paying in extra withholding taxes on his or her own throughout the year. It would be like condeming the checking system based on someone who bounces a lot of checks.

    A few people are offended by being put into the position of judging service standards. Some of their problems are: “I think this should be the job of the restaurant to reward or penalize based on performance”. “It makes me uncomfortable to potentially dock someone’s pay because they didn’t provide very good service. Once again, that shouldn’t be on me”. “It adds added unnecesary complexity to the transaction”. “I like to pay one amount, not two”. “I don’t like to have to whip out a calculator and do higher math when I’m finishing up my dining experience”. “I don’t like the idea of people playing up to me just for my tip”. These are things I’ve read on the internet and I’m sure that there are a tiny minority of people who feel strongly about these issues (there might be a larger minority that believes somewhat in one or more of those points). However, I’ve never heard any of these in real life. Most people tip almost reflexively and with little apparent turmoil or conflict. But I don’t deny that those feelings might be there for some.

    the thing is, the American people overwhelmingly prefer tipping to service charges, although, when asked, they would like to see servers paid more than below minimum wage. Both of these are documented in polls. The thing is, when asked the second question, they don’t add “if it means that your dining price would go up. I’ll bet that figure would erode.

    Sorry to be so wordy. The last thing I would add is that the effect of paying a server more on the menu price is already easily seen if you compare the menu prices of chains in California where they already pay $8 an hour and in Tennessee, where they only pay 2.13 an hour. You’ll find that the menu prices are around 9 – 10% higher with tipping in place in both locations. A couple of percentage points might be based on higher rent and utilities and the like, but most of it is because of the higher payroll costs, payroll being the second highest expense, right behind food, for a restaurant.

    That’s all I should write right now because it’s already lengthy enough. But I’d leave you with this – with a tip, there’s no middleman. There’s no institution to mess with it. It’s the economically most efficient way to pay for a service. directly to the service provider, not filtered through a corporation.
    .

  • http://teleburst.wordpress.com/ teleburst

    Interesting perspective here:

    http://www.eyeonspain.com/forums/posts-long-1085.aspx

    I take this with the obvious grain of salt, but since Spain lags behind the rest of the EU in terms of wages in general, I don’t doubt it all that much.

    Personally, I haven’t made as low as €15,000 in a decade (when I first got started). I’ve averaged over €22,000 (with the hourly 2.13 an hour thrown in) since the late 90s. My best year was 2007, when I earned €28,000 (it’s been down the last two years due to the worldwide recession, but it’s still sitting at €25,000. Admittedly, I work at a high end place now, but I made €20,500 slinging food at a high volume mass market place two straight years in a row. And did it working around 30- 34 hours a week.

    And I’m not unusual by any stretch of the imagination.

    I wouldn’t cry too much for us Argenti..I mean Barcelona.

  • http://teleburst.wordpress.com/ teleburst

    Thank you for the opportunity to present my viewpoint. Please apologize the many typos – I’ve been trying to squeeze in a response between some fairly long shifts and turnarounds. I would have cleaned some of them up through post-posting edits, but, as I said, editing doesn’t work when I try it. It just hangs up. I don’t have those type of problems on other forums.

    I’ll be condensing some of these arguments into a post or two on my blog once we wrap up the dialogue (I’m sure you’ll have some comments about my rebuttals). Since you’re sensitive to copyright issues, I’ll try to restate your objections to tipping in my own words instead of quoting you directly. I’ll let you know when this happens so that you can decide if I’ve been fair to your arguments when I restate them.

    Thanks again.

    • http://www.erik-rasmussen.com/ Erik R.

      Quoting a paragraph or two (with a link!) is fine. It just seemed extreme to take my blog header like that.

  • http://teleburst.wordpress.com/ teleburst

    “It just seemed extreme to take my blog header like that”.

    Well, I apologize again. I always post the header of blogs that I link to. It’s intended as an homage, I guess. Usually, the words some along for the ride. Yours didn’t and it came across as only a picture. You’re the first person to ever complain about the visual promoting of their blog, but I’ll keep it in mind that some might not like it the next time that I link to a blog.

    I won’t be posting any links to your blog though. People can find it on their own. And now, off to work…

  • http://letterstosg.com Lance

    I just want to say that I stand by my earlier comment on this thread, and am pleased to see that each of you has come ’round to my point of view.

    • http://www.erik-rasmussen.com/ Erik R.

      Hmmm.. I must have deleted your earlier comment because I disagreed with it at the time. You were totally right, though.

  • http://www.erik-rasmussen.com/ Erik R.

    I’ve posted my final thoughts on this topic in an “Update – 2009-09-17″ section at the bottom of the post. Thanks again to all who commented.

    • http://teleburst.wordpress.com/ teleburst

      Thanks for the update (and your kind words). Thank you for using “loquacious” instead of “verbal diarrhea”, a phrase that I often apply to myself.

      And to run the risk of more “loquaciousness”, I’m actually glad to see this argument from someone other than someone who has gone overseas for a vacation and come back thinking that it’s a better system over there without any real foundation. Many times, we come to rash judgments based on sketchy or incomplete information and that’s the case when someone only spends a week or two traveling overseas. They forget that when on vacation, they actually *want* a more relaxed dining experience and don’t have to worry about getting back to the babysitter or making the movie or only having an hour before they get back to work. At least you’ve had a chance to adapt and even revel in the Euro dining mode. You can certainly be forgiven for not thinking about the limitations and requirements of a system that you haven’t seen for almost a decade.

      I’ve learned several things here. First, ask a fellow blogger if they’re comfortable with having their header as part of the post, especially if you can only save it as “background” not as an “image” (which usually includes the title of the referenced blog). Second – Javascript is not related to Java the program. I didn’t know that. And third, if a comment doesn’t show up, perhaps *I* could contact the author of the blog myself before assuming that I’ve been censored.

      I’ll be performing my own wrapup, with included linkback to this blog of this topic before Saturday (probably today). I welcome Erik or anyone else to comment on it. Erik, I hope you don’t mind, but I’ll quote your points in their entirety so that I don’t run the risk of mischaracterizing your original positions. I’ll probably do it as a 4-parter to keep it manageable (three on the original points and the fourth on your update).

      This has been fun, even with the bumps in the road.

      • http://www.erik-rasmussen.com/ Erik R.

        Teleburst, you have my permission to copy and paste sections of my post into your own blog. I look forward to reading your posts.

        Doing it in four parts is a good plan. That way you can keep each post under 10,000 words. :-)

        • http://teleburst.wordpress.com/ teleburst

          You have more faith in me than I do .

          Right now, I’m the middle of a Top Chef recap that’s taking longer than I anticpated. I’ll get on this as soon as I’m finished.

          If brevity is the soul of wit, then I’m halfway there…

    • Josh

      While I’m loath to jump into this conversation at this late date, here is an article from today’s NYT that addresses the issue on the side of moving the U.S. to a service charge model: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/18/opinion/18damrosch.html Teleburst, thoughts?

      • http://teleburst.wordpress.com/ teleburst

        She makes some good points. One of the arguments for the service charge system is that it encourages “professionalism” amd makes it more of a career thing (although I think that there can also be danger of a laisse-faire attitude that could creep in as well). I don’t deny that. In fact, it’s one of the reasons that a German waiter can get offended if you try to tip them heavy – they don’t think that they need your “charity”.

        Ms. Damrosch writes from the perspective of someone who worked at a European-styled restaurant, NYC’s Per Se (which she did), one of the most expensive restaurants in the country. It has 18 tables. It costs $275 per person for their 10 – 12 course meals (service included). Their ala carte Peach melba is $40! She *has* written a book about her experiences and I keep meaning to get it.

        It makes sense for a restaurant like that to go the European route. Dining there is a 3 hour experience. I’m not sure if any of the advantages would transfer to Chili’s or even a pricey restaurant such as the one that I currently work at (we’re at about $70 a head).

        If you want to see what menu prices would do under a service charge, just look at the Per Se example. Back in late 2005, when he decided to go service charge included, the price of dining there was $175 per person. Even if you rolled 20% into the price, it would only be $210. In 4 years, the price has increased almost 25%. In the 4 years that I’ve been waiting at my current restaurant, the price has gone up about 10% (same with our own Manhattan store, BTW).

        People think that you can just add on what the guest would normally pay and it won’t affect the menu price (other than the added service charge). Unfortunately, restaurant costs don’t work that way. Once the service charge is sucked into payroll, it becomes another part of the metrics of the restaurant. Plus, a payroll system can never be as efficient as the current system. You will always be paying for “dead hours” (the time that we set up the restaurant, the times that the restaurant is overstaffed due to the unpredictability of business, etc.). For a typical American restaurant, I think that tipping offers the most efficiencies, even if it’s at the expense of added professionalism.

  • http://www.thegradys.net Alan

    when he gets around to it

    Yes, I must agree. :)

    I agreed with Teleburst on almost every point. BUT… if he was writing a book and I was his editor, I would have to recommend that he quit being so wordy and get to the point. My eyes were glazing over as I read.

    I think both sides were a bit testy in their tone and manner at times, but it definitely has been an interesting discussion back and forth.

    • http://teleburst.wordpress.com/ teleburst

      Oh, I agree. If I ever take the concept past a conceit and actually shop a book, a good editor will be absolutely essential. Mission critical.

  • http://teleburst.wordpress.com/ teleburst

    I just wanted to say that I’ve now posted the entire exchange on my blog (finally!).

    Thanks to Erik for indulging my verbosity.

    If Erik or anyone wishes to further comment, it might be good if you address those comments there, as I’ve already overwhelmed the comment section here. All comments, either positive or negative, will be welcomed. Spammers will not :g:. If you do comment, you are free to post the links to your own blogs or websites. I don’t use that as an indication of spamming. However, it has to be clear that you are actually discussing the content of the blog. Posting something generic like “Hey good stuff…keep up the good work! I read a lot of blogs on a daily basis and for the most part, people lack substance but, I just wanted to make a quick comment to say I’m glad I found your blog. Thanks,)” will probably be not approved. Yes, this is an actual comment that I received twice in the past couple of days by someone running a commercial website.

    My blog can be found at http://teleburst.wordpress.com/

    Thanks again Erik,

    Teleburst