Tipping had been on my mind for a while over the summer. I’d just spent a year in France before going on holiday to the USA, and one of the biggest differences I noticed was tipping culture. I went from a country where the most you would tip is a few coins in a restaurant, to a place where almost every service job relies on tips and you are constantly expected to hand out dollar bills to top up the tiny wages servers are paid.
When the Evening Standard uncovered the scandal that restaurant chains were abusing the tipping system, it seemed a perfect time to address the issue.
This article was originally published on 3rd September 2015 on the Impact website, the University of Nottingham’s student magazine.
In light of the revelation that some UK restaurant chains – Côte, Bills and Las Iguanas to name a few – are withholding tips meant for their staff, the government has launched an investigation into tipping practices in UK restaurants. Trade union Unite has hit back saying the scope of the investigation is not wide enough. But perhaps we should go even further. The system of tipping does not work. Here are six reasons why tipping should be outlawed:
1. We Are Paying Twice For Our Food
In normal transactions, the price you see advertised is the price you pay. At most restaurants, you are expected to top up the staffs’ pay so the restaurant does not have to pay them a decent wage. You are paying once to the employer and once to the employee. A decent wage and good working conditions would motivate staff to provide good service without the need for tips. After all, we expect our mechanics, postal workers, shop assistants and cabin crew to provide a service without being tipped.
Surprisingly, paying slightly more for our food in order for the servers to earn a higher wage is deeply unpopular among the British public. In a straw poll of over 13,000 people conducted bymoneysavingexpert.com, only 0.4 per cent said they would be willing for their money to go to the restaurant if it directly contributed to higher wages.
2. Restaurant Staff Have To Pay To Get Their Tips
In the same poll, the most popular choice (46 per cent of votes) was for tips to be split between all restaurant staff, including kitchen and cleaning staff. But, restaurant chains hide that they typically charge their staff 8-10 per cent of the gratuities for this “tronc” system, claiming the money goes on administration and credit card fees. Many restaurants also take more from this pool in order to pay for ‘staff incentives and competitions’.
This is where Business Secretary Sajid Javid wants to intervene. He is considering introducing a cap on the proportion of tips a restaurant can take. However, this is just one part of the wider problem and may be difficult to enforce in any effective way.
“Regardless of service quality, better-looking people are tipped more. Fatter people earn less in tips. Big-breasted women get better tips.”
3. Restaurant Staff Often Never Receive The Tips You Leave Them
Restaurant goers expect to tip their waiters and waitresses when they eat out. Large restaurant chains can take advantage of this and typically add a 12.5 per cent service charge to the bill. In places such as Côte and Bill’s none of this goes directly to staff. Both companies have defended this practice, claiming it allows them to pay staff a higher wage. Both pay below the living wage.
Las Iguanas and Turtle Bay effectively enforce a ‘pay to work’ policy on their staff, who must pay 3 per cent of their total sales (5.5 per cent in London) back to the company. This means that if a staff member serves £1000 worth of food in a shift, £30 would automatically go to the company. This is equivalent to almost five hours worth of work. If the staff member does not make enough in tips to pay this to the restaurant, the money is deducted from their wages.
4. Tipping Originated In An Unequal Class System
The origins of tipping lie in the British aristocracy in the 17th century. Although the root of the word itself is unclear, one theory is that the word is an acronym for “to insure promptitude”. Effectively, it was a small bribe paid to staff in the serving houses for speedier service.
The practice was exported to the USA in the late 19th century, as a way for the upper class to show off their wealth to each other. In the early 20th century, there was a large movement against the convention, as it was seen as creating an underclass paid by the upper class to be servile. This was seen as deeply un-American. Six states banned the practice. However, all anti-tipping laws were repealed in 1926 and the USA now has the highest tipping rate in the world.
“This means that if a staff member serves £1000 worth of food in a shift, £30 would automatically go to the company. This is equivalent to almost five hours worth of work.”
5. A Tip Is Not Based On The Quality Of Service
It is still true that tipping is used as a way of showing off. Although we may want to think that we give tips to reward good service, the fact is that the size of tip says more about the tipper than it does about the quality of the service. If you are trying to impress your date or your colleagues you would rarely be thinking about how friendly the waitress was when you throw down your cash on top of the bill.
It may seem like you will get better service in countries where tipping is more prevalent. This seems obvious when you compare, say, the over-friendly American waitress with the rude French waiter. But this difference is much more likely to be a result of much broader cultural differences. Tipping does not explain why American shop assistants are so friendly when they do not receive a gratuity; it also does not explain why service in Japan is seen as so good when tipping is not at all common there.
6. Tipping Is Discriminatory
Michael Lynn is the Professor is Food & Beverage Management at the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration. His opinion on tipping? “I think I would outlaw it… You could make the argument that tipping is a condition of employment that has an adverse impact on a protected class.”
Professor Lynn’s evidence comes from over 50 academic studies on tipping behaviour in the US. Although the tipping culture there is different from the UK, there is no doubt that some of his findings would be replicated in the UK. Regardless of service quality, better-looking people are tipped more. Fatter people earn less in tips. Big-breasted women get better tips. Black people are tipped less than white people. Usually as a society, we are concerned about these inequalities at work. It is bizarre that we still allow these pay gaps to exist through the practice of tipping.