Is the anti-tipping movement coming back?

It has been about five years since there was a trendy push throughout North America for restaurants to abandon tipping models for service. Every “progressive” case was made against tipping from pointing out the compensation disparity between different restaurant roles to even claiming that tipping encourages racism (what doesn’t these days).

Experiments with non-tipping had previously been the domain of small, trendy establishments but in 2016 some large chains in the United States dove in on the no-tipping model and it looked like this trend may take off. Even up here we saw a local Earl’s restaurant give it a crack. Was the shift coming?

No. The no-tipping model failed abysmally. Pretty much every restaurant that tried it failed and had to go back to the old model if they could afford to stay open.

Now that we are facing a loss of over 50 percent of our small, independent restaurants, the anti-tipping forces are seeing opportunity. It is like a micro-version of the great reset. They want to take advantage of a crisis in order to have the state legislate socialist policies. The democratic method failed so they want to do it by force. The pattern is always the same. If those damn consumers and businesses won’t willingly accept their model, they want the state to force them to.

Why does the left hate tipping so much?

It isn’t because it causes racism or any of that baloney.

The bottom line is that tipping is pure, merit-based pay. Harder working and ambitious front end staff make much more money than the less motivated ones. The bartender who makes good drinks with a friendly attitude makes more money than the surly one who goes through the motions. The server who hustles and picks up the extra tables will make more money than the one who hides in the break room. Giving the customer a good dining experience is paramount as it directly impacts the tip at the end of the meal. All of this is odious to a person who feels that rigid pay scales and union-style seniority models should be more important than actual employee performance.

I owned a pub for five years. I sold just before the pandemic nightmare began. With the world becoming increasingly cashless, it is much easier to track the numbers and see which individuals are making more in tips. The differences are striking. Some of our best servers would average 15 percent in tips while the grumpy or lazy ones could drop as low as a 6 percent average. Front end work is an artform and a skill. Some people are far better at it than others and it shows in the tips. If you take away the ability to tip, rest assured service will not rise to the level of the best of them. It will drop towards the level of the worst. There are many folks who put in a good day of work without needing a tip or bonus system and there still will be some good servers and bartenders even if they don’t get tipped. Don’t kid yourself thinking that those people will continue to put in the exemplary effort that they used to though. Once they are paid the same as the laziest of servers, they won’t feel the need to go above and beyond and the consumer will lose.

I traveled Australia and got to enjoy the tip free environment. Yes, it works but it is not pleasant. If you like high prices and self-service, then it is for you. I don’t care for cafeteria style service where you have to wait in line to order and then fetch your food when your number is called while getting up to fetch your drinks one by one. This is how businesses have adapted to the tip free model. High prices and limited service. You only get good table service at the most high priced of establishments.

Dining out is an experience. The experience is not simply ordering and eating. It is interacting with the servers and being able to have a social experience with others who you are dining with while not having to deal with cooking, serving, table clearing etc. A tip system keeps this kind of experience enjoyable and affordable.

There is an imbalance of pay between the front end and back end of a restaurant. We try to balance it with a tip-out system where the servers pay a portion of their tips into a pool which is split by kitchen staff. Even after that though, kitchen staff tend to make much less than front end staff despite their working their asses off. It is a damn tough job in the kitchen and the quality of food is as important as the quality of service. Restaurant owners are constantly working to keep that situation balanced and it is tough when you work in an industry with a 5 percent average profit margin.

So why not just raise prices in order to pay kitchen staff more? Ahh if only it was that easy.

Food service is a fickle and tough industry. When you raise prices even a small amount, there will be an associated drop in sales. That is much of why no-tip models failed. Not only does the service go to crap, but people shy away from the high menu prices. Oh I know, all sorts of hipsters claim they will spend extra in order to give every restaurant worker a “living wage” (whatever that may be). They are lying. As prices go up, diners stay home. Just a hard cold reality in the industry.

Whenever this pandemic nightmare ends, we will see the few surviving food service establishments trying to recover. A tip system greatly reduces the need for heavy cash reserves and cash flow which would come with paying front end staff $25 per hour in a tip free system. The ability to keep menu prices reasonable will help them keep the gears turning as well.

There are many changes that some are hoping to implement on the back of a tragedy. With no-tip models having been universally rejected by workers, business owners and consumers, it leaves only government intervention to make it possible. There are advocates pushing for just such legislation right now. Be sure to stand up and tell these advocates to go to hell if we want to save what little remains of the North American small restaurant and pub industry.

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