On Tipping

I was reading a news article that talked about some Japanese restaurants in NYC that eliminates and bans tipping. They simply raised the prices by 15% to reflect the total cost to the customer. Because we’re talking about a Japanese restaurant and we’re talking about it being in NYC, I can only imagine how expensive it must be to begin with.

But it got me thinking about the whole tipping thing. It’s an interesting system to talk about because it has its pros and cons for both consumers and workers subject to this system. I have never worked in the restaurant industry, but let’s look at the pros and cons of the system for the workers first:

Workers’ Cons:

-You don’t know if you work harder for a table if they will stiff you with a low tip.

-You don’t know how much you’re taking home that night.

-You have to suck up more than you may want sometimes to get more money.

-If the 15% gratuity is included for a large group, you may get people like me who tend not to tip above the 15% because it’s already in my bill. I would have tipped 20%, and while I shouldn’t hurt the server for the restaurant’s policy, the fact is that the server chooses where they want to work. They could work somewhere with a 17% large group gratuity if it was that big of a deal. Nonetheless, even though the system was designed to help servers not get stiffed, it probably hurts the server more often than not.

-Some states allow restaurants to pay incredibly low wages to workers because the tips may make up for that. Those states should raise it to at least the minimum wage level, but this is a reality for some workers.

Workers’ Pros:

-If you work at a restaurant in a good area and/or a restaurant that has higher prices, you could end up with a nice amount of cash at the end of the day. A friend of mine who worked at Bubba Gump’s in Honolulu said it wasn’t uncommon to leave his shift on a weekend night (Friday and Saturday) with $400 in tips, on top of his hourly wage. He only worked evenings, so that’s a pretty good amount of cash (compare that to my $170 a day working an 8-hour shift).

This pro alone is worth exploring. Even if he only worked those two weekend days, he could make $800 or more for that week. I make about $850 a week, but I’m working 40 hours. While it’s probably fast-paced shifts that he’s working, if he pulls in that much money, I’d say he’s doing rather well. And what if you add a couple of weekday nights with a mere $100 a night? He’s still making $1000 a week and potentially working half as many hours as I. The tipping system can work well. Of course, as stated in the cons, there are certainly some Fridays/Saturdays where he would just make $200. Still not a bad amount…but if I’m talking about quitting my job and getting into the restaurant industry, I would hope for a bit more.

How about the pros and cons for us customers? Let’s see:

Customers’ Cons:

-If the service was really good or the cost of the food was unexpectedly higher, you may feel like you have to tip more, even if you didn’t want to. Frankly, I think if you’re going out to eat, you had better bring some leeway money for extra tipping, but…

-You may feel pressured to give more for bad service to avoid potential bad reactions from your server. Of course, really bad reactions are quite rare, but it can be something to keep in mind (again, you should go to the restaurant prepared to tip something).

-Even if you leave a big tip, some places split tips equally among the servers who were present that night (and sometimes among the food preparers). While this is more fair, it might not account for one waiter/waitress giving exceptional service.

-While the three times you think of tipping the most is for restaurants, haircuts, and taxi drivers, tipping for other services may seem annoying. Tipping a valet person or a bellman seems a bit excessive to me. Apparently, you’re supposed to tip airport rental car service shuttle workers as well. I feel bad because one of them actually lifted one of my bags for me…I probably should have given her at least $1. And while I don’t mind, I also think it’s a bit weird to tip a pizza delivery guy (more on this later).

Customers’ Pros:

-You can ‘be the better man’ and make someone’s day by tipping more than perhaps what is expected. I always tip 20% or more. With the cost of everything these days, if I can’t tip at least that much, I probably shouldn’t be at a sit-down restaurant, I think. A server doesn’t get to choose who walks into the restaurant that day, so why punish them for your stinginess? That’s the way I see it.

But seriously, I am already stingy which means that my bill is already going to be somewhat on the low end of things. I choose restaurants that aren’t too expensive to begin with. There was only one time in my life where I tipped a lot. I think it was 30%, but it’s because I had a major interview the next day. I got the job anyways, but I wouldn’t have known that when tipping. But why the heck not? If the haircut was $20, I only tipped $6. Assuming I was already going to give 20%, I don’t know why an extra $2 made my hairdresser so happy. It was memorable. It actually makes me feel good about giving somebody a slightly higher tip, even though I rarely do it.

What sparked this blog post were the comments on this news story. One commenter notes that by raising the prices by 15%, the store is being “deceptive and…very shrewd…” But if you’re like me and you think a 15% tip is too low in 2014, I would say this is actually more of a loss for the servers at the restaurant. But I presume that the restaurant is higher class, so I can assume that in the end, the establishment is making their dues. And as another commenter pointed out, you don’t have to choose to go somewhere that you think is expensive.

I think what bothers me about tipping is never the amount but more or less the times that it seems a bit strange to tip. For the three circumstances I mentioned earlier, they all seem to make sense to me. A server chats with you. A hairdresser chats with you and makes your hair look good (presumably). And a taxi driver gets you to your destination in one piece. As a tipping customer, I think it’s okay for me to ask the driver to slow down if I think he’s going too fast. Of course, I am also particular about the route that they take, and I think it’s within reason for me to ask for these things.

But there are some services I mentioned earlier that I don’t quite understand. The biggest one is pizza deliveries. My interaction with the guy/gal is extremely limited. So what am I really tipping them for? I can’t really know if my pizza was cold until I eat it, and even then, they have those heat bag things to ensure that the pizza comes very warm (gosh, I’m getting hungry now…). And him driving safe is on him-it has basically nothing to do with me. The time it takes to get the pizza is more determined by the amount of business that the pizza place has that night and how many workers that they have working at that time. None of that really affects the pizza delivery person, so…again, what service am I really getting from that specific driver? To make matters worse, many places now have a delivery charge of a couple bucks which does not go towards the driver. It gets a bit maddening now…so if someone would like to explain that to me, please do. All of that being said, I absolutely don’t mind tipping them a few dollars because that’s just the way it is.

In Japan, none of this exists. If the service wasn’t good, I won’t eat there again. It’s on the business to train its employees to do their job well. And in Japan, many sit-down “family” restaurants have buttons at tables so that you only call your server only when you’re ordering. These places also tend to have self-service systems for getting your own water (which seems a bit strange to Americans at first, if they’re used to not having to stand up to get drinks of any sort).

The last word I’ll say for now is that while there is no tipping in Japan, I noticed something interesting in the movie, “The Secret World of Arrietty”. One of the characters gives a deliveryman (I think that’s who it was) a cold drink, as it was a hot day. I am planning on giving the next delivery guy to my door some sort of snack food. In Japan, quite a lot (like seriously 90%) of these kind of foods I receive are ones I don’t want to eat. May as well give it to someone instead of throwing it away. In America, it’s all about money. I guess I could give them a snack, but…anyways, money is nice.