Friday, February 7, 2014

Are guests obligated to tip you?

(Home Alone 2 is not a good source of information on how to tip.)
Tips. Such an amazing tool at increasing our earnings. Yet, how much is it really worth? Are tips sustainable, lasting and worth the low paying positions they come with? What is a tip, and should it be considered the obligation of the guest? These are the questions I'd hope to answer in this blog article.

The basics of wine knowledge for new servers

I've often been outspoken on my opinion for what constitutes a tip. But at the same time, I've found myself feeling anxious, betrayed or outright angry when I've gotten bad tips, or no tips at all. I strive to outperform myself in all areas, and do better on a progressive scale, never getting complacent, and never taking experience for granted. Recently, Scott Young raised this question a number of times in various blog posts concerning both the history of tips, and decisions US congress has made concerning claiming tips as earnings in your income tax.

(Although arcade tokens are appreciated, you can't really consider this a tip.)
First and foremost, I feel the urge to state my view on what a tip is, before going any further. In its basic form, a tip is a payment of gratuity provided as a way of showing thanks for awesome service. But where does it go from there? More recently, tips have been viewed as an obligation from the customer, and often make up the bulk of earnings for those in hospitality. 
What's happened over time is this: customer service industries have had a culture of tipping in exchange for hard work and good service.  Over time, currency has been devalued by inflation, but minimum wage hasn't risen to match inflation. In the hospitality industry, the practice is that you can pay people close to minimum wage, because it doesn't take any special training or credentials to be a professional in hospitality. What this also means is, if your employer had a choice, they would pay you even less; and this can be seen in the fact that a lot of restaurants and bars don't pay overtime, or don't pay their employees past their scheduled hours, even if they stay late to settle up tables. Moreover, some establishments force their employees to pay for dine and dashes, even having them sign contracts pledging them to do so; and again, the legality of this is all up in the air.

(These would all be good tips in their respective countries.
Wait a sec. Canadian Tire money? No... don't leave that.)
So what gives? What's going on that employees work past their scheduled hours, or settle for a job that doesn't give overtime. Heck, they won't even pay you enough to get you over the poverty line in most cases! What's happening, are tips. Because servers make tips, they've grown a tough skin to unfair treatment and set a new standard for employers to give them the shaft.  Essentially, the current status quo is that a good server can get by on good tips, and that you'll make more tips in exchange for your skill and quality service. So they've basically obligated the customer to make up for what they're not paying you by having guests pay a never agreed on percentage of their bill, directly to you.

In a lot of cases, what the servers make in tips, makes up for what they lost in wages. However, in most cases there's an unfair proportion of wealth being given to people who work less or more than someone else on the team. Worse yet, there's an even worse distribution of wealth going to people who work in establishments with low average tips per customer. The problem here is that you just can't control your tips in the way that you'd like to. Don't get me wrong, here. You can do a lot to improve, and even double or triple your tips. Sometimes this just isn't enough though. If you're working a support position in the kitchen, on the bar, or as a host, then a lot of the time you get tipped based on a ratio of total sales coming out of the pockets of the servers. And so now, the idea is that by getting one to two percent of the total sales, you're now getting a fair cut.

(No, your discarded candy is not a tip.)
If you've been following along, you probably know what's wrong with this whole thing. It's unpredictable, its unreliable and its unfair. And of course, these are the kinds of things most people want to avoid. So what do you think about the current tip culture? Is there anything wrong, and if so, how do we fix it?


  1. I feel that the tipping system is pretty much broken. I do think that bartenders should be tipped accordingly for the services they perform (If they actually make the drinks taste good.) But there are a lot of people in the food service industry that don't deserve tips.

    1. I'm more or less the same train of thought. I think we've somewhat overstated the importance of food service, to the point where people can make really good money, not really having that demanding of a job. Now, before any hospitality industry workers go jumping on me, I will remind you all that I'm the head bartender at one of the busiest restaurants in Vancouver. I certainly have to bust my ass off on a regular basis, but I would hardly consider the service I provide to be an essential service, such as many trades, and health care; or even a specialist service, such as rocket science. And I do realize that I'm using the cliche, however, I think it applies.


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