Tipping is stupid and  unfair

I’ve written before about how stupid I think tipping is.  (No, that doesn’t make me a cheap tipper, just one who thinks the practice is inane on many levels).  Just came across a nice Wonkblog post on not only how stupid tipping is, but how unfair it is to the kitchen workers.  They often end up far less compensated that the tipped employees, despite the fact that they are the ones ultimately responsible for the quality of the food (I think most of us go out for good food, not because we are particularly concerned with how well it is carried to us, etc.).  Roberto Ferdman:

The truth is that despite what you might see on the Food Network or other cooking shows, being a cook is grueling work that’s not for the faint of heart. The slowdown in immigration over the past five years has also made it harder for kitchens to find staff since the industry is deeply reliant on immigrant labor.

But there’s another problem that’s been bubbling up for decades: Many of the people who work the kitchen have been getting short-changed — especially when compared to the wait staff serving customers.

“The back-of-house staff are typically underpaid compared to the front of the house,” said Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Technomic, a restaurant industry research firm. “It’s a really big issue.”…

Waiters, in other words, are probably making a lot more money than BLS data makes it seem. Pay Scale, which tracks salaries through crowdsourcing, estimates that in cities like Miami, Boston and San Francisco, waiters can expect to make $13 an hour in tips alone, on average. Elsewhere, tips can add well over $10 an hour to servers’ salaries.

Waiters working in big cities understand this. But so do cooks, and they aren’t happy about it.

“The fact that servers are making so much money in tips is certainly a reference point that causes cooks to be dissatisfied with their pay,” said Michael Lynn, a Cornell University professor and one of the country’s foremost experts on tipping. “That is absolutely true. It’s the way it is.”…

“It [waiting tables] can be a very high-paying job,” said Tristano. “Especially considering that many entry-level cooks earn at or near the minimum wage.”

Kitchen workers aren’t allowed to share tips. Early on, it was common practice for restaurateurs to pool together tips and then split them among their entire staff. It was also common for tips to disappear en route to the employees, likely into the pockets of management.

Realizing the need for regulation, the government intervened, creating a set of rules known as the Fair Labor Standards Act, which stipulates, among other things, that if tips are pooled, they can only be distributed among workers who “customarily and regularly receive tips.” Cooks do not qualify. Neither do dishwashers or janitors.

“You can force a waiter to share a tip with a bus boy or bartender but not with someone in the kitchen staff,” said Lynn. “It’s illegal to split tips with the cooks.”

Some restaurants are moving beyond tipping, but, then, of course, they’ve got to raise their accordingly.  Separate tipping lines on bills for the kitchen staff is just doubling down on the bad idea of tipping.  Here’s your simple solution (which some smart restaurants already practice)– 18% service charge.  Period.  Don’t whine about how tipping needs to vary to reflect service quality (see my earlier post).  Unlike tips, “service charges” can be shared across the staff.  Or just added to the overall revenue to be more fairly distributed to employees.  And the reason I advocate for the “service charge” rather than just higher food prices is that until all restaurants are doing it, it would put those charging the higher prices at a disadvantage because, of course, humans are massively (and quite predictably) irrational about such things.

Photo of the day

You know I’m a sucker for photos of wildfire photos– especially the night ones.  Great gallery from In Focus:

In this Friday, July 17, 2015, photo, the North Fire continues to burn along Baldy Mesa Road late Friday night near Interstate 15 in the Cajon Pass in San Bernardino County, California. The 5.5-square-mile fire destroyed 20 vehicles on the freeway before burning three homes and 44 more vehicles in the community of Baldy Mesa.

Kevin Warn / AP
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