Tipping Culture Has a Dark Secret and a Bold Restaurateur Wants to Bring it to Light

One restaurant influencer may have the power to wipe out tipping in America.


How much do you tip when you go out? 15 percent, 20 percent? And do you tip on the tax? How do you decide? Soon, you may not have to.

Giving less than 15 percent, even for bad service, would be malicious when you take into consideration that some waiters are paid as low as $2.13 an hour. Does bad service really mean I don't want someone to be able to feed themselves? No.

But then there are people like Kabir Sehgal, author of Coined: The Rich Life of Money and How Its History Has Shaped Us, who say how well we're served has nothing to do with how we tip. This puts the whole premise of tipping into question. In fact, he says that the weather might be a better predictor of how big a tip a server will get. 

“So the whole confusion of how much to tip — you're not actually the one making the decision; it's your subconscious that's making that decision for you.”

Danny Meyer, head of Union Square Hospitality Group, is an influencer in the restaurant industry, according to food commentator Bonny Wolf.

“When Danny Meyer talks, people listen,” she said in an interview with NPR. He's been right before. "When he banned smoking at Union Square Cafe, he was told he'd go out of business. Business improved. Ten years later, smoking in restaurants was against the law.”

Starting this month, Meyer's 13 restaurants will not require patrons to pay a tip at the end of their meal. It will be the first major chain to do this. However, Meyer isn't the first restaurant owner to enact this plan.

Jay Porter, owner of The Linkery in San Francisco, applied a straight 18 percent charge to all bills.

“You can guess what happened,” he wrote in an article for Quartz. “Our service improved; our revenue went up; and both our business and our employees made more money.”

The tipping system is a model that experts say inconveniences restaurant-goers, causes strain between the front and back of the house, and has some seedy origins, according to a fun video piece by College Humor.

But Meyer might be able to make change happen across American restaurants. Wolf explained to NPR that “Meyer apparently tried to abolish tipping 20 years ago, but the waiters balked. Is the time right now? The dining world will listen and watch.”

***

Natalie has been writing professionally for about 6 years. After graduating from Ithaca College with a degree in Feature Writing, she snagged a job at PCMag.com where she had the opportunity to review all the latest consumer gadgets. Since then she has become a writer for hire, freelancing for various websites. In her spare time, you may find her riding her motorcycle, reading YA novels, hiking, or playing video games. Follow her on Twitter: @nat_schumaker

Photo Credit: NICHOLAS KAMM / Getty Staff

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