I have previously railed against the practice of tipping, seeing it as something that encourages servile behavior and is demeaning. It seems to me to be a relic of the feudal system in which the nobility acted patronizingly towards the peasantry by giving them gifts in exchange for acting obsequiously towards them. So I was pleased to see that some restaurants are adopting a no-tipping policy and paying their employees a living wage, by either raising their menu prices and/or adding a service charge automatically.
You would think that people would either welcome this move or be indifferent. What I did not expect was that people would actually be angered by being forbidden to tip the wait staff.
Jay Porter used to run two similar restaurants, one of which ran on traditional lines and the other, called The Linkery, that had a no-tipping policy, so he had a sort of natural experiment on the effects of tipping. He says that the no-tipping restaurant resulted in customers getting better service, employees being happier and staying longer, and making more money.
But he said that he would very angry reactions from some customers at The Linkery because they were not allowed to tip and he says that this reveals an interesting insight into the psychology of people.
The Linkery’s most transgressive act was not in implementing a service charge. Our most transgressive act was refusing to allow our guests to pay our servers anything more beyond the service charge — this is where the angry came out. A certain small number of very vocal men (and it was always men who were vocal about it) resented that we were not letting them try to exercise additional control over our team members. This was true even though compelling research has shown that servers do not adjust quality of service as a result of tips; instead the idea that the restaurant was not offering our servers up as objects of control, was heresy. For these people, the primary service they wanted from the restaurant was the opportunity to pay for favors from the server — much like the patron at a strip club pays the club for the opportunity to dangle bills in front a dancer for individual attention. The idea that a restaurant could legitimately want to be in a different business than a strip club, was not an idea these guests could countenance.
Having a sister restaurant that used the traditional model was helpful in evaluating this — at our second restaurant, for instance, we could never achieve a consistently high quality of service. We believed the block came from the sense that, once the guest delivers a tip, the quality of service has been validated — even though studies clearly show that, across a large sample, guests tip basically the same regardless of quality of service.
In retrospect, I should not have been surprised by this at all. After all, it is consistent with the feudal model where people get a sense of power and control by bestowing ‘gifts’ on those who have to strive to gain their favor, and that by doing so they believe that they are served better than other people.
His other point that guests tip pretty much the same regardless of the quality of service is true for me. I have never ‘punished’ a server for perceived poor service by reducing the tip. But then, I have found wait staff to be unfailingly courteous and so the thought never even came up. I cannot imagine what a server would have to do to merit such an action on my part.
I have sometimes given a larger tip because I felt that we occupied a table longer than I felt we were entitled to but that was not a extra reward for good service. It was to partially make up for the loss the server had from not being able to serve another customer at our table.