Ethics Dunce (Tip-Shaming Division): PYT Burger Restaurant and Bar

tip shaming

Tip-shaming over social media is despicable. This example is unusual, as for once it is the owner, not a waiter, doing the deed.

It’s still wrong.

PYT is a hamburger restaurant in Philadelphia. The owner apparently decided to take a stand for a poorly tipped server, because the customer was Philadelphia Eagles running back LeSean McCoy. According to the receipt,  McCoy left a twenty cents gratuity on a bill of $61.56.

Usually the public will side with the tip-shamer even when they shouldn’t, but McCoy is a local sports hero, so the restaurant is getting its buns flame-broiled on the net. (Though actor Charlie Sheen, who apparently has nothing better to do and wouldn’t know an ethic if it took up lodging in his nose, “pledged” $1000 to the supposedly abused waiter. File this one under “PR Grandstanding” …this like John D. Rockefeller handing out dimes to street urchins.) Thus the joint’s owner, Tommy Up, took to Facebook to explain why he set out to embarrass McCoy, writing in part…

…I take total and complete responsibility for sharing this receipt. It was not our server’s decision, it was mine. I am to blame…. I stand by my actions one hundred percent.

…Mr McCoy and his friend sat inside at a booth next to my management and next to me. They were given excellent service. Impeccable service. If anything, our server was a little nervous as was our food runner, because they are big, big fans. He and his group, from the moment they sat down, were verbally abusive to our staff in the most insulting ways. The derogatory statements about women and their sheer contempt for the staff serving them wasn’t the end, however. After Mr McCoy and his group left I looked over and saw their server, my friend, with his head bowed down and with a very confused look on his face. I took the receipt out of his hand and I couldn’t believe that anyone could be so callous. Mr McCoy had left a .03% tip for our staff. Our staff that was beyond excited to see him walk into our burger joint and was excited to serve him. That’s twenty cents on a tab of over $60. Twenty cents that our server has to split with the food runner and the bartender. Two dimes from an insulting multimillionaire.

I bet Mr McCoy is usually an awesome dude. And everyone has their bad days. But I’m from Philly and have had the pleasure of meeting many of our bad ass sports heroes. Ron Jaworski I met as a kid and I love. Iverson I loved. Mike Schmidt! You name ’em. I love all of our athletes past and present. Hometown heroes who treat those below them with some respect. And maybe Mr McCoy was having a “bad day” after his big victory all that, but the reports of him receiving “bad service” is a complete slanderous lie, and my crew here is better than that and deserves better than that.

At the end of the day, I did what I felt my heart told me to do. And I don’t want anything from Mr McCoy, but…maybe an apology to his server who gave him excellent service would be cool.Again, I am the owner and I take full responsibility for my actions. Eagles fans, I feel ya. Id be pissed too. But a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do and stick up for his friends….

Tommy did one thing right: he accepted full responsibility, and didn’t pass it off on his staff. Having noted that, I have given him credit for the only ethical aspect of his conduct or explanation. The rest:

1. It doesn’t matter what Tommy thought about his employee’s service. The served gets to make that call, fair or unfair, reasonable or unreasonable. The waiter admitted that he forgot an appetizer, and McCoy has indicated that he didn’t like the service. He needn’t justify his assessment, nor should he have been placed in a situation where he felt he had to do so.

2. Regarding the ambiguous “derogatory statements about women”: If McCoy and his companion were abusing Tommy’s female employees, they should have been asked to leave. If the conversation at the table was misogynist, that was none of the restaurant’s business, and is irrelevant to the incident. How dare an eating establishment try to justify embarrassing a patron over what he says in private conversation while eating there?

3. Yes, it was a lousy tip. Nobody is obligated to give a fair tip, a generous tip, or any tip at all. The statement being made by the posting of the receipt with the name of the diner included is a threat: tip generously, or the restaurant will get even. At that point, the tip is no longer voluntary. Fine: if you want to make a tip mandatory, add a service charge. Otherwise, live with your customer’s judgement of what is fair. There is no ethical third option…well, I’ll take that back in a second.

4. How much of a fan the waiter is, and how excited he may have been to bring burgers to a hungry NFL player, could not be more irrelevant. Imagine a system where a food server can insist on a tip based on how jazzed he is about each diner. Tommy didn’t think this through very well, though he claims (in a section omitted) that he has.

5. Nor does it matter how wealthy McCoy is. Most of the time, a restaurant has no idea how much money a customer has at his disposal, nor is that information it has any reason or right to have. Here in the U.S.A., much as some anti-capitalist wealth re-distributors would have it, everyone pays the same amount for goods and services. Tommy is saying that McCoy must give a good tip, not because he was necessarily the recipient of outstanding service (again, that assessment is his call, and his alone), but because he’s a wealthy local sports star. Tommy is confused. Charity isn’t dictated; if it is, it isn’t charity. He has no right to punish McCoy with public humiliation because in Tommy’s view, he should be more generous.

6. That’s twenty cents on a tab of over $60. Twenty cents that our server has to split with the food runner and the bartender.” If that matters so much to their welfare, Tommy, you aren’t paying your staff enough. Make up the tip deficit yourself. They work for you.

7. Tommy is sure McCoy is an “awesome” dude and was just having a bad day, but never mind: he decided to humiliate him anyway.  This is pure hypocrisy. He’s saying that despite the fact that he believes this was not typical or intentional, his rare un-awesome conduct requires an extraordinary public rebuke.

8. Oh, well as long as you really like Ron Jaworski and Mike Schmidt, Tommy, that completely justifies your treating a customer like crap. This is known as incompetent ethical reasoning. Also smarmy, pandering gibberish.  I agree in principle that celebrities should model exemplary, rather than minimally acceptable behavior. They must not, however, be abused when they choose to avail themselves of the same options available to those who are not famous or influential. A celebrity’s tipping decisions are not public information, and neither are mine.

9. It bears repeating, since the owner repeated it: if “the crew here is better than that and deserves better than that,” PYT should pay them more.

10. Tommy needs to start making decisions with his brain rather than his heart. Ethical decisions require thought. “A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do” has all the logical and ethical incisiveness of “it is what it is” and “Rama-lama-ding-dong.”


Pointer: King Kool

Facts: Star-Ledger, Philadelphia Magazine



22 thoughts on “Ethics Dunce (Tip-Shaming Division): PYT Burger Restaurant and Bar

  1. Who will be the first to accuse you of a double standard in saying here that although celebrities ought to display exemplary ethics due to their status they cannot be abused when they choose to avail themselves the options of the common folk and saying elsewhere (especially the Ray Rice affair) that celebrity status compels a higher standard…

    I don’t see the double standard, but I can see the accusation leveled.

  2. Also #2 is key.

    If the customer is truly engaging in behavior detrimental to ANYONE outside the circle of those particular customers, then the restaurant has cause to take action THEN.

      • I’d think that’s unethical also.

        If its worthy as evidence of a crime to be used in court, then use the video in court. If it isn’t worthy as evidence of a crime, then it’s an invasion of privacy.

        I think society would be healthier if more people confronted “brutes” in person (even in the face of potentially being pounded) and shamed them in front of the audience they are already shaming themselves before on the spot.

          • And distrust as you never know what conduct you are engaging in may be taken completely out of context with no chance for you to possibly have a discussion and reach a civil resolution with the person who you may or may not be doing wrong to…

            • And celebrities are sitting ducks for hearsay. We already know that the waiter giving that impeccable service forgot an appetizer–hardly worth stiffing him, but also hardly the lordly service Tommy describes. How else is he fudging the facts? Based on his explanation and its muddleheadedness, I wouldn’t trust his judgement or veracity.

              • Coming full circle, and applied to the Dishonored Father and the Possible DHS Concerned Citizen posts and discussion: after action behavior is what shed all my doubt on the actual conduct in question and the Father’s account of it.

  3. Jack
    I will always go along with the notion that public shaming is unethical. You are absolutely correct that the consumer is under any obligation to leave any tip for any level of service. With that said, I can argue that given the cultural norms of our society and generally accepted practices for compensating of service workers, the behavior of the player is indicative of the prevailing belief that some are above having to have to “play by the cultural rules”. Neither the server nor the owner makes up these cultural standards so I can understand why they felt as they did.

    I too have on occasion left no tip when the service was horrendous or if I felt ignored. I have also gotten up and left if no one appears at my table in a reasonable amount of time to acknowledge I exist after being seated. The concept of tipping is to incentivize attention to the customer. It is an after the fact voluntary payment for receiving quality service. Tips are much like a bonus for achieving a goal. The employer could pay the staff more and eliminate tipping altogether but would that positively affect service worker attentiveness? I don’t think so. In fact it could negatively affect service. Being graded by each customer is what promotes uniform exceptional service. Furthermore in today’s digital world, programs like Yelp, and other apps that give consumers a real time heads-up on expectations for restaurants, ensuring exceptional service is of paramount importance to owners of these establishments. It is the failure of the owner to do so that leads to the high number of failures in food and beverage establishments. There is no doubt that good selection and training of staff lead to exceptional service and quality reviews and several bad review can be disastrous for any service establishment. Tipping, is one small aspect in the overall compensation system that is established by our culture and industry. Individual variations to that system that are not system wide prevent the consumer from assessing overall value.

    Had this been my restaurant, I would have made up the difference with the staff if I believed that a reasonable tip have been given by any other customer for the same level of service. On a $61 tab that would have been a mere $6-12. Depending on my assessment of the service witnessed. I would not allow the situation to escalate such that my employees carry the hurt feelings throughout the rest of the shift compromising services given to all other patrons. Furthermore, the employees would know that I was watching the service provided; engendering a good management/employee relationship when they see I would step up to the plate for them when the customer does not.

    If I had seen the lack of a tip before the patron left, I would have engaged the patron to find out how we could have improved our service so that he would be better served; perhaps even comp’d his meal. To do that, I would simply say to the patron “I noticed from the bill that you felt the quality of our product or service was unacceptable to you. Would you mind telling me how we could improve so your next visit meets or exceeds your expectations”.

    If we are going to hold public figures such as ball players up to a higher level of public scrutiny then they have an obligation to be forthright and candid about their reasons for choosing not to follow the cultural rules and social expectations on tipping. If the player has an issue with the service or product quality he/she should express those feelings early on to allow the establishment to correct the deficiency. If he or she is just a cheapskate and figures they are entitled to good service and do not have to abide by the social construct of dining in a restaurant; he or she can. The player can also not expect that the server nor his/her friends will remain his fans.

    • If I don’t receive something I ordered then the staff failed in not only providing acceptable service (culture norm for tipping) but minimum service. The 20 cents was to identify the poor service and not forgetfulness. The customer has no duty to engage the management in an effort to improve service, just to pay for service or goods received.

      • Steve:
        Obviously no one has a duty to do anything. However I am of the opinion that if I find a service unacceptable I tell someone that has the authority to take corrective action. I also tell those in authority when the staff does something well. Nothing changes for the better unless shortcomings are explained in detail and high levels of service do not continue if they are not rewarded. What would happen to productivity if no standards were established? What would happen to quality? More importantly what if you as an employee were fired for failing to meet an unstated standard. Would you feel that the decision to fire you was ethical? I would not. The difficulty in personal service industries is that every customer has a different standard. Tipping is, in a sense, part of an employee evaluation process by the end user and is far more fair than simply how measuring how many dollars a server racks up in sales per day. It is an immediate response to current behavior.

        What bothers me is that people have a tendency just to complain without offering a solution or at least a set of expectations. Constructive critique works to improve service and quality levels. How does anyone exceed expectations if no one knows where the base level of service is? More importantly, why should anyone have the right to digitally trash an establishment if they were unwilling to try to make things better in the future? To me that is unethical. If you don’t like something and don’t want to take a minute to explain your dissatisfaction to someone that can fix it you should have no right to go about trashing the establishment; especially anonymously.

        If we do not want to tip that is fine. We could decouple the food element from the service element and charge for each aspect of the consumer experience. This would be similar to what the airlines are doing. You would of course have to pay for every component because the food would have to be prepared by an employee and you could not simply help yourself. Perhaps restaurants might charge extra for the prime tables and the sommelier’s recommendations.

        If tipping were prohibited and the restaurateur simply paid them more as some suggest, then the cost of the dinner should rise and the payment for the service labor would not be voluntary any more; failure to pay would be theft. The existing system works well to give the customer the widest latitude to pay for what it thinks is mediocre to exceptional service on a voluntary basis.

        • For me if the wait staff screws my order up, no tip. They charge me for something not received then the management will be engaged. I am there to eat and enjoy the experience not to develop the business.

  4. I once walked into a travel agency, and they had this neat pin up on the wall describing what is normal for gratuities in different cultures and it’s amazing how different practises are! Certain parts of Asia especially find tipping to be grossly inappropriate, and tipping in Cuba is likely to get the person tipped in trouble. It was neat.

    I don’t know. Where tipping used to be a reward for good service, I feel like more and more the consumer is being asked to supplement the income of service staff in a way I find inappropriate. It never made sense to me to tie it to the value of the meal, for instance…. I just don’t think the serving staff putting plates on my table deserve a $15 tip at The Keg and a $2 tip at a greasy spoon for the same service. It insults my sense of fairness. And don’t even get me started on establishments that charge a mandatory percentage gratuity on groups of 6 or more.

    • I can’t find the comment I wrote a long while back on this topic to link to, but I concur. Tipping a waiter is a reward for the quality of service as well as the quantity of time devoted to the customer (which generally is a reflection of quality as well).

      If Waiter A at the $100 plate Le Snoote French Restaurant gives me X amount of attention and care and Waiter B at the $10 plate Slobby Bill’s Grease n’ Gas Diner ALSO gives me X amount of attention and care, why does A deserve a $20 tip and B only deserve a $2 tip when the service rendered *by them* is EXACTLY the same?

        • Hell no! By that logic, because there is a $200 plate restaurant down the street, I ought to give them all $40s….

          Hypothetical time:

          Waiter A: Verbally abuses you via passive aggressive, subtle phrases. Is short tempered and grouchy. Acts like all your requests are unbearable burdens and in general he would prefer a world that didn’t have you in it. BUT every single one of your requests was fulfilled promptly AND he even anticipated certain actions you may prefer. He checked on you every 7-10 minutes to see if you had any more needs. Your food is perfect and prompt.

          Waiter B: Extremely friendly, courteous, great conversationalist. Makes you feel like it was your birthday again. Their smile and quick little quips leave you laughing and generally happy to be alive. So much so you can’t even comprehend there is misery in the world. BUT, he can’t get your order right…twice! Forgot to bring the appetizer, when he does, it’s cold and he never gets a replacement. Never comes around except when you flag him down, and even then its after he checks other tables.

          Who do you tip less?

          • Ooo. Hard choice. Though I don’t know that I’ve ever come across a really grouchy waiter who was that good at their job. I think I’d tip the friendlier person more, they’re more in control of the way they treats you than how busy they are and how the food tastes.

  5. On cultural expectations… although I have not visited the U.S.A., occasionally I have been to establishments where the staff have been trained in the U.S. style, usually as they are part of international chains. I find the service there terrible, as it is too hovering and intrusive – yet that is what the staff have been told to do. Instead of leaving guests alone to settle in, look at the menu, and talk to each other for a few minutes until they look up, there’s a waiter right there straight away and chilling any conversation and menu choice. I am sure that both staff and management would be bewildered if a tourist told them they weren’t getting any tip because of the poor service – there’s a cultural gap. (Clearly, the only way “He and his group, from the moment they sat down [emphasis added], [could have been] verbally abusive to our staff in the most insulting ways” was if the staff were crowding the guests in just that way – and, at that point, telling them to back off would have been the only practical defence even though it would have been taken as insulting; that may have been what happened.)

    Oh, and it’s quite possible that the distraction of a visibly nervous waiter could amount to bad service, right there.

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