Comment of the Day: “Ethics Quiz: The Tip-Sharing Plan”

We have a rare Ethics Alarms Quote of the Day hand-off. Responding to the ethics quiz about the ethics of tip-sharing,  veteran commenter JutGory wrote,

“My understanding is that, in some places, servers collect the tips and “tip-out” to the others (kitchen staff, etc.) at certain rates. If that is the culture (I have never been a server; not my skill set), why is a server trusted more than the employer to be fairer than the employer in tipping out?”

I have written about tipping ethics issues for years, and never encountered the concept of “tipping out,” perhaps because the minimum wage jobs I had in my youth never involved tips of any kind. Still Spartan picked up JutGory’s baton and dashed for the finish line. Here is her Comment of the Day on the post, Ethics Quiz: The Tip-Sharing Plan: 

I used to work at a fancy restaurant and that was the system. The percentage of tip out was based on total food sales, so you couldn’t cheat. And, if I received really generous tips, I was incentivized to tip more because I wanted the hostess to seat good customers at my table, my drinks up first, my tables bussed quickly, etc. I would never work at a place that pooled tips because I was quite frankly better than most servers. I was quick, friendly, and rarely made a mistake. I could up-sell my customers on liquor and food which meant more money for me at the end of the night. And you people think I am anti-capitalist! Chefs aren’t tipped and they make a lot more than $3/hr., and although it is a hard job, at least their revenue is consistent. Many managers are well-paid too and often double as hosts or bartenders. I would be pissed if they had the ability to collect my tips.

The real solution to this problem is to pay servers a living wage and just have it incorporated into the price of food.

Fair vs Fair: Ethics and the “No-Tip” Restaurant

You know, this looks like a place that would believe that dishwashers deserve as much pay as waiters...or as bankers, for that matter.

You know, this looks like a place that would believe that dishwashers deserve as much pay as waiters…or as bankers, for that matter.

William Street Common is a new restaurant in Philadelphia, and is getting publicity for, we are told, experimenting with a different and (maybe?) fairer compensation model. Owner Avram Hornik  pays all of its employees, from the servers to the dishwashers, at least $15 an hour plus paid sick leave and health insurance benefits. There is a 20 percent service charge for drinks, and that goes into a common fund that makes that  $15 an hour wage affordable. Money left over at the end of a pay period is divided up among employees based on a point system related to various factors.

Hornik came up with this structure, he says, to deal with the well-debated problems of tipping. “Some people just tip the same amount, but some people base it on how quickly the food was there, whether we were out of something, whether the server was there when they wanted them to be,” he says. “So much of that is out of the control of the individual server… So why would it be fair for the service employee to be responsible for the poor decisions of management?”

Hornik argues that his model “essentially creates a guaranteed floor. But we’re also capping the ceiling,” he points out, because the tipping gets shared equally with all employees. “We didn’t think it was fair [that] in some places you have dishwashers earning 10 dollars an hour and the bartender earning 30 dollars an hour.” He also is convinced that the customers will benefit.  “That atmosphere among the employees, a sense of community and empowerment and happiness with the job, is going to translate into a better environment for customers,” he said. “By having happy staff customers are going to be happier too.”

Is this system really fairer than the current one? Progressives are cheering it, because it represents a “living wage,” or at least something close to it. OK, but it would be nice not to feel hyped: ThinkProgress, for example, had headlines that the William Street Common “got rid of tipping” and writes “tips aren’t mandatory.”

Inept reporting or lies, take your pick. A 20% “service charge” is a mandatory tip, so tips ARE mandatory. The reports don’t explain how voluntary tipping has been eliminated, or whether a server would be prohibited from keeping a ten-dollar bill that a diner hands him, saying, “You know, the food was lousy, but you were so gracious and accommodating that you single-handedly made the evening bearable. Thank you. If I ever come back, it will be because of you.” If so, is that fair?  I don’t think so. In fact, it’s exactly as unfair as a diner not rewarding excellent service, and tipping a dime. Continue reading

Just In Time For Christmas, Here Are All The Bad Arguments And Rationalizations Against Tipping So You Can Feel Self-Righteous About Being A Scrooge

See? The rest of the world knows how to deal with you sexist, racist, aristocratic poverty perpetuating, self-esteem destroying bastards!

See? The rest of the world knows how to deal with you sexist, racist, aristocratic poverty perpetuating, self-esteem destroying bastards!

Vox has published an entertaining screed against tipping, massing all the contradictory, facile rationalizations and faulty arguments against demonstrating one’s gratitude when someone serves you well. This is Vox, remember—Ezra Klein’s uber-progressive website with an agenda. Think about what the alternative to tipping is, and where the critics of tipping are going with these claims. Hint 1: It has nothing to do with democracy or individualism. Hint 2: The piece argues that tipping is classist, racist, sexist, “lookist”…the works.

The full illogical, ethically confused character of this junk has to be read to be fully appreciated, but here is a quick overview:

1. Hoary old quotes. There are these, for example:

English author Lynne Truss on visiting New York: “In this great financial capital … tips are not niceties: give a ‘thank you’ that isn’t green and foldable and you are actively starving someone’s children.” No, Lynne, you’re being cheap, that’s all.

The Village Voice’s Foster Kamer: “It reinforces an economically and socially dangerous status quo, while buttressing a functional aristocracy.”   Ah. You see, if lower paid service professions are treated like robots and underpaid, they will rise up and overturn this monstrosity called capitalism.

 Michael Lewis: “I feel we are creeping slowly toward a kind of baksheesh economy in which everyone expects to be showered with coins simply for doing what they’ve already been paid to do.” Who is being “showered with coins?”

2. “Tipping lets employers off the hook.” Translation: It gets in the way of the progressive “living wage” campaign. Mandatory salary levels drive businesses out of business and reduce jobs. Want to see all restaurants go to the iPad, self-ordering, system running rampant at airport restaurants—and no, I don’t tip a runner who just carried my food to the table—by all means, force restaurants to pay “a living wage.”

3.  “Tipping is undemocratic.” This is the George Orwell, “Peace is War” argument. The government should stop me from giving my money to whoever I want in the name of democracy. Continue reading

Ethics Hero: Michael Garcia

Say thanks to Michael, everybody.

Say thanks to Michael, everybody.

An ethical culture is constructed of millions of acts, small and large, prominent and not, that reinforce the best of human values, priorities and aspirations. The Ethics Heroes among us are those who recognize the opportunities to engage in such acts, and who have the courage, initiative and wisdom to not merely perform them, but to perform them impeccably.

Meet waiter Michael Garcia, Ethics Hero.

Garcia, a waiter at Laurenzo’s in Houston, Texas, was serving a family that has regularly patronized the restaurant since it opened. The family’s five-year-old son Milo has Down syndrome, and was talking and making noises, not being disruptive, but still noticeably different than the usual young patron at the family restaurant.  A member of a family at a neighboring table in Garcia’s serving section became annoyed, and began making disparaging comments about Milo. That family farther away from the child, and from that table, still within Garcia’s service responsibilities, said, the offended patron said audibly,

“Special needs children need to be special somewhere else.” Continue reading

Ethics Dunce: The Single Mother Tip-Stiffer

According to a poster on Reddit, a woman allegedly left the message above on her receipt after eating a pricey meal at a restaurant. “Single mom, sorry,” she wrote, in the space left for a tip. “Thank you—it was great!” The furious waiter’s colleague scanned and posted  the receipt, with appropriate invective that has been matched and exceeded by others on the site.

As usual, there are denials that the story is genuine, and claims that some single mother-hating trouble-maker created this miserable ethics smoking gun. “I think this bill is a fraud because I’ve met very few single mothers who expected to get special treatment for their status. They’re just hoping no one holds their situation against them,” wrote one skeptic. This is the “No True Scotsman” fallacy in Technicolor. The fact, if it is a fact, that few single mothers expect special treatment doesn’t prove that this one didn’t or doesn’t. Continue reading