Saturday, February 26, 2011

Tipping and Its Harm on Service

I just returned home from an all-you-can-eat sushi restaurant that would otherwise be unnotable except for one particular policy. No, it wasn't the "you must eat everything you order," which is a standby at any place that would offer AYCE for $20.95. It wasn't the "no sharing" policy either. That one makes perfect sense. Instead, this restaurant, Yuka on the Upper East Side, has a strict no tipping policy.
It's no big secret that wait staff are commonly underpaid under the premise that tips would make up the rest of their salary. The result is wide divergence in the earnings from waiter to waiter, or even the same waiter day to day. The entire custom of tipping is ludicrous. People should earn a good salary for the work they do. When they go above and beyond, they can receive a tip as a gratuity for their service. By definition, a tip is not mandatory. When it is mandatory, it constitutes a fee. Let's not fool ourselves, when we dine out, we're paying at least 15% of a fee on top of our meal, not to mention the tax.

When I was in Egypt in December (great timing), there is a culture of tipping called baksheesh. Tourists will recognize it most in the open palms of anyone that aids you, from police point out the best photo spot to bathroom attendants enforcing a pay-to-pee fee. Many Asian countries are moving towards tipping as well, even though they traditionally have no culture of it. I like to blame Western tourists for creating this culture of handouts and corrupting the highly trained Asian service economy.

So what can you do as a customer? You can't stiff the tip at the expense of the poor waiters, unless they truly deserve nothing. Tipping is so ingrained in our culture now that it reflects badly on you when you leave less than 15-18%. What we need are more restaurants like Yuka that have a policy of no tips. In fact, any money left on the table will go to charity. Instead, Yuka charges a management fee of 12% for parties less than six and 18% for six or more. While I applaud the no tipping policy, the mandatory management fee makes me suspicious. Presumably, if it goes towards paying the higher salary for the staff, I can full get behind the charge. The restaurant cannot simply price in the management fee into the food; the restaurant business is too competitive at the price level.

What we need are more restaurants following this innovative policy for the benefit of both customers and waiters, not to mention all the people who work at back of house who don't have an opportunity to earn the tip on their own. Let's put a stand to the spread of mandatory tipping. I support no more nickel and diming customers and a fair wage to service people.

1557 2nd Ave
(between 80th St & 81st St)
Upper East Side, NY 10028
(212) 772-9675
All you can eat sushi $20.95