What’s Wrong with the Restaurent Tipping System

A woman who obviously works as a restaurant waitress recently wrote a letter to the editor of my local newspaper. In it, she complained about the fact that she and other servers are often stiffed or given less than a 15-20% gratuity by their customers. She said they need at least that much to make a decent living. In her opinion, it should be understood that the price displayed next to each item on the menu only represents part of its cost. She then went on to chide restaurant patrons, stating that if they couldn’t shell out the additional money, they really couldn’t afford to eat out.

Well, if that’s the way it has to be, then we need to stop calling a server’s tip a gratuity and start classifying it correctly as an obligation. Accordingly, signs should be posted in every restaurant, stating that anyone who eats a meal there and walks out without putting down the requisite 15-20% will not be welcome to come back. I know that sounds harsh, but I don’t see any alternative if we are going to reclassify the tip from a gratuity to an obligation, as some restaurant service personnel seem to want.

A gratuity is defined by many dictionaries as a gift or something given without claim, obligation, or demand. It can also be defined as a reward given in appreciation for good service. Once upon a time, the latter meaning was employed when restaurant-goers tipped their servers.

But now, that meaning has apparently been completely lost, as servers expect some kind of tip, regardless of the quality of service. It is now viewed as part of their salary, as most of their employers pay them less than minimum wage. Apparently, the government buys the whole argument about a tip being part of certain types of restaurant workers’ salaries, or it wouldn’t allow their employers get away with paying them so little.

Of course, there is one other way this issue could be resolved, but I don’t like it. We could demand that restaurants increase their waiters’ and waitresses’ pay by 15-20%. This increase would then inevitably be built in to the price of meals, meaning restaurant customers would ultimately be footing the bill for it. Then we could go back to using the term “gratuity” again to refer to the tip we leave for our servers. The problem is that, even with the boost in salary, it wouldn’t be too long before servers would once again come to expect that money. Then we’ll have come full circle and be back at square one again.