It's an extremely tedious revolution, but American service culture is slowly, painfully, being dragged into a new paradigm of dining.
To quote from the first article:
Tipping, as a compensation scheme, is great for everyone.
Restaurant customers like tipping because it puts them in the driver’s seat. As a diner, you control your experience, using the power of your tip to make sure your server works hard for you.
Restaurant servers like tipping because it means their talent is rewarded. As a great server, you get paid more than your peers, because you are a better worker.
Restaurant owners like tipping because it means they don’t have to pay for managers to closely supervise their servers. With customers using tips to enforce good service, owners can be confident that servers will do their best work.
There’s only one problem: none of this is actually true.
The author goes on to show why tipping is a broken system that in fact actively discourages good service and actually encourages profiling of patrons:
Researchers have found (pdf) that customers don’t actually vary their tips much according to service. Instead they tip mostly the same every time, according to their personal habits.
Tipped servers, in turn, learn that service quality isn’t particularly important to their revenue. Instead they are rewarded for maximizing the number of guests they serve, even though that degrades service quality.
Furthermore, servers in tipping environments learn to profile guests (pdf), and attend mainly to those who fit the stereotypes of good tippers. This may increase the server’s earnings, while creating negative experiences for the many restaurant customers who are women, ethnic minorities, elderly or from foreign countries.
On the occasions when a server is punished for poor service by a customer withholding a standard tip, the server can keep that information to himself. While the customer thinks she is sending a message, that message never makes it to a manager, and the problem is never addressed.
I realize that those of you who have worked in the service industry have probably already stopped reading to write a vehement attack on the part I bolded. Yes, I work in the service industry too. Yes, I realize that the stereotypes mentioned above are absolutely real. . . but let's try to avoid the chicken and egg conversation. It doesn't matter if it's the server or the patron that causes bad tips if there's an elegant solution to fixing it, right?
I know I won't escape the "in Europe we do it this way and we think Americans and Canadians are stupid" posts, and honestly I welcome the perspective. Given all the discussion we've had about low wage earners, we're talking about a huge and growing segment of the population that's wholly reliant on the tipping habits of patrons to meet basic needs. Mandatory gratuity effectively works as a flat tax, guaranteeing service professionals a wage based on the amount of funds spent by the patron. This make service industry work no different than a car mechanic, an HVAC technician, or any other skilled trade worker. This is especially so for highly trained service professionals, who may have attended bartending/mixology school, attained a cicerone certification, or some other additional training.