Restaurants should be responsible for their employees’ entire compensation

Cash is always king…

Servers should not be receiving the majority of their wage via tipping. As a server, it makes no sense to have to rely on a stranger’s generosity and awareness of American tipping culture in order to receive standard pay at one’s job. A server may have a bad night due to circumstances outside of one’s control. Customers may be unaware of tipping culture. They may not know the correct percentage or believe they did not receive the best service according to their subjective standards. Also, that payment received by a server is not shared with the kitchen. A major pay discrepancy typically exists between the front-of-house and back-of-house, leading to divisions in the workplace. The kitchen performs the foundational work of the restaurant — the work that defines what a restaurant is, to feed people — and does not receive equal pay with the front-of-house. It is an unstable, unequal, unregulated and irresponsible business practice.

On any given night, the person who knows least about what goes on in a restaurant is the customer. There are the customers who are spot on. They have worked in the industry, have friends who do, or have backgrounds in cooking, bar tending, or management of restaurants and have some awareness of the collective effort that culminates in an enjoyable meal. But the vast majority of customers do not have this knowledge. So why are servers relying on an unknowledgeable authority to determine what the precise payment for the experience will be? What a customer’s standard of ‘good service’ is will change according to the individual. From personal experience, people who need a lot of service, ask a lot of questions, and have their mind set on what they want, may not be the best tippers. At times, other customers will feel they do not need much service. All they need is for you to relay their order, set food in front of them, and run their card. Then they tip according to how much ‘service’ they needed. Neither party realizes the work that goes on behind the scenes that ensures a server has all the answers and information prepared before any customer sits down. Nor do they realize the level of teamwork and coordination necessary to transport food from farm to kitchen to table to facial orifice in such an easy and breezy way. So why should servers rely on a customer’s altruistic — or stingy — motivations to pay their bills?

As mentioned, it takes a whole team to guarantee the dining experience is up to par. The kitchen has a job to prepare all ingredients and cook dishes in a timely and coordinated manner while the front of house has to know all about the products making their way to hungry customers. Because of the necessary coordination, it makes no sense for a pay discrepancy to exist between the two sides of a restaurant. It creates a divide that is tangible in any establishment. Relations between the front and back may be affable without any conflict visibly apparent, but there is definitely a disconnect between the two sides’ incentives. Each are working towards different goals with different beneficiaries of said goals. Yes, they are all working for the restaurant, but it cannot be said that a cook would be excited to adjust his/her duties specifically for a server to make sure he/she gets a good tip. The cook does not see any of that tip. When one is a beneficiary of the whole process, there is more incentive to go the extra mile and adjust for the server. Once the cook is financially part of the whole dining experience, an antagonistic nature between front and back of house has no space to exist.

What this looks like in actuality has been tested for the past year or so. Danny Meyer in New York has pioneered the movement in New York with a few of his popular establishments and has had success. Others have not fared so well while the true impact of a no-tipping policy has not been fully realized elsewhere. Restaurants are going to have to face this problem sooner or later with minimum wage hikes increasing in the coming years. If restaurants want to keep the status quo intact, can they justify servers making more and more than their back-of-house counterparts as everyone’s wages increase? Will servers stick around if they are denied their tipping-receiving privileges?

One way to make sure servers will not leave a restaurant is keeping their average pay the same. This requires restaurants to find the average pay of a server per bill or per hour and adjust prices accordingly so that they receive the same and will not have to take a possible pay cut. Once servers are paid a wage, restaurants can side-step the law preventing the back-of-house from receiving tips. Since all income will be received as payment for services rendered during the experience, the restaurant can divvy up the money in an equitable way. And they should be the ones to do so since they are closest to the process of the restaurant experience. They know who should be paid what and will see how all money gets distributed throughout the establishment.

I work at a couple establishments where as a server and/or bartender, I can make good money because the restaurants are well-run, coordinated team efforts from front-of-house to the back-of-house, from the dishwasher to the PR team. We all work hard for make a living, yet I can’t help the nagging feeling that I’m taking advantage of those who have worked harder than I have to create the product I am presenting. I do not have to deal with the stressful, back-breaking duties and long hours of the hot kitchen, for which I would receive little pay. Nor do I have to scrape off the remnants of half-eaten meals of ungrateful customers and make sure everything is clean and spotless and ready to be used again for the best presentation. And that’s my job (as a server, primarily): to present. It’s a skill to know how to talk to people, to read people, and to know what they want before they know it. But I do not believe it should be valued more than the work of my fellow employees. And that’s the real reason why tipping should be abolished. It’s a team effort and equitable pay should be a goal for all restaurants who strive for quality and equality. Remove the burden of compensation from those who are unaware of the true effort everyone in a restaurant puts forth. The customer should never have that responsibility as they do not have the knowledge to carry it. Keep that responsibility in house to provide an equable wage structure that reflects a collective effort.