My 16 Truths: Expanded – No. 6

6. The alternative to gratuity is restaurants who pay those who serve a livable wage.

There are a number of food service business models where tipping is not expected. There isn’t a single means to acquire ready-to-eat food that doesn’t require some sort of guest/employee interaction, outside of perhaps vending machines and self-checkout lanes at the grocery store. Whether it’s a fast food cashier, a convenience store clerk, a delivery driver, and so on, there are many ways you can get prepared food handed to you, and you are either not required to tip, or the tip is not the “server’s” primary wage. These roles are incentivized in other ways than gratuity to encourage these servers to care about their customers or guests. Generally, the impact of these servers is minimal compared to the experiences enjoyed in the environment of a sit-down restaurant or other eatery.

There is a bigger picture at play when discussing these alternate models in regards to how the servers impact the success of the business and how the business provides for the servers. Rather than each server’s individual success with the guests, the overall experience at the establishment is what takes money from the guests’ wallets to pay the servers. Recently, the request for gratuity has begun to pop up in businesses not traditionally known for expecting it, as advocates of good manners have encouraged tipping all who serve the public. Starbucks baristas, for example, have become more reliant on this “bonus”, when it’s available, yet it is still a bonus above and beyond their primary wages. Overall, these and many other types of service do not look directly to you, as the guest/customer, to pay their wages.

In the traditional roles of waiter/waitress, and to a lesser degree, bartender, gratuity is the main source of income. The practice of tipping can be traced back to Tudor England of the 1700s, and gratuity in some form back to at least the 1500s. Tipping became prevalent in the US around the time of Prohibition. In modern times, thousands of restaurants rely on this business model every day. These businesses rely on gratuity to remove the cost of server wages from the prices on the menu. Whether you’re getting a $2 breakfast at Denny’s, or a $40 steak at Morton’s, you pay less than you would if those restaurants could not rely on your gratuity to pay your server.

In many parts of Europe, a different model is in play. In some countries, expected gratuity is considerably less, or even discouraged. At the fanciest restaurants, servers are rockstars, paid well for their skill and attention to detail, and those costs are passed on to the patrons. Here, the server is highly regarded, and their skill and attention to detail are considered as critical to the success of the establishment as the chef’s. Some restaurants in America and experimenting with this model, as I pointed out in this earlier post. Having spoken to a few Europeans from Germany, the UK, and Sweden on this subject, I’ve learned that this alternative to tipping can often have the opposite desired effect. The lack of incentive can lead to poor service and poor server attitudes.

I was raised to be a passionate giver. I’m wired to thrive on the joy of giving. I know I would do well in an environment where gratuity was taken out of the equation, because my guests’ satisfaction, and a livable wage, would be sufficient to keep me doing my best, without fear that other staff could negatively impact my income. I’m also well aware of the fact that not enough people feel as I do. With all the other reasons in play that lead people to the service profession, the ROI between server labor and guest gratuity is critical to ensuring a quality experience for all involved. Just as the servers who rely on tips are responsible for earning a fair gratuity, guests/customers are responsible for paying in kind. So long as this business model exists, the expectations and responsiblities are clear. It only works for everyone involved if everyone does their part. Enjoy!

The first of many new firsts!

When it comes to food, I’ve already experienced so many firsts in my life: my first ice cream, pizza, steak, sushi, etc. Some were more memorable than others. For example, I still remember, quite vividly, biting into my first sea cucumber in southern China in July 2006. I know there are still firsts to come, such as my first meal during my first trip to Europe or the first time I’ll dine at a famous chef’s restaurant.

However, I’m very excited about the prospect of revisiting my many previous firsts by living vicariously through my newborn son. Each time I share a cherished staple in my diet with him for the first time, I will get a chance to watch the discovery play out on his little face and remember what it was like for me at his age. I can’t wait to introduce him to popcorn, or jello, or “paskeddy”. There is so much food diversity he’ll be able to explore from all over the world, right in our own backyard. I’m a little jealous, thinking about all the cuisines he can explore early on that weren’t even on my radar until my adult years, such as sushi, middle eastern, thai, or peruvian.

In the end, the “first” I most want to be there to share with him, is when he first discovers a passion for food, not just as a consumer, but as a creator as well. I can’t wait for the first time we make something great in the kitchen, together. I might just cry a little when he takes his first bite of something he made and knows that it’s good, not just because Mommy and Daddy said so, but because his own mouth is being more honest with him than ours could ever be. That might be my favorite “first” yet. Enjoy!