Five restaurants in the Bay Area recently decided to adopt a 20-percent service charge to replace traditional tipping. This change comes in the wake of minimum wage increases in Berkeley, Oakland and San Francisco. Restaurants are trying to foster equal opportunities for kitchen staff, as tips could be divided only among waiters. This new system provides both the waiting and kitchen staffs with greater stability in their pay while simultaneously maintaining the restaurant’s profitability. We hope this is the beginning of a trend that will spread across the Bay Area.
The tipping system is not without merits: It acts as an incentive for servers to improve upon their performance and as an indicator of their quality of work. Abolishing this system may disincentivize waiters to go above and beyond in order to provide the best service for customers. But customers’ personal preferences or the quality of the food may also affect customers’ decisions when tipping, both of which are out of the server’s control. Racial and gender biases also affect customers’ decisions to tip: Studies have shown that black service providers are tipped less than white service providers and that waitresses’ tips tend to correspond with how attractive customers perceive them to be.
There is a fear that in the absence of tipping, the level of service at restaurants will deteriorate. There are other ways, however, through which servers could be held accountable for maintaining high standards. It now falls upon the restaurant managers to be even more careful in ensuring that their staff lives up to certain standards. If we can still preserve quality through these other means, there is no reason we should not replace our culture of tipping with a more equal and fair service charge.
This change in restaurants came about voluntarily, not through the implementation of a law. We hope the fact that this service-charge movement started within the restaurants themselves will persuade customers of the validity of this decision. If more and more restaurants adopt this service charge, we will gradually rid ourselves of the archaic and broken system of tipping.
We live in a town where students juggle minimum wage jobs as servers to put themselves through school. While tipping may seem reasonable and functional in theory, it is realistically a deeply flawed system. Workers’ looks and customers’ generosity or mood should not define how big or small a worker’s paycheck is. We applaud these restaurants for spearheading this recent effort to ensure not only a fairer paycheck for servers but greater equality among all restaurant workers.