Column: A fresh perspective on restaurant tipping

According to a recent survey, 46 per cent of Americans are tipping less and keeping tips under 20 per cent of the bill.

A tip-free restaurant?

This could be a great idea.

Next month, the Smoke ‘N Water Restaurant opens in the Pacific Shores Resort in Parksville and owner David Jones has decided on a no-tipping policy. Instead, meals will cost a bit more but that increase will be cycled back to employees – servers and back of house staff – in the form of a decent living wage with benefits.

“Tipping is a broken business model,” said Jones. “What we’re trying to do is make a stand for all those who have worked in the back of the house (cooks, line cooks and kitchen help) for decades and have never been honoured or valued or appreciated for their hard work and dedication.”

Jones said that it started with a restaurant in San Diego, California. “They went to no tipping because Australia, New Zealand, most of Europe, China, and Japan don’t do it. By not tipping you’re equalizing the gap between the front and the back of the house. In the San Diego restaurant, it improved the quality of the serving and the restaurant got better quality help in the back.”

The Parksville restaurant is believed to be the first of its kind in Canada but the concept is already gaining traction elsewhere with restaurants in Washington, D.C., New York and elsewhere in California. And it comes at a time when consumers are tipping less.

According to a recent survey by Voucherland.net, an online coupon website, 46 per cent of Americans are tipping less and keeping tips under 20 per cent of the bill.

Not long ago, an average tip ranged 10 to 15 per cent; now tips are 15 to 20 per cent or more. And nothing’s based on prompt or quality service although many people tend to pay a higher tip when a server gives good service.

Debit machines give options to tip by dollar amount or percentage but many people forget that tips should be calculated on the price of the meal, not the final bill that includes taxes.

“Statistics say that something like 90 per cent of North Americans tip on the total bill,” said Jones.

Tipping has been around for centuries and is often thought of as an acronym meaning To Insure Prompt Service. But before the acronym age, the 17th century Low German word ‘tippen’ meant ‘to touch discreetly’. In other words, a tippen was a bribe. If it meant getting a tankard of beer served faster, so be it.

According to a University of Guelph report, tips contribute $4 billion to the Canadian economy. With the hospitality industry’s culture of only paying servers and cooks minimum wage or just above, tips are essential to the workers’ income. In the peak season, tips can exceed basic wage. But servers are still at the mercy of what a customer will tip and, in the off season or on slow nights, tips can be meagre at best.

Restaurant workers may well trade in the tip share for a decent, dependable paycheque. In fact, when Jones began interviewing applicants for kitchen staff he found that he got better qualified help approaching him and they were lined up at the door.

For Jones, meeting this management shift means delivering awesome, beautiful food. The menu will feature dishes that are pricier but there will be no need for mental math to crunch gratuities at the end of it. That tip saving strategy will help offset the higher price of the meal.

“Our prices may look a little more expensive up front but when you leave the restaurant it may be a little cheaper without the tip added on, when comparing apples to apples,” said Jones.

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