Serious Eats: Talk

Tipping per-item vs. bill percentage

I've recently been thinking about tipping and decided that tips calculated as a bill percentage don't make any sense to me. I always hear that tips are how waiters make money and that they make less than minimum wage hourly (although I believe employers are legally obligated to cover the difference if employees do not make the federal minimum wage including tips), so it seems like the restaurant industry itself is trying to cleave the waitstaff service from the food overhead. Why then are we still tipping based on menu prices? I wrote a lengthier, more in-depth explanation here, but I'll summarize the argument below.

Essentially, it seems to me that waiters should be tipped according to the quality of service they provide, and the price of the meal you order has nothing to do with their services. I think that a per-item tipping system makes more sense, as it takes into account the actual work of the waitstaff. Something around $1 an item, like at the bar. An additional percentage of the total per-item tip can be added to supplement for service quality. This way, waiters across all establishments are tipped more fairly for the quality and competency of their services rather than based on the arbitrary menu pricing of their establishment. This allows workers in lower income areas to still make a decent wage, as long as they make the effort to provide great service. As I see it now, too many cheap restaurants offer bad service because the waitstaff just doesn't care. They aren't motivated because they know the tips will never be great as long as they're menu-price based.

To me this seems like a much better system, but obviously I'm biased. I know it's not a perfect system, but I find it to be far better than our current social norm. I'd like to hear what you all think.

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