Quite a few years ago, after a long night and day running the Hood to Coast Relay, I piled into a van for the drive back home from the Oregon Coast. Famished, we rolled into a restaurant on Highway 26.
The place was full of weary runners. But even taking the trying circumstances into account, our server was not only slow but indifferent and rude. Our group wound up debating whether tipping is part of an unwritten social contract or whether we should scrap the tip to send an economic signal of our displeasure. At least one of our group left nothing; I pitched in a bare minimum.
That story comes to mind as I consider recent chatter about whether the time has arrived to end the tradition of tipping food servers. Some restaurants are experimenting with eliminating tips and increasing the cost of meals to raise wages: Joe’s Crab Shack has eliminated tipping at 18 of its restaurants (but not in Vancouver) and is raising menu prices by 12 to 15 percent.
In Seattle, the city’s impending increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour may force the issue. Paying tipped servers the same wage as other kitchen staff, from chefs to dishwashers, will create a large discrepancy in incomes. A service fee that’s divided among kitchen and service staff would even out pay.
The new approaches make some sense to servers and customers. As diners, we’d know how much the meal will cost and don’t have to think about whether this server deserves more or less than the usual tip. Among restaurant workers, servers would have the most to lose but their loss would be partly offset by the shared pot from a service charge. And some would welcome the more consistent paycheck.