Is Tipping Discriminatory and Outdated? Danny Meyer Says So.

Love it or hate it, tipping for service has been around since it was introduced in this country in the 19th century, and has been passionately debated almost as long. The recent flare-up started when restaurateur Danny Meyer announced his Union Square Hospitality Group would end tipping at its 13 New York City-based restaurants by the end of next year. "It's troubled me for 21 years that the tipping system is antithetical to creating a real profession for people who takes their jobs seriously," Meyer told CNBC, following his Oct. 14 open letter. "You don't tip your doctor if they do a good job. You don't tip the airline pilot if the plane lands. ... It's actually a demeaning practice." Meyer also compared it to buying a sweater at Brooks Brothers, where there is one total, and said the cost to diners would not differ much from what they pay now. The move to end tipping is gaining traction as Meyer and other restaurant owners cite the discrepancy between front-of-house and back-of-house workers as unfair, contributing to low morale and hurting teamwork. Another factor might be customers’ growing irritation. More business segments, following the example of the airline industry, are externalizing costs traditionally considered part of their service. Mobile payment technology is also driving change. Counter-service restaurants and quick-service shops, which traditionally haven’t included tip options, are adding automatic tip service options to bills. In some cases, automatic tip choices now suggest a base tip of 20 percent, eliminating the previous 15 percent base. These preset gratuities are boosting tipping, attributed partially to social pressure on consumers. Service businesses welcomethe increase as a way to keep staff happy without increasing hourly wages. The two-tiered wage system, however, is also blamed for the reason the restaurant industry is the single-largest source of sexual harassment claims in the United States. In an Oct. 15 The New York Times op-ed titled “Why Tipping Is Wrong,” longtime activist Saru Jayaraman, co-founder and co-director of Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, said, “Women forced to live on tips are compelled to tolerate inappropriate and degrading behavior from customers, co-workers and managers in order to make a living.” She argues tipping is an unfair system dating back to the days of slavery, perpetuating a racialized history and discrimination against African-Americans. Jayaraman and others make a strong case for eliminating tipping. As a vestige of another century, a different workforce and outdated attitudes, it’s time for other hospitality companies to join the small number of restaurants around the country that have recently reduced or eliminated tipping. In the past few years, industry leaders and event organizers have fought legislation viewed as discriminatory and a potential threat to members. Heightened awareness about social change has expanded the economic origins of Meetings Mean Business, which has a common goal of “providing the resources, tools and information to show the real impact the industry has on businesses, economies and communities.” Tipping is another economic and social issue that affects all of the above and demands discussion. Read “The Glass Floor: Sexual Harassment in the Restaurant Industry.”