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Feb 14, 2014 06:07 AM

mark bittman piece on tipping

this is a well reported piece on tipping and the minimum wage nationwide.


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  1. I like to read the Times.

    I like to read Bittman.

    I think the minimum wage should be raised.

    I think the tipped minimum wage should be raised.

    I'm glad that the Times ran Bittman's column, that I read it, and that you posted the link.

    1 Reply
    1. re: MGZ

      I have internally thought the same thought about the converse of "raise the minimum wage and lose jobs" to "let's lower it to zero and gain jobs" then. If we agree there should be a minimum wage, then there needs to be some *rationale* for what it is. Rather than "that's what it's always been" so leave it alone.

    2. Bittman is clueless about San Francisco. California doesn't have a tip credit in its minimum wage law and the specific high labor costs in San Francisco (which also include a health-care ordinance) has lead many restaurateurs to open up their new restaurants in places like Oakland. Part of the problem with a lack of a tip credit is that it tends to create huge pay discrepancies between front-of-the-house and back-of-the-house employees. You may have a dishwasher who works his ass off in the kitchen and makes ten something dollars an hour and a cocktail waitress who make the same ten something dollars per hour plus another $50K per year in tips.

      19 Replies
      1. re: nocharge

        In the situations I'm familiar with, the tips go into a pool and are split up among the workers. I doubt that wait staff are rolling in $$ anywhere.

        1. re: texanfrench

          Most state laws prevent tips from being shared with the kitchen staff. I know some bartenders who make about $100K per year with full benefits and can retire with a full pension after 15 years. (Hotel bar with a huge after-work crowd and a strong union.)

          1. re: nocharge

            I am unaware of any laws forbidding sharing tips, can you provide any laws stating this?

            1. re: karenfinan

              Sure. Tip sharing of any form has historically been limited to front-of-the-house employees who provide "direct table service" as in number 4 in the FAQ link below.

              Managers and owners have historically been prevented from getting any share of a server's tips even if they were involved in direct table services. Kitchen staff has also historically been ineligible.

              That's the pretty much the universal historical picture, but some recent court decisions, both at the federal appeals court level and state supreme court level have made the legal ramifications of tipping and who owns a tip more complicated. In other words, your milage may vary.

              And, of course, a mandatory service charge gives a restaurant a lot more leeway in terms of how it's distributed (if at all) among employees than a gratuity (or tip).

              1. re: nocharge

                I offered a simple notion above, and intended to leave it at that. Nevertheless, your comments have suggested the necessity that I point out the fact that a California law preventing involuntary tip sharing, is a far cry from supporting the assertion that "[m]ost state laws prevent tips from being shared with the kitchen staff." In fact, it doesn't even support the notion that California law "prevent[s] tips from being shared with the kitchen staff." In pertinent part, Section 351 provides, in pertinent part:

                "No employer or agent shall collect, take, or receive any
                gratuity or a part thereof that is paid, given to, or left for an employee by a patron, or deduct any amount from wages due an employee on account of a gratuity, or require an employee to credit the amount, or any part thereof, of a gratuity against and as a part of the wages due the employee from the employer. Every gratuity is
                hereby declared to be the sole property of the employee or employees to whom it was paid, given, or left for."

                The last sentence makes it abundantly clear that a server is free to share tips however she sees fit. The statute merely prohibits coercion, it does nothing to outlaw tip sharing. Moreover, that is the law of, arguably, the most fair and progressive State in the Country on this issue. I will leave you to try and find twenty-five or more who's laws prevent such voluntary actions.

                1. re: MGZ

                  Ever heard of "case law"? Even so, the FAQ by the State of California talks about "direct table service" and I doubt that a dishwasher would be included in that.

                  And of course a server is free to voluntarily share tips. A cocktail waitress could voluntarily share her tips with a bum on the street if she feels like it. The laws in this regard have been about the employers right to dictate policies for tip sharing. In that respect, the tradition was that a tip was a voluntary gift from the patron to the service staff, not subject to sales tax, that a restaurant had limited control over. That is opposed to a mandatory service charge, typically subject to sales tax, where the restaurant would have a lot more control.

                  Anyway, what I'm talking about is the historical standard that anyone who has taken Restaurant Business 101 in junior high would know. But like I said, there have been court decisions that have muddled the picture including this one:
                  It was a 2-1 decision where all three people involved thought that the issue should go to the US Supreme Court.

                  Then, of course, there is the famous NY State Supreme Court decision about the distribution of service charges, but I won't go into details since anyone who has a clue about restaurants would know about it.

                  1. re: nocharge

                    I admit that I have no recollection of having taken a Restaurant Business class in Junior High School. Frankly, it was during those years that I discovered weed, alcohol, and Led Zeppelin, so there is some blur.

                    As to "case law", I am aware of the concept of how judicial decisions are used in Common Law jurisdictions to provide precedent. Similarly, I am aware of "The Case Law" which establishes that any beers in a case, the entirety of which is brought to a party, that remain unopened after such party, must be left as the property of the host of the aforementioned party - thereby incentivizing the purchaser of the beer to consume as much of the case as possible before leaving the affair. Each of the aforementioned abstractions became quite familiar in law school (though, again, I admit to some blur - perhaps even more blur, as law school is way more fun than junior high!).

                    The thing is, none of that matters, the point remains that you still have not provided a single example of any jurisdiction prohibiting tip-sharing, much less shown how it is the law of "most" States.

                    1. re: MGZ

                      If you think I would waste my time digging up 25+ state websites about something as basic as how tipping laws have worked for many decades, you're delusional.

                      State and Federal laws when it comes to tip sharing have been based on the common philosophy that a gratuity (unlike a mandatory service charge) is a voluntary gift from a patron to the people who provided the service. The restaurant's ability to interfere was essentially limited to policies of tip sharing among those that provided the service, servers, hostesses, bartenders, etc. Back-of-the-house staff would be excluded.

                      The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision that a tip-pooling policy that included tipping out to back-of-the-house employees was was legal under federal law was based on an interpretation of the federal minimum-wage laws that the prohibition was tied to the tip-credit provision. So the ruling that back-of-the-the-house employees are eligible for tip pooling under federal law covers the nine states that are under the jurisdiction of the 9th Circuit and only in the case where the server is being paid at least the minimum wage without any tip credit applied. And that's just the federal law, individual states have their own laws. And the three individuals involved in the 2-1 decision all recommended that that the case should go to the US Supreme Court.

                      Like I have said from the outset, the legal ramifications of tip and service charge sharing is a confusing subject due to various court decisions, and if you are completely unfamiliar with the topic, maybe you shouldn't opine about it so strongly.

        2. re: nocharge

          How many restaurant reviews do you read that focus on the service?

          How many restaurant reviews do you read that focus on the dishwashing?

          1. re: chowyadoin99

            How about the scenario in Tony Bourdain's "Kitchen Confidential": "the dishwasher just walked out after arguing with the busboy, and they need glasses now on table seven"?

            Any restaurant needs a complete ecosystem to function well and major income discrepancies between the front-of-the house and back-of-the-house employees are not good for that.

            1. re: nocharge

              I think the back of the house might be happy not to deal directly with the patrons, and may very well figure that's the value of the tips received. Speaking as someone who's done both!

              1. re: nocharge

                "Any restaurant needs a complete ecosystem to function well and major income discrepancies between the front-of-the house and back-of-the-house employees are not good for that."

                Your conclusion, at best, simply illustrates the fact that fair wages are important to the operation of any enterprise. Please note that, in your example, given California law, the busboy and dishwasher would be subject to the same minimum wage and neither could benefit from involuntary tip sharing, so income discrepancies would not be a factor.

                As to Bourdain, I'm not sure how anecdotes offered with exaggeration for entertainment purposes are pertinent to the instant discussion. Is storytelling for profit supposed to be the basis for sound economic policy or social fairness?

                1. re: MGZ

                  If you knew anything about restaurants, you would probably realize that a busboy might be considered providing a "direct table service" whereas a dishwasher most likely wouldn't and thus they might be treated differently under California law when it comes to tip sharing.

                  1. re: nocharge

                    For a short period I was a bus boy at a French restaurant in Philly while in college, and the wait staff shared 10% of their tips with me. I don't recall if I had any base pay or not. My best fringe benefits were "busing" the remainder of high value wines, and when I was off duty I could eat and drink with my friends for half price. My bridge foursome jumped all over that one.

              2. re: chowyadoin99

                "How many restaurant reviews do you read that focus on the dishwashing?"

                If the dishes weren't washed I bet a lot of reviews would focus on that.

              3. re: nocharge

                Nocharge, you make a very good point, and the underlying condition you cite makes it difficult to devise a pay plan that is fair to everyone in the restaurtant's employ.

                1. re: Veggo

                  That is a difficulty in devising a fair pay plan for all businesses in what has evolved to be "civilization". As long as we accept the notion that society is of value, notions of "fairness" and "justice" become a necessary factors. Consequently, there can be and is no such thing as a free market. It is therefore essential for some assented to actor to try and regulate interactions so as to prevent unnecessary "unfairness" and "injustice".

                  1. re: MGZ

                    I am generally a believer in Adam Smith's invisible hand, although determining the value of certain skills relative to others is a fascinating topic for debate. (elsewhere!)

                    1. re: Veggo

                      I agree about the scope of this Site, so I'll leave this discussion with the notion that Adam's invisible hand was already benefiting from the protections of wearing the glove of the State.

              4. More or less what I've written on several occasions, ". . . It's a bad system".

                1 Reply
                1. re: mikie

                  I agree with you about the the system, but refusing to raise the tipped minimum wage is part of what prevents most people from addressing the flaws in that system.

                2. I think the tipped minimum wage should be eliminated. It leads to a mild form of guilt-driven extortion. If a restaurant can't make it without paying its servers minimum wage then better that it never gets off the ground.

                  1. after having lived in Europe, I've become an advocate of just paying them a decent wage upfront and eliminating tipping for the most part - it's common to leave a pourboire -- literally "for drinks" for exemplary service.

                    I realize that creating a cultural shift is a long hard battle, but it makes no sense that servers today make just $0.12 more per hour than they did when I was waiting tables DECADES ago.

                    13 Replies
                    1. re: sunshine842

                      Exactly. I'd love for that to be the goal. It seems, however, that the first logical step in permitting such a "cultural shift" would be to eliminate the tipped minimum wage and simultaneously raise the minimum wage to a decent sum.

                      1. re: MGZ

                        I cannot imagine any other industry that would settle for a raise of just 12 cents over a period of 30+ years. Sad.

                        1. re: sunshine842

                          Menu prices have gone up steadily in that period, as has the tipping percentage.

                          1. re: DeppityDawg

                            I'm not ever going to be convinced that it all works out.

                            If the base doesn't move (and it hasn't to a statistically significant degree) -- then the increased tips aren't keeping up.

                            1. re: sunshine842

                              Precisely. Those increases merely reflects an increase in the prices to which all are subjected. If the base that was to provide a portion of the server's income has not kept up, there is a gap in the actual income earned, regardless of the fact that the other portion of the income has.

                              1. re: MGZ

                                It depends entirely on the actual numbers, which I would be interested in seeing. If servers' total income (i.e. wages + tips) has increased over the last 30 years on a par with income in non-tipped service sectors, then it's hard for me to get worked up about the tipped minimum wage issue.

                                1. re: DeppityDawg

                                  there's no way that that mathematically can hold water.

                                  If the base doesn't move, the base becomes a smaller and smaller portion of the total income...and thus the total compensation can not, in any way, keep up with the wage increases in other sectors.

                                  The cost scales have not ever outpaced the rise in wages in other fields -- we'd all be homeless and hungry if that were the case.

                                  Additionally, restaurants and servers get particularly hard-hit when times are tough -- and they do not one jot less work for it. (people tend to tip less when things are lean, even if they still tip)

                                  1. re: sunshine842

                                    What proportion of a server's earnings comes from tips, in your estimation? And how much would you say that the average tipping percentage has gone up in the last 30 years? For example, from 10% to 15%? Just looking for ballpark estimates here.

                                    Let's say very conservatively that in 1980 servers were making 50% of their income from tips (and the other 50% from their $2/hr minimum wage), and this corresponded to people tipping 10% on average. And now let's say, again very conservatively, that customers are spending the same amount today but tipping 13% on it. This amounts to a 30% increase in tip income for the server since 1980, and a 15% increase in total income.

                                    In comparison, according to this short article, median wages in the US grew only 11% in the 30 years up to 2011:

                                    1. re: DeppityDawg

                                      Strictly from my own experience, the "standard" tip has gone from 15% to 20% -- still not enough to keep servers' wages on par with COLA.

                                      1. re: sunshine842

                                        I don't have enough knowledge to comment on the question about how the compensation of restaurant servers has kept up with other occupations. Two observations, though:

                                        1. There is an extreme amount of compensation span in the restaurant business. A young and attractive employee can make a significant amount of money in a high-profile place in a job that doesn't require a university degree or even a high-school diploma. On the other side, you may have "lifers" at Denny's that just make a living.

                                        2. The turnover rate in the restaurant business is extremely high. A lot of people who are in there are there temporarily.

                                        1. re: sunshine842

                                          Sunshine, fasten your seat belt. The inflation adjusted median income for all American households has been in a decline for two decades, and we're not done yet.

                                          1. re: Veggo

                                            oh, I realize that...all the more reason why I'm not buying that a twelve-cent increase over three decades is in any way even keeping up with median.

                                            The less disposable income people have, the less they are likely to overtip...which is what is required to keep servers at a constant increase.

                                          2. re: sunshine842

                                            15 to 20 per cent of avg check prices...which may or may not have tracked with COLA.