Union Square Hospitality Group isn't the first American restaurant group to experiment with eliminating tipping. According to The New York Times, restaurants around the country have tweaked the practice. Some add surcharges to diners' bills to cover service; others just raise the prices of meals to accommodate higher wages for the staff.
As a former server, I can see both sides of the argument. Throughout high school and college, my serving experience ranged from serving cheese fries on roller skates in a kitschy diner, to running cocktails and bar bites in a comfy gastropub, to serving bottles of wine that cost more than my rent in an upscale downtown restaurant. For the most part, those who are working in the service industry support the practice of tipping. On a busy night in a nice restaurant, servers can leave with hundreds of dollars in tips. After spending eight hours running around like a crazy person, it feels good to leave work with a wad of cash in your pocket. Many servers make the (often valid) argument that they make more money with tips than they would if they were simply offered a living wage the restaurant could afford.
Despite that, I don't support the American tipping system for one big reason: When people tip, they discriminate. The research is clear on this. Multiple studies by Michael Lynn, a Cornell professor and national expert on tipping, have shown that women with large breasts, small body sizes and blond hair tend to make more tips than those without those attributes. Even worse, a separate study showed that white servers make more in tips than black servers do, regardless of the quality of service and the race of the customer.
What's more, tipping creates an environment in which sexual harassment can thrive. Think about it: If you're a female employee who is harassed by a male employer, you have legal grounds to fight back. Not so for a female employee harassed by a male customer. Sure, as a server you can always have a rude, obnoxious or offensive guest removed from the restaurant. But on a slow night, kicking that guy out for "accidentally" grazing your butt every time you walk by his table could mean losing a big chunk of your income tonight. Standing up for yourself against a chauvinistic jerk doesn't pay the bills.
The bottom line is that there are valid arguments for and against the tipping system we use in the U.S. But based on my experience, I applaud restaurants that are trying something new and seeing if there's a better system to be had.
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