Tuesday, August 28, 2007

WikiFray Symposium: Tip Inflation.

We're going to try to having "symposiums" on different topics. WF members are encouraged to reply on this topic with top posts rather than comments or forum posts. We'll try to have one each week.

Reihan Salam writes:

Generally speaking, I don't like dealing with wait staff. Why? Because I am uncomfortable with being served. And so I generally leave good tips, even if the service is not great. I once dated a young woman who worked as a server and she gave me some basic guidelines: (a) say you had a milkshake and the bill comes to $8 -- you still need to leave at least $4 because someone has to clear the damn table. (b) Leave at least 20 percent.

It seems every circle of friends has this person -- the one who used to work as a server and insists that everyone leave 30% tips for average service. I'm sure WikiFray has one as well, who will chime in soon.

And yeah, somebody had to clear the damn table. For a milkshake, that entails picking up a glass, maybe two an putting it in the basin. That's $4 of labor? Tell that to a migrant farm worker.

And even if it is, it's called a loss leader. The labor for a $15 steak dinner isn't that much more than that for a $7 sandwich. The labor for a $5 glass of beer is the same as for a $2 soda. Yet the tip for those is doubled. If Target sells milk below cost to get me in the store to buy higher margin items, I am not obligated to pay more for it if that's all I buy. It's a business. Some items are more profitable than others.

And note the effect this has on Reihan -- he dreams of a restaurant where he doesn't have to deal with anybody. When the cost of a restaurant milkshake is $12, the $3 dirve thru looks like a bargain. These servers who think they're doing their fellow workers such a service by hectoring everyone into leaving big tips are ultimately harming them.

Add in that it seems that every face-to-face interaction these days involves an encounter with a tip jar. I smell a backlash.