Dining away from home is a huge component of the current national economy. And the abdomens of the diners has been growing apace, too. Full disclosure: this blogger disavowed cooking for one, along with the inconvenience and dishes and utensils to be washed, a good while ago. So, the one major meal of the day is an early dinner and it ends with the delivery of the bill (usually referred to as "the check.") and some of these have a helpful tipping guide below the signature line. However, the suggested tips are calculated on the gross total (food + tax) and this blogger is offended. He is determined to not pay a tip on the sales tax. So, his tip is 20% of the amount charged for the food/drink on a total that excludes the sales tax. If this is (fair & balanced) resistance to price-gouging, so be it.
[x New Yorker]
Notes On The End Of Restaurant Tipping
By Adam Gopnik
Tag Cloud of the following piece of writing
The news this week that Danny Meyer will eliminate tipping in his restaurants shook up—or, at least, made slightly tremble, like a good panna cotta—people who like to eat out in New York. Although arguments for the abolition of tipping have been around for a while, and Meyer is not even the first to enforce the policy here, the prestige of his mark and chain makes his choice seem less idiosyncratic than pace-setting. Where Meyer goes, many follow, and it seems entirely probable that within a decade or so there will be no tip-line left on any New York restaurant check.
The underlying logic behind Meyer’s decision is, as is usually the case with innovation, more complicated than it might seem. It’s not simply the servile inequity and unfairness of the tip practice that Meyer objects to—the familiar ritual that leaves some poor twenty-somethings so at the mercy of a table full of inebriated arbitrageurs that she feels ready to take the bus back to Oberlin. It is also that eliminating tipping while slightly raising prices is actually a way of balancing the earnings of the front of the house and the back of the house. Meyer told the Times that, in the course of his three decades in the restaurant business, “kitchen income has gone up no more than 25 percent,” while “dining room pay has gone up 200 percent.” All the big tippers buying overpriced Bordeaux and giving the waiter twenty per cent, in other words, is of no help to the kid in the kitchen chopping onions for (relative) pennies. Putting everybody on a wage basis may just help to even things out.
The purely moral arguments for the abolition of tipping have been around for a while now, and they are impressive. There is something corrupting in the habit of having to wheedle money out of people as a favor, rather than a professional obligation, and though it may give the giver some sense of self-importance, that sense is surely not worth the degradation to the one who gets. Even the best diner devolves into a relationship with the to-be-tipped server like that of a tourist with the locals on a resort island, which isn’t healthy for anyone. Undemocratic, unjust, and, worst of all, encouraging of fake, stagy servility—all the odder that tipping has held on here longer than it has anywhere else in the Western world. (Or maybe not so odd, since Americans also stay busy singing about the long summer vacations they don’t have and the White Christmases they never see, pretending that our reality is other than it is being one of the most—or, actually, least—fetching things about us.)
Tipping was long ago abolished in France, where, by law, a gratuity is added automatically to the bill. Service compris is the motto at the end of every menu, meaning literally “service understood” or, closer, “service included.” Certainly, the abolition of direct tipping there has had a minimal effect on the quality of service, which is the ostensible reason for having tipping in the first place—direct payment for politesse, varying with the amount. The surly and irascible men and women servers remain surly and irascible, the pleasant ones pleasant, and the special handful who genuinely enjoy the company of new people in a convivial setting—rare, but they do exist—beam as they would in any case. Temperament is a far more powerful maker of men, and waiters, than even the promise of tips.
Yet the abolition of tipping in France recalls a truth that pertains to the abolition or prohibition of anything: the activity just gets forced into a marshier, twilight area of exchange. Though the service is included in France, and many French people never add anything at all to their bill, it is regarded as good behavior, especially in a familiar or favorite place, to add a little something extra at the end—perhaps five per cent. To further complicate things, Americans visiting France often do add a lot more extra than that, from domestic habit (along with some lingering, dated G.I. sense that Americans are expected to be generous), so that when an American adds nothing at all, in an attempt to seem European, he is likely to hear a slight or even loud grumble from the waiter, who has come to depend upon the American instinct to tip. The American’s attempt to seem sophisticated is thus taken by the waiter as a mark of irredeemable American gaucherie. So the abolition of tipping, far from simply abolishing a servile practice, tips the whole table over into an ever-more subtle and complicated and embarrassing emotional, and transnational, transaction. (Will tipping, one wonders, be truly abolished at Meyer’s joints or merely unnecessary? They are different things. If the servers at his places are under strict orders to return any little pourboire offered for extra helpful service—as is the rule at, say, Whole Foods Market, where a fishmonger who has sweetly pried out the pin bones in your kid’s salmon isn’t allowed to take a few extra dollars for the effort—then the economy has indeed altered. If Meyer’s waiters can still, in extremis, take cash as special thanks for exceptional service…. Well, then we are back in the old arena, and in more complicated ways.)
With the end of tipping in New York, though, we will lose as well any number of diverting social habits and prejudices. I had a friend who used to insist at the end of his meals that he would gladly pay a twenty-five-per-cent gratuity if the server swore solemnly that none of it would go toward subsidizing an acting teacher, especially a Method acting teacher. (Apparently, the other kind of acting teacher, who taught dialects and sword fights, were fine with him.) And while all such generalizations should be shunned—and then immediately repeated, for effect—the end of tipping will put an end to the endlessly repeated rumor and libel that women in restaurants tip less generously than men. It is certainly true that some women—they just happen to be one(s) I know—don’t tip adequately: a close female friend of mine, in response to the pleading imprecation offered when she flashes her credit card, responds that women are not really undertippers but seem that way simply in contrast to the male habit of overtipping for an ostentatious—and, obviously, absurdly fleeting—show of big spending.
Presumably, the real drawback to the approaching end of tipping is that you can no longer undertip for poor service. But when has anyone actually done this? You are more likely to overtip a surly waiter to placate him, or her. (The woman in question sighs.) Orson Welles once told a story of his idealized father burning up a hundred-dollar bill in a glass while a disobliging waiter watched, saying “That would have been yours!”—making it plain that the elder Welles was not cheap, merely demanding. The loss of this role of the Big Spender, and also of the Burning Judge, is doubtless well lost, but lost it is. (Although, come to think of it, “Hey, Big Spender!” the Leigh-Coleman classic, is a song addressed to a pathetic loser.)
Power relationships between the servile and the condescending are always less healthy than professional relations between the active and the appreciative. But, human beings being what they are, a certain nostalgia for the old relation, the material of so much great comedy, will linger—the greatness of Bertie and Jeeves is exactly that the servile one condescends with such skill that the condescending one becomes servile. The end of tipping means one more irrational thing rationalized, one more odd little ritual lost. Since such rituals are often the traces of oppression, they are, on the whole, well lost. But since they were also things handed on, as rites of passage, they had their joys. Waiting tables is hard work, mostly undignified—and yet pseudo-servility in exchange for real money does not seem the ugliest of human transactions, and it had, at least, the virtue of extending an ancient and complicated masquerade. One thinks right now of that greatest of all New York restaurant scenes in the movies, the one in Chaplin’s “The Immigrant,” where Charlie squares off with the formidable Eric Campbell as the waiter. What a matchless sense of triumph Chaplin achieves when, having lost his quarter—having imagined, for a reel, that he would have to fight his way out of the café—he can, thanks to a last-minute rescue by the beautiful Edna Purviance, finally, benevolently, patronizingly tip the irascible Eric. The ethics and poetry of service should doubtless always be included. But can they ever be entirely understood? Ω
[In 1986, Adam Gopnik began his long professional association with The New Yorker with a piece that would show his future range, a consideration of connections among baseball, childhood, and Renaissance art. He has written for four editors at the magazine: William Shawn, Robert Gottlieb, Tina Brown, and David Remnick. Gopnik, born in Philadelphia, lived his early life in Montreal and received a BA (art history) from McGill University. Later, he received an MA (art history) from New York University. In 2011, Adam Gopnik was chosen as the noted speaker for the 50th anniversary of the Canadian Massey Lectures where he delivered five lectures across five Canadian cities that make up his book Winter: Five Windows on the Season (2011). More recently, Gopnik has written The Table Comes First: Family, France, and the Meaning of Food (2012). In 2013, McGill University awarded a DLItt ( honoris causa) to Adam Gopnik.]
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