By BRYAN GRAY
The opinions stated in this article are solely those of the author and not of the Davis Clipper.
Amid the protests demanding a raise in the federal minimum wage, there is often a cry for restaurant servers to be paid a “professional” wage rather than having to rely on inconsistent tips. The largest food service magazine (Nation’s Restaurant News) placed the debate on its front cover of last week’s edition. Ironically, it was the same week that an apparently well-heeled customer was shocking servers in Ogden with enormous tips: a $5,000 tip on a miniscule $214.75 bar tab at a downtown bar, a $1,000 tip on a $49 charge at a downtown club, and a $1,000 tip at a Weber County golf course for the girl driving the beer cart. This extravagance is rare but not one-of-a-kind. A Davis High graduate serving customers at a Las Vegas hotel pool several years ago received more than $8,000 from a Canadian businessman. (His ticket included $421 in food and $30,500 in beer and alcohol.) This column has previously chronicled the Sizzler waitress who received a non-cash trip: a one-week all-expenses-paid trip to Hawaii, compliments of a family whom she had served over a period of several years. A Salt Lake Red Lobster server was told by a Hispanic couple last month to “double the food bill” and “keep the rest for yourself.” For every person who complains about tipping, there are numerous servers who like the system the way it is. One argument for tipping is that it provides servers “instant cash” rather than having to wait two weeks for a payroll check; since more attentive and talented servers typically receive larger gratuities, another argument is that the system weeds out those who struggle, thereby increasing the level of service. Of course, restaurant tipping is not a level playing field. While tipping at full-service restaurants in the U.S. is estimated at $42 billion annually, servers at “high-ticket” restaurants earn more than those who serve $2.99 breakfast specials. That’s why some food service executives are questioning the whole tipping concept. In New York City, a leading sushi restaurant announced recently that it was paying professional salaries to its servers in lieu of tips. Famed chef Tom Colicchio has entertained the idea of banning tips at his steak houses. Panera Bread, operator of Paradise Bakery in Utah, has discouraged tipping by putting out Community Bread boxes and donating receipts to local charities. A federal court chastised Starbucks for its tipping arrangements, and lawsuits have been brought against the practice of “tip pooling” or splitting tips among all service team members. But I doubt tipping will go away any time soon. It has become part of the dining culture. Servers expect it and customers expect to pay it – even the cheapskates and Utahns who have trouble figuring out any amount over 10 percent. With the widespread use of credit cards, tips today are generally reportable to the IRS and not tax-free. Yet most servers I know are satisfied with the system, and so are the businesses where they shop. Remember that Utah girl who received the $8,000 tip? One day she was serving a gin and tonic and a chicken wrap to a Canadian businessman. The next day she was buying a car at an Infiniti dealership.