On Wednesday, Californian restaurant owner Jay Porter published an article on Slate that told his story of running a successful tip-less restaurant for six years. Europeans look upon this tradition of ours with puzzled apathy, for they got rid of tipping a while ago and replaced it with the much more rational system of fixed service charges. For Porter's restaurant in San Diego, Linkery, service charges were set at 18% of the bill, and additional tips were heartily discouraged. This, in turns out, makes a lot of sense. What follows is a combination of a few of the points Porter makes, as well as my own contributions.
Like Porter argues in his article, most other professions aren't held accountable so directly to their customers. The situation is analogous to, say, Apple's software developers asking customers directly for their paychecks instead of Apple itself. Supporters of the tipping tradition suggest that waiters need tips to stay motivated, but that would discount the goals of professional development and personal integrity.
This is the real kicker for me — something I would never have anticipated prior to reviewing the relevant studies. Not only do servers have other motivations besides tips for providing quality service, tips also don't even accurately measure the quality of a waiter. While there's certainly not a negative correlation, it's a very, very weak relationship.
Porter has managed to establish a certain sense of equality between the often-cited underpaid cooks and the relatively overpaid waiters at his restaurant. Simply put, there shouldn't be so great an income disparity. Instead, the service charge is split roughly equally amongst the two parties, and thus motivates cooks to produce higher quality food. Porter found this increase in food quality drives restaurant sales, and inadvertently raises the salaries of servers as well.
Most servers, like the rest of us, have certain conceptions (or misconceptions) of what a rich person looks like — namely, a young to middle-aged white man. Waiters and waitresses who sign on to this idea tend to provide better service to people who look like this, and what this leads to is, as stated above, poorer service for women, minorities, and the elderly.
This last one's simple: If I'm a waiter, my livelihood should not hinge on the whims of my customer. And when you're paycheck isn't the biggest to begin with, even more uncertainty certainly can't help. So listen up, America — no matter how much we love the rush of self-importance that comes from being different, especially being different from Europe, we should really call it quits on this one.