Tipping System Is Bad News

RECEIVED Thu., Nov. 10, 2005

Dear Editor,
    The article about servers and tipping caught my interest [“Split Parties,” Food, Nov. 4]. Years ago I traveled a lot and also ate most of my Austin meals at restaurants with table service. I strongly agree about the unfairness of the tipping system, from the server's viewpoint. I take issue with the conclusion that it serves the consumer well by providing a higher level of service compared to the fixed service charge system used by most of the world. I found European service to be roughly equivalent to American service or somewhat better. The really large difference in quality of service I have seen is in Asia where the service is very much better than American standards. After being in Asia for a few weeks and then returning to the U.S., I found myself annoyed by the poor service that is normal here – not to mention the higher expected tip rate.
    I also disagree that our tipping system gives the consumer bargaining power. While I agree that regular, generous tipping customers who are known by the servers will get superior service, I don't think it works the rest of the time. There can be no bargaining power when the service has already been delivered (or not!) before the tip amount is known.
    A factor that may contribute to the poorer U.S. service is the my-table/not-my-table mentality. In the U.S., the consumer deals with a single server to get service. That server is frequently not immediately available when needed. In a nontipping environment, there is not the same disincentive to serve patrons at “other” tables. So the customer has the whole server team being concerned with his needs, rather than only the recipient of his anticipated tip.
    The U.S. tipping system is bad news for both the customer and the server.
Gary Thomas
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