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A tip of the hat to tip-free restaurants

Jenny Hoff

I had my first experience at a tip-free restaurant, and it was great — as in absolutely no difference in the quality of service I received.

I wrote in a previous post about the tipping phenomenon at coffee shops that has swept the nation, with a tip line on every iPad payment screen and receipt (frankly, I’m a little surprised grocery stores aren’t requesting a tip at the checkout). I also noted that like most people, I am someone who will capitulate to social pressure and feel compelled to fill out a tip line, even if I’m not 100 percent sure why I’m tipping.

Many people consider the whole tipping culture stressful, unfair (chefs, line cooks and other important roles in a restaurant often don’t get a piece of the tip pie) and confusing (why do we tip on some services and not on others)? Personally, I would prefer to see the actual price of a food or service up front, including tip, so I can better budget my money, as well as avoid being responsible for how much somebody makes at work that day.

In fact, according to the book “Tipping: An American Social History on Gratuities,” Americans used to consider tipping uncouth, undemocratic and a form of bribery. As for it resulting in a better service culture, a study by Cornell University showed the quality of the service results in almost no difference in the final tip. Whether your waiter is great or mediocre, you’re probably going to slap down somewhere between 15 and 20 percent.

News reports have been promising a change in the tipping trend over the last couple of years, but I had never personally experienced it at a restaurant until recently. When I first glanced at the menu (before I knew it was a no tip zone), I thought the prices were a little on the high side for the type of restaurant it was, but I chalked it up to location.

Since the prices were higher, my friends and I  were all a little less inspired to splurge. We ended up ordering the dishes we wanted, but we opted out of appetizers and other little nibbles we may have otherwise been tempted to try.

When we got the bill, we were ready to fill in the tip when we saw a note at the bottom stating that tip was included in the price of our food, and noting that we were requested to leave nothing extra. With no tip, we ended up actually spending much less than we usually do at cheaper restaurants. While we didn’t splurge, we enjoyed our dinner, left with our bellies full, and had service that was just as good as at any restaurant that doesn’t include tips in the price.

Having a tip included in the price of our meal was a much fairer way of assessing the true cost of dining out. It allowed us to budget what we wanted to spend without have to calculate any anticipated tip. The tip-free restaurant also made us feel better that everyone at the restaurant knew what wage they were earning and would go home with the same amount, whether they served spendthrifts or misers during their shift.

Our tip? It seemed like “no tips” is a system that works, and one other restaurants should consider.

What about you? Have you experienced a tip-free restaurant and noticed a difference in service?

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