Monday, September 28, 2009

The costs of tipping

Tipping provides American waiters with an incentive to increase their check average by pushing bottled water, extra courses, expensive entrees and pricey wines and by showing guests the door as soon as they stop chewing.
That's from Phoebe Damrosch in the NYT (via Ezra), arguing for a new policy of set fees for servers rather than tips. We usually think of tips as providing incentive for better service, but yes, there's a perverse side of this incentive structure, too.

Could this be one of the reasons that Americans are over-eating? We have a restaurant culture where servers can only make a decent wage if customers provide decent tips, and such tips are far from guaranteed. If servers' wages were totally divorced from the amount they served us, would our caloric consumption drop?


Kim Dionne said...

bottled water usually has 0 calories, so my guess is measuring caloric consumption as an outcome variable might be a problem.

i also think that over-eating in restaurants is more likely due to the large servings than to servers pushing drinks or desserts. of course, as a former server, i know that pushing alcohol early not only ups the tab, but also makes customers more likely to splurge on the menu -- not just for dinner, but also dessert.

Lidzville said...

No one tips in Barcelona and the waiters are less stressed and the restaurants calmer. Waiters get a fair wage. Taxi drivers in Asia are another matter: tips are expected to offset the cost, to the driver, of taking the most direct route.

Nancy said...

I have served people 6-8 drinks at weddings who've not tipped me a dime. Every wedding has 2-3 of those idiots. Can't blame me for the calories.

Also: Americans are pretty stingy with tips, given that waiters are often making less than $5/hour. I think we're fat because we eat too much, not because we felt guilty about tipping the waiter. Please.


Seth Masket said...

Yeah, this is probably nothing. From what I've read, the reason our caloric intake has gone up so much over the past 50 years is not because of what goes on during meals (at home or in restaurants) but because we snack a lot more between meals. The technology to make pretzels, chips, Twinkies, etc. that can sit in the cabinet for months or years without spoiling just didn't exist a few decades ago.

Okay, does the tipping culture create an incentive for more alcohol consumption at meals? If we switched to a set fee rather than a tip, would drunk driving be reduced?