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Not Tipping: Karl Marx Reincarnated As A Restaurateur


If you’re a business owner, you should probably avoid compensation strategies that can be described as “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” Not if you’re restaurateur Danny Meyer, though. Then you definitely want to serve up Marx at your restaurants. Step 1: eliminate tipping.

We believe hospitality is a team sport, and that it takes an entire team to provide you with the experiences you have come to expect from us,” Mayer wrote in a statement. “Unfortunately, many of our colleagues — our cooks, reservationists, and dishwashers to name a few — aren’t able to share in our guests’ generosity.

Meyer did not elaborate on whether he will reduce his own earnings to be in-line with what the rest of the staff makes. He also failed to mention a fairly important factor in his decision.

One wage to rule them all.

It seems Meyer’s decision may not have arisen from goodwill, but rather in response to calls for New York to raise its minimum wage for fast food workers to $15 per hour. In other words, Meyer is simply watching out for lawyers and regulators and looking for an easy way to pass the costs of minimum-wage hikes and potential litigation to customers and high-performing servers. In regard to litigation, potential may be an unnecessary qualifier.

Tipping Rewards Effort

At a time when dining establishments have come under fire for how employees split tip money—in many eateries, servers share gratuities with support staff or even managers—there’s some thought that a no-tip policy may be the quickest way to avoid headaches and potential legal complications. For example, at Starbucks, baristas have sued to win millions in tips they allege were unfairly divvied.

At Starbucks, baristas have sued to win millions in tips they allege were unfairly divvied.

Meyer’s stated reasons, if not his real reasons, do hold a grain of truth. People who work different jobs make different amounts of money. If this is really the injustice he says it is, then of course it must be stopped. Meyer should put Bernie Sanders in charge of his business strategy, stat. Besides the most obvious problem with that—Sanders’ economic illiteracy—there’s an even bigger problem. Servers themselves tend to prefer gratuities.

“Even some servers point out that accountability can sometimes work to their advantage: With tips, there’s the potential to make more money than might be possible under a flat-wage system. Getting rid of tipping would be horrible,” says Jenn Harris, a waitress in Solana Beach, California.

See, waiting tables can be a rather lucrative endeavor, if one is willing to work. And I do mean work. Servers who treat it like a career get paid. They also work nights, weekends, holidays, and often only take one day off per week. They keep detailed notes about regulars—their favorite spirits, how involved they want the server to be, how they like their steak cooked. It is an art, and they rightly get rewarded for their skill.

Pay Equates to Skills, Not Employment

They also make sure to slide some of their spoils to the team that helps them make it happen. Sure, they don’t spread it around to everyone equally. The food runner who always brings out perfectly plated food and the busboy who keeps the table spotless and water glasses filled are worth a little more than the one chatting up his coworker on the back line. The bartender who gets drinks out not just to those seated at the bar but also to the servers so they can keep their guests refreshed deserves a little more than the bartender who ignores the dining room.

Washing dishes is not an art.

This isn’t to say that cooking is not an art. It most certainly is. This is why accomplished chefs can negotiate salaries and get recruited to other restaurants. The genius chef is the engineer and architect; the server his salesman. It’s a beautiful symbiotic relationship and an example of what makes America great.

If it can be done by a robot, it’s not art.

But washing dishes? No, sorry not sorry, but washing dishes is not an art. If a person is content being a dishwasher and has no desire to advance, then he is not worth more money just because. He is replaceable. He doesn’t bring a unique skill-set to the job. Reservationists (nee maître d’ and hostess before language became a bloodied mess of nonsense) are more skilled, but generally not in possession of an unreplaceable skill-set.

How Dare We Tie Dignity to Merit

Nevertheless, if Meyer wants these groups paid more and to stay ahead of minimum-wage hikes and lawsuits, he can certainly raise prices and do just those things. That’s exactly what he plans to do. His initiative, which he’s dubbed Hospitality Included, will cause prices to rise 20 to 35 percent. That’s certainly magnanimous. Customers should definitely be the ones to pay for his kindness, his sense of team spirit, his heartfelt concern for the financial well-being of his employees. I mean, he’s totally making all these decision based on feelings and not cold, hard truths about the problems that government mandates are going to cause.

He’s totally making all these decision based on feelings and not cold, hard truths about the problems that government mandates are going to cause.

Regardless of how you look at this, it is nonsense. The restaurant industry is truly one of the great meritocratic systems in the USA. It offers an almost-unparalleled opportunity for upward mobility. People with past mistakes or little formal education can, with hard work and dedication, make great money and advance into managerial—even ownership—roles.

It is absurd and infuriating, but totally predictable, that some want to undermine this. Meritocracy doesn’t take from each according to his ability and give to each according to his desires.

As Saru Jayaraman of the advocacy group Restaurant Opportunities Centers United said, “Dignity and profitability are not mutually-exclusive ideas at America’s restaurants. Eliminating the two-tiered wage system is essential to ensuring a fair and just future for the nation’s 11 million restaurant workers.”

Damn straight, Jayaraman. Dignity and profitability are not mutually exclusive ideas. People getting paid different amounts of money for performing different jobs is highly problematic and must be stopped. Otherwise, we might afford hard-working Americans a little too much dignity. That’s why their ability to be profitable must be shackled.

In the words of some philosopher, “It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness.” Best to make sure that social side is properly dragged down and restrained from becoming too accomplished. Otherwise, they might get lofty ideas about what else they can achieve.