Sunday, June 21, 2015

Tip or No Tip?

Here's a tip...tip.
I have been very anxiously awaiting the opening of the Loyal Legion beer hall here in Portland. 99 taps of all-Oregon beers on my side of the river? Heck, yeah! Loyal Legion is scheduled to open it's doors on July 8th and you can bet I'll have my size 40 pants parked on a stool at SE 6th and Alder as soon as they turn the lights and taps on. 

One interesting tidbit that I read about Loyal Legion was that the owner, Kurt Huffman, will not be allowing tipping in his establishment. Instead, he plans to offer his employees a "living wage". Dishwashers will get $15 an hour and servers will make $18 an hour. You can read the KGW story about it HERE

Zero tips? I'm sure Mr. Pink from Reservoir Dogs would be tickled...pink. The tipping debate has been going on for a long time. I know some jer...uh, hum...folks who are dead set against tipping. Me? I tip and I tip generously. I visit enough bars, restaurants, beer halls and taprooms to appreciate good service, and I can recognize when someone is working their butt off to get a cold one (or six) in front of me. Is replacing the current tipping system with a higher rate of pay a good idea?

Huffman was quoted as saying, "The current tipping system in Oregon and other states where the tip credit is illegal is just not fair," Huffman said. "The way it is now makes for a very absurd inequity between the tip-earning staff and the non-tip-earning staff."

His reasoning certainly appears sound. Both of my step-kids have worked as servers and support staff in restaurants. My stepson is currently a server and barback at a restaurant in Eugene. Just based on his ongoing complaints, I can see that there are a lot of problems with the way tips are reported and distributed in Oregon restaurants. From what I can ascertain, many of the problems stem from managers who have arbitrary or inconsistent policies about the division of the tips.

What? Did you think that your waiter or bartender simply pocketed that fiver you left behind and spent it at 7-11 on the way home? Oh, no, Charlie! Quite often, a number of people are in line for a cut of that tip money.

Some establishments pool the tips and divide them evenly among the entire shift crew. That seems fair, but could have a negative impact on incentive and morale, especially when some workers aren't pulling their weight. Some restaurants have odd rules about splitting tips at different percentages among various back-of-the-house workers. One of my step-daughter's employers incorrectly reported the tips on her W-2, which created quite a problem for her when she did her taxes this year. It all sounds very complicated and beyond my meager math skills.

My initial reaction was to applaud Loyal Legion's no tip/higher wage decision, but I decided that I really didn't have enough information. Thus, I went right to the source: the bartenders and servers at my favorite watering holes. I asked them if they would be interested in working in a tip-less environment for $18 and hour. Their response was overwhelming AGAINST the no tip policy. Here are some of their direct quotes:

"My boss could never pay me a much as my customers do."

"That sounds like a good deal for someone who works at Red Robin, but $18 an hour would be a big cut in pay for me."

"They will never attract top people with that kind of arrangement. The people they hire will eventually take their training to a place like this one for more money."

"I'm a professional and I know how to work my tips. I make WAY more than $18 an hour on a busy night. Look, I just picked up $20 from the bar right now."

My thought is that perhaps serving just beer and pub grub in a massive beer hall might be the appropriate environment for zero tipping. It might be a successful way to go for Loyal Legion but might not work so well for other bars and restaurants. Certainly, a talented bartender in a popular bar or a waiter in a fine dining establishment would require more than the $18 an hour proposed. What do you think? I would love to hear from more restaurant and bar professionals on the issue. Leave a comment below, or drop me an email at wolf@beerguypdx.com 

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