The Intolerable Foodie: Tipping Is Just Economically Represented Guilt

Waitstaff salaries shouldn’t be pulled out from menu prices any more than electricity bills or health inspector bribes

There are people I tip, and there are people I respect. Baristas, movers, NPR? Tip ’em. Doctors, firefighters, winemakers? Respect. Tips are nothing but economically represented guilt. Which is why I’ve always detested our colonialist holdover of restaurant tipping. I want my server to be less servant and more gastronomic equal. I want to know she’s really appreciating my speech about Tarbais beans being requisite to a cassoulet, and not just stripper-nodding. But the perverse incentive to tip means she’s likely to blankly smile while pouring the overly alkaline bottled water I didn’t request. The reason Uber is more pleasant than a taxi is that you don’t tip. And also because you’re not in a taxi.

I’m not against slipping a 20-dollar bill to a hostess, concierge, airline counter attendant, or private-party bartender to let them know I appreciate a little attention. But the server’s 20 percent is a fee masquerading as a tip, with no guarantee of being treated well the next time. So I’m delighted that Danny Meyer promised to do away with gratuities at all his New York restaurants by next year. Somewhat ironically, it makes me want to tip him.

In L.A. I love that Trois Mec and Barrel & Ashes wrap in a service fee. Sugarfish and Nozawa Bar go further, deleting that blank line pleading for a gratuity from their credit card receipts. I’m so excited that Glendale’s Brand 158 has a service charge that I would consider going—if I could find a time machine with a 1995 setting in order to enjoy the wraps and popcorn-fried chicken.

It pains me that my Redbird server is getting a $50 tip, while the artists doing all the brunois-ing, seasoning, and sautéing make far less. Waiters in L.A. are artists in some other field—involved in the restaurant industry by accident of cheekbones. Our shallow desperation to be liked by good-looking people is how they quietly tricked us to going from 15 to 20 percent.

I am happy to pay $40 per entrée so that everyone gets a fair wage. Waitstaff salaries shouldn’t be pulled out from menu prices any more than electricity, finger bowls (due for a comeback), or health inspector bribes. So I will consider not eating at a restaurant that allows tipping—unless the food is very good, the chef has an intriguing résumé, or it’s on a list of some kind. I am that committed.