Opinion: Tipping and government regulation are out of hand

With hourly wages higher, tips should be going down, not up — says La Jolla resident John Weil.

With hourly wages higher, tips should be going down, not up — says La Jolla resident John Weil.

(File Photo)

Opinion / Letters to the Editor / Our Readers Write:

As a former waiter in high school and college, I have always been a good tipper. I know what it’s like to rely on tips to pay the bills. I have never left less than 20 percent and typically leave as much as 22 percent. But as prices rise beyond reason for restaurant food, the old standard percentages for tipping need to be revisited.

Recently, we had a family dinner at a seaside restaurant in Del Mar. For five people, our bill came to $331.69. When the bill arrived, I was actually offended by management’s notation suggesting a tip of 22 percent, 20 percent or 18 percent. That is $68.42, $62.20 and $55.98, respectively. I had to take a moment to let the three numbers sink in. Maybe you do, too.

To be clear, I don’t begrudge a waiter making a decent living. But I do take offense to customers being asked to pay for it in its entirety. I say this because, in addition to applying peer pressure to induce very large tips, some restaurants admit to charging a service fee to offset an increased, state-mandated minimum wage of $11 per hour.

At the same time, many of these same restaurants have raised prices in a desperate attempt to survive in a state not known for its business-friendly atmosphere. Labor costs have soared. Plus, it is clear California is one of the most expensive states in which to live. Housing costs are high and many restaurant workers have been priced out of the state. This makes it difficult for restaurants to retain workers.

But the point is customers are already paying the waitstaff’s minimum wage through increased prices and a service fee. Plus, on top of that, we are being asked to add an overly generous tip.

Back when I was a waiter, tips offset minimum wage. In others words, I earned less than minimum wage because I earned tips. And that was legal. With hourly wages higher, tips should be going down, not up. Yet, the trend for astronomical tips seems to have no ceiling.

So, our waiter in Del Mar gets the full $11 an hour, and management suggested I give him as much as another $68.42 for taking my order, bringing out my food, and coming back a few times to check on us. And, yes, I know he does more than that. But for me, it isn’t $79.42 worth.

Of course, I caved somewhat and I left him $60. That means with just our table and his minimum wage, he earned $71 for 90 minutes work.

Keep in mind that our waiter probably had at least five other tables. Even if each of the other tables left just a $15 tip per table that is another $75. His grand total for only six tables for 90 minutes would then come to $146.

Perhaps he shared 10 percent of his tips with a busser. Or maybe he shared a small percentage with the bartender or even the host. But none of that matters. On paper, management suggested a tip of more than $60, so that they could retain waitstaff.

Although I sympathize with them, the idea that I am expected to cough up another $60 on top of the cost of an already expensive meal is unfair. That is the issue for me.

Now, don’t get me wrong. He was a good waiter, very polite, nice and attentive. However, on this particular evening, our waiter earned an hourly wage greater than many teachers at $68 an hour at the height of their career, and that is with a master’s degree.

He earned a better hourly wage than many social workers, healthcare workers, professional mid-level managers, nurses, dental assistants, computer technicians, pre-school teachers and banktellers.

Even if that waiter argued that he cannot get 40 hours of work per week at a restaurant or that Friday and Saturday night are the only lucrative nights for tips, it is a hollow argument, true or not. The simple fact is restaurant meals are escalating at an alarming rate. To award a 20 percent tip on a meal today is not fair to the consumer and expecting far too much.

For instance, at a restaurant in Old Town, the suggested tip starts at 25 percent, then 22 percent. Imagine, a restaurant having the nerve to suggest a customer leave a tip equal to a quarter of the total cost of the bill for four!

And then there’s those tip jars ...

Today, in fact, my wife and I bought a yogurt in La Jolla . We self-served, then walked to the counter. The employee rang us up and handed us plastic spoons. Directly in front of us was a tip jar. A tip jar? For what, doing his job?

But back to restaurants. The short story is, owners are passing on rising costs to us.

The state, through overbearing legislation, has instituted a high minimum wage, costly permitting, workers comp and health insurance. And as prices of restaurant meals rise, so do tips. Clearly, a new reasonable standard for tips must be established.

The “impromptu” meal is becoming a thing of the past. Planned, budgeted dining is now more likely. This will ultimately mean far less dining out for most people. That does not bode well for the restaurant industry.

A tip of 10 percent seems reasonable for most meals, especially for large groups, where the bill is so much higher. Even at 10 percent for our dinner in Del Mar, our waiter would have received a $33 tip.

But like me, you probably gulp at the uncomfortable thought of leaving only a 10 percent tip. Personally, I know that the moment I do leave only 10 percent, I will truly dislike myself. I’ll feel cheap and miserly because I’m so accustomed to the old standard of 20 percent.

That tells you that the service industry has trained us well. After all, they are the ones who developed the standards for tips.

But as prices for restaurant food rises, common sense must prevail. The state must bring down the cost of doing business. Affordable housing must be made available. And the percentages for tipping must be lowered to reflect rising costs and common sense.


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