Month: January 2015

Tips Unwelcome: Why Tipping Should be Eliminated

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The other day, I called my cell phone provider to change my service. The representative on the other end of the line was friendly and professional. My transaction was handled in an efficient manner. At the end of the call, a Siri-like computer voice came on and said, “Press 1 to leave a 10% tip, press 2 to leave 15% tip, press 3 to leave a 20% tip…”

Outraged? Of course. Why should I be guilted into paying extra just to get decent service? Doesn’t the company pay its employees enough to compensate them?

Truth is, this never happened. I made it up to illustrate how tipping is an illogical compensation practice that should be abolished. Every day, across the United States, servers at restaurants rely on tips for the majority of their income. Yet the same thing occurs every day in restaurants across the country. As consumers, we are expected to ensure good service.

Proponents claim that tipping leads to better service. After all, they say, if servers are not relying on tips, what incentive would they have to give good service?

What these proponents neglect to notice is that people in jobs give great service every day, without ever receiving a tip. Why? Because it’s their job. It’s a basic expectation, and if it isn’t happening, they’ll be shown the door. Same with servers.

I had one person tell me that when he went to Europe, where tipping is only given for exceptional service, he found the service to be slow. He took this to mean that tips made a difference. What he failed to understand is that what he took as slow service was often the restaurant’s desire to allow diners to enjoy a leisurely dinner. In most of Europe, meals are seen as something to be enjoyed and savored, a chance to converse with friends and colleagues. There isn’t the rush like there is in America, where the goal is to get in and out as quickly as possible, while the restaurant owners want to maximize profits by turning tables as quickly as possible. It isn’t about tipping, it’s about culture.

Tipping is also a highly unreliable method of compensation. No one can agree on what an acceptable tip is for good or great service. Some say 15%, some 20%, some 25% percent. Studies have also found that people leave bigger or smaller tips for arbitrary reasons, regardless of service quality. Factors include gender, race, ethnicity, whether a server repeats the order back to you, and even whether or not the server wears a barrette. None of these factors lead to the pay for performance that tipping is supposed to promote.

Tipping isn’t just inefficient, it’s bad for servers. According to the Wall Street Journal, 15% of restaurant service live below the poverty line. For every story you hear about a server getting a $1000 tip, there are ten instances in which a server gets stiffed.

A friend of mine once treated me to dinner. Nice of him, given that the bill was about $100. I was horrified, however, when he left a $10 bill on the table. I quickly offered to pick up the tip, allowing me to up the amount while letting him save face.

So why do we tip? No one is exactly sure, but it appears to go back to the fact that European aristocracy used to throw a few coins to their servants. Visiting Americans witnessed this and brought the practice back to the states. At first, many derided the practice as un-American and un-Democratic. The wealthy throwing a pittance to the poor lowly working class. Nevertheless, the practice caught on, until we are left with the system we have today.

Most restaurants continue the practice because it is the only way they know to do business. As out-dated and ineffective as it might be, they know how to run a restaurant that tips and they understand what the outcomes are. If they change, it means they will have to change their practices, and they have no idea what the repercussions might be.

Some restaurants have already made the change. And guess what, sales and service have only increased. Servers, most of whom are now paid a good wage with benefits and scheduled full-time, see themselves as part of a team, as people with not just a job, but a profession. In addition, despite the prices in these restaurants being higher, patrons tend to buy more. I can get that appetizer or extra drink, they say, because I don’t have to add 20 percent on to the bill at the end.

Unfortunately, these restaurants are few and far between. In the meantime, the practice is here to say. If we can’t beat them, maybe we should join them.

Tomorrow, a tip jar goes on my desk.

In Praise of Night Owls

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I am a pariah, a malcontent, lazy, unproductive.

I am a night owl.

If I had my way (and I don’t) nothing would start before 10 am, except maybe a good cup of coffee and some toast. To me, there’s nothing worse than an 8 am meeting. Contrary to conventional wisdom, I don’t write first thing in the morning, when my mind is clear. I prefer to do my writing at night, when the house is quiet and everyone else has gone to bed (I’m writing this at 10 pm).

Yet for some reason, these habits are considered less desirable than those of morning people. We have adages like, “The early bird gets the worm,” and Benjamin Franklin’s famous, “Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” We have no such praise for night owls. No, “Stay up late and you’ll do great,” or “Sleep well after dawn, and your troubles will be gone.”

We even speak of our sleeping habits differently. Morning people talk with pride about getting up early. “I woke up at 5 am, cleaned the house, made breakfast and finsihed a grant proposal to fund a homeless shelter, all before anyone else is even awake!”

Meanwhile, night owls say things like, “I just don’t do mornings.” It’s more of an apology than a boast.

Yet we need night owls. Without them, who would keep our streets safe at night or tend our emergency rooms or make sure our streets our plowed in time for the morning rush?

It’s hard to say why some people are night people, and some are day people. Research has shown that it a compbination of our biology and our environment, and that it may change over our lifetime. I have two brothers. One is a construction manager. For all his adult life, he has had to get up early to begin his day. For him, sleeping in is 7:30. My other brother is a musician. He has jobs that go into the early hours of the morning. Sometimes, he doesn’t get to bed until 4 am. But while their jobs help dictate when they get out of bed, ever since they were boys, I can remember the one being a morning person while the other being a night owl.

They also both happen to be highly successful in their fields. So much for one sleep pattern being better than another.

Still, the notion persists that it is better to be a morning person. Some studies even show that night owls are more likely to depressed and abuse caffiene. At work, managers tend to see people who come in later as less committed to their jobs.

Finally, however, a study has shown the merits of sleeping later. For years we’ve known that American adults don’t get enough sleep, and this lack of sleep has effects our health and our productivity. Research published in the Journal Sleep (yes, there is a journal about nothing but sleeping) has found that if people get on average of 20 minutes more sleep for every hour later they work. So if someone starts work at 9 am instead of 6 am, that’s an extra hour of sleep each day. Who wouldn’t want that?

Of course, for some, this also means getting home later. But is that such a bad thing? What’s going on at home at 3 pm that’s so important? Afraid you might miss Dr. Phil?

Yes, the early bird might catch the worm, but who wants a worm anyway?