Some Tennessee restaurants are experimenting with the “Autograt,” an automatic gratuity applied to diner’s checks regardless of the size of their party. Proponents say it’s appropriate given how little servers make per hour without tips.
Automatic gratuities are no longer restricted to parties of eight or more in some Tennessee restaurants. Thanks to a new trend dubbed the “Autograt” (short for Automatic Gratuity), patrons are getting bills with their tips already added, a move that began after some restaurants saw a trend in lower tips.
A server quoted in the story offers a typical complaint: “You’re getting $2.13 an hour, so really, you’re depending on 15 to 20 percent.”
Yes, that pay sucks. No, I’ve never been a server. But the reason I’ve never been a server is because I know the pay sucks. I wasn’t willing to accept a job that paid so little and then forced me to rely on customers to subsidize the rest of my salary when that subsidy is optional.
And here’s where common sense comes into play: if a gratuity isn’t optional, then it isn’t a gratuity. Call it a “service fee.” Call it a “wait tax.” But let’s at least be honest enough to stop calling mandatory tipping a gratuity.
A gratuity, in case anyone is too lazy to bother with a dictionary, is defined by Webster as “something given voluntarily or beyond obligation usually for some service.” The obligation is the price of the food itself. The expectation is 15-20% on top of that.
As a general rule, I always tip 20%. Actually, I tip slightly more than 20%, because it makes the math easier. If I go to dinner and the bill is $18.45, I slide a decimal point one position to the left, get $1.85, double it, and get $3.70. I’ll then usually just round up to four bucks. If that’s not good enough for my server, they need to find other work. Just the other day, I had lunch at a favorite Japanese restaurant; I figured up the percentage of the tip I left doing it my way, and it came to 24%. Any server who’d complain about that seriously needs to find a different career path: I’m going above and beyond my expectation.
In a perfect world, restaurants would pay servers minimum wage and increase their prices so that they’d still have their profits and servers would be better paid. But in that perfect world, servers would be compensated well enough that tips wouldn’t be necessary, and I doubt many servers would be so quick to sign up for that plan.
If restaurants would just increase their prices by 20% and pay that increase to their servers so their salaries would be more reasonable; customers would be out of the tipping business, and servers would still get what they think they’re due, anyway. Except for the fact that many servers would still expect a tip on top of the higher prices.
But as long as we call it a “tip,” it needs to be understood that tipping is optional. Under our present system of food service, it’s understood to be the right thing to do, but it ultimately stands as a choice made by the patron. I’ve seen servers say that when a customer receives poor service, that’s not necessarily the server’s fault; well that’s certainly true. The problem is that as a customer, I’m not allowed to stop the proceedings to hold an employee meeting to see which employee is failing me; my server has to be my advocate. If I have bad service, I hold the server responsible because he’s usually the only person to whom I have access.
You can argue that I can always contact the manager, but then that has the potential of getting the server in trouble with his boss, when the problem may not be the server’s fault. Calling a manager over may get me out of paying a bill altogether, but for many people, that also means leaving no tip at all as opposed to something, albeit something less than 15%.
But as long as restaurants aren’t willing to make that 20% anything other than an option, then it needs to be understood that it is an option.
Servers are quick to point out that if you can’t afford to tip, you shouldn’t go out to eat. I see their logic. Really. But if we’re going to truly be fair, they might consider that if they can’t afford to potentially not get tipped by customers who aren’t willing to play by this “rule,” then the servers shouldn’t work in the food service industry. There will always be people who don’t follow social graces. And that goes for both sides of the tipping equation.