Not Tipping Because Restaurants Exploit Workers = You Exploiting Workers

I’ve worked in the hospitality industry since I was 18, and I constantly hear “I don’t tip because I don’t think it’s fair the way restaurant workers get paid.”  People claim they feel like they are supporting the system by tipping restaurant workers, so prefer not to tip (and show the restaurants they should give workers a living wage).

Today, a whole thread popped up on social media surrounding how someone doesn’t want to tip (because the entire system is broken), but they still want to tell a restaurant worker they did a good job when they do.


I won’t mince words.  You suck.

You are protesting a system that exploits workers.  But you aren’t willing to boycott that industry, (because you love eating out! It’s so much fun!) so you refuse to tip the waiter, writing “I’m against tipping” on the receipt.

I understand the arguments against a tipping system.  I worked in a martini lounge five days a week.  While Friday and Saturday brought in decent pay, I worked from about 4pm to 2am on weekdays, making ~$30 a shift.  It balanced out.  Plus, I wasn’t allowed to work the weekends unless I worked a weekday shift.

Friday and Saturday felt like a lot of money, but once you balanced it out, it was a regular wage.  Which is okay–I chose to work for that place–but an hourly wage wouldn’t have destroyed my personal profits at all (and might have added to it).

I was able to get into the restaurant industry because of tipping.  It’s one of those industries where a lot of people don’t last past the first year.  If you don’t do a good job, you don’t make money.

In essence, you fire yourself.

But because of this, the barriers to entry are lower.  I’m not saying whether or not this is a good thing or a bad thing, but this is why it was so easy for me to get involved in the industry.  I just basically walked into a job.

But this isn’t about whether or not the system should shift from its current model.  The important part is that this is the current model.

If you believe restaurants are exploiting their workers, then boycott them.  Write letters into the newspaper.  Protest outside.  (We had protests outside the cafe I worked at when I was 18, and I was very confused because I didn’t understand the issues people had with restaurants).

But when you fight the system by not tipping your server, you are agreeing that the restaurant owner is exploiting its employees, and then deciding, in protest, that you will too.

Wait, what.

That’s akin to saying a company isn’t paying George Jetson enough to make widgets.  So you go straight to George Jetson, take a widget from him without paying him for his time working, and explain he’s being exploited.

Over my <cough> 14 years of the restaurant industry (this is where you protest–oh no, you can’t be that old!), I’ve come across people with ethical reasons for not tipping.  I remember all of them.

There was one that would come into the lounge I worked in with a white shirt, sharpied with “No fat chicks.”  He’d complain to his friends about how bars exploit their workers then “expect patrons to tip someone a dollar just for popping open a beer”.

There was another one who took all of his friends out for drinks.  I was his server, and at that restaurant, I tipped out the bar for 10% of the cost of drinks I served (with the assumption that I was getting tipped for them).

He pulled me off to the side, said he likes to tip most with compliments, told me great things about my service, then handed me $5.  I owed the bar $10 for his drinks.  I made -$5 for serving them that evening.

I’m not saying this to complain about individual customers, or to say my life as a restaurant worker was hard.  I’ve done alright for myself, and I’ve had some pretty great managers who have given up their own pay sometimes to make sure I made money.  But it was my direct manager who made sure I made money (out of their own money).  And when I became a manager, I started doing the same for my employees.

But if you are cheap, please just write on the receipt, “I am cheap, so I didn’t tip.”  It’s more honest.  To claim you aren’t tipping because I’m being exploited is a joke.

You are exploiting me.

The system in the United States might be all wrong.  It might be the worst thing ever.  But it is the way it is, and if you don’t tip, people don’t get paid.  So just pretend their wages are baked into the operations of the restaurant, and all the prices are raised by 20% to make up for that.

(Maranda linked to this great video about why tipping doesn’t work in the United States AND why you still should tip)

About Jeanne Marie Hoffman

Former bartender, still a geek. One equal part each cookies, liberty, football, music, travel, libations. Stir vigorously. +Jeanne Marie Hoffman Jeanne on Twitter

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  1. Like any employer, a restaurant is supposed to pay its workers; if that pay is inadequate, workers are at complete liberty to stop working there and take another job. The onus is not on customers to subsidize their workers. Ergo – no tipping at all. Perhaps that will persuade the employer to pay fair wages. And if prices rise, the customer has the liberty to decide whether to dine there at inflated prices, or not.

    So, please stop whining

  2. Tipping is a cultural thing in the US. Its just the way it is. I live in Chicago and have been to every nice restaurant/bar in the city. You just tip. Period. If you don’t want to tip, don’t go out. I’d like to see places add a mandatory service charge for all parties (not just parties of 6+). Maybe make it 15% to keep the DB’s who whine and say mandatory fees result in a decline in service happy. That way if you do a good job, you get the extra 5%.

    One thing people are always cognizant about when traveling abroad is foreign customs. The custom here is if you go eat, expect to pay 15%-20% of your bill to your server. If that’s not cool, either:

    1) Don’t come here….I’m okay with that
    2) buy a restaurant and advertise prices 15% to 20% more than a comparable establishment but no tipping…and tell me how that goes.

    I’m in finance now, but caddied as a kid…and one thing i’ve learned is people can be cheap. Look at the comment above…Fairgo is blaming the restaurant for him not wanting to pay the server…versus him just being a cheap fu%$. I’d respect this argument more if people quit blaming the establishment that’s been around for 100+ years and just said, “hey, i’m a cheap peice of s%$#, how can I not pay the 20%”

  3. I live in Australia but travel a lot. Hospitality workers are paid more than decently by restaurants and tips are exactly that, rewards for superb service.”.
    Not so in the US. Expecting a tip equal to 20% of the value of the meal is outrageous. Why percentage and not a “cover charge” – fixed amount, stated on the menu and non-negotiable?

  4. I have no problem with tipping anywhere in the 15-20% range as long as I receive the proper service. What most staff forget is that TIPS stands for “To Insure Proper Service.” If you do an awful job you shouldn’t expect anywhere near that amount and that seems to be the problem. I hear and see my friends who serve crabbing all the time about how they deserve a certain amount of money just because its standard, and thats not true. One of them works at a local wing joint that offers all you can eat wings on Tuesdays for $16.99 and thinks that because she brings you 6 at a time you should tip based on how many you eat and “Expects that”. I’m all for throwing an extra bone or two especially if things are kept up with but I am tipping based on the total check regardless of how many I order, I didn’t choose the promotions I just participate.

    • Jeanne Marie Hoffman

      I agree with you on the promotions. If someone is doing an excellent job and always keeping the plate full, if you want to tip extra, by all means. But there is no norm/actual expectation for that.

  5. If tipping is expected and almost mandatory then it’s not a tip. Just the business model extorting money out of customers.

    In many lower end restaurants I would love to have the option to get my own plates and skip the waiter completely and save 15-20%. I feel service is forced down my throat and I’m guilted into tipping otherwise poor waitstaff will be broke.

  6. Whining to the wrong person

    I find it astounding that you berate a customer for leaving or not leaving a tip. Isnt it terrible that your employer refuses to pay you so that youre dependent on a customer to make a living wage? Why not use the same outrage in your article and write a letter to restaurant management? youre right the issue is the system and the system is put in place by your employer. Not the customer. Expecting an automatic 10/15/20% for doing your job IS crazy. A tip is for exceptional service.

    Many restaurants are now changing to give fair salaries to their workers. Instead of whining about customers not paying enough you should be complaining to your employer.

    If I am unhappy with my salary, i take it up with my boss. I dont go complaining to our clients and demand they tip more or call them cheap for being outraged at having to tip.

  7. you tell it like it is. I worked in the rest. industry for $1.18 an hour as a teenager. Thank you.

  8. Tipping is just a stupid western idea. If your tipping in places like asia, trust me those ppl are laughing at you and thinking you are a dumb sucker.

  9. Just a small tangent: I always tip 15-25% in restaurants, but refuse to tip Uber drivers and I will not. Uber was sold as as a different business model and I sure appreciate that.

  10. i do not tip. the restaurants are exploiting the workers. i refuse to be part of the system that encourgaes it.

    the worker wants better pay? take it up with the restaurant.

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