The End of Tipping? Or the Start of Tipless?

Imagine two restaurants right next door to each other. They are identical in every way except one – one is traditional in that you are expected to tip the waitstaff; the other adds 20% to the price of the food and you are not expected to tip.

To which establishment would you choose to give your business?

Tipping is discussed quite a bit on travel forums (not to mention on this blog), but I present this hypothetical because of this article on CNN Money. The article looks at three restaurant owners who are attempting to eliminate tipping and instead offer their waitstaff standard wages.

Even more to the point in my opinion, however, was this explanation for the decision by one of the owners, Bob Conway:

We are in a competitive industry and we thought this could be a point of differentiation and originality. The customer won’t feel the whammy at the end of their experience.

Put the feelings of the customer first? In an industry where customers have nearly limitless options, including the option not to eat out at all? Who would have thought?

I guess Bob Conway, Thad Vogler, and Jay Porter … that’s who.

Personally, given the hypothetical above, I would chose the tipless restaurant every time. Why? Precisely for the reason Mr. Conway states – I enjoy eating out, but I don’t enjoy the awkwardness at the end of the meal – no matter how minor it might be. I’d rather you just hand me a check, I hand you a credit card, you run it, I sign for it and that’s that.

But the comments section following the article reveals why changing the culture might be next to impossible.

automatically building the tip into the prices can easily encourage mediocre to bad service, and I’d hope that there are checks in place to prevent that from happening. If I give business to an establishment that does automatic price adjustments to prevent tipping, and I complain about bad service, and nothing is done about it, you can bet that will be the last time I’ll bother going there. ~Natch2

We, the public, are already crushed by machines and technology in an unfair system of ownership by the wealthy. … Any place that starts forcing charges on me and taking away my freedom to chose will be shunned by me. ~clearmist

I will avoid any restaurant that has no tipping and increase their prices to compensate. I tip at least 20% for good service and I expect it to be good. ~Eugene Powers

Then again, there are more than a few commenters who agree with my way of thinking as well.

Europe has been doing it this way for years. The servers make a decent wage; all the staff get a fair share; the management doesn’t look like Scrooge, and the customers do not have to add on at the end. ~Mjkelldog

i think it is a great idea!!! … Pay a fair price for food & workers get a fair wage. If you have a bad experience, rather than having to decide “Hmmmmm, he/she is only getting 10%”, you can hold you management responsible for their employee’s actions through complaints just like in every other industry. ~Johnm000

Hmmm, based on these comments it wouldn’t surprise me to see a future in which both tipping and no-tipping restaurants exist – each with their own customer bases. “No tipping” sounds too negative though, and a little bit cheap. Perhaps they should call themselves “all inclusive” or “professional service” restaurants.

I’m liking where this is headed. Restaurants that build the full cost of the dining experience into the menu price would put out “all inclusive” signs to attract customers who prefer this approach. Eventually one could envision restaurants around the globe doing the same – maybe a symbol could be designed to overcome language barriers. A full-fledged two model restaurant system is born.

And never again would travelers be forced to contemplate, “What’s the tipping custom when visiting XYZ?” (although, for those who prefer to tip, I’m sure there will still be plenty of discussions surrounding the appropriate amount to tip in XYZ).

Back to the hypothetical question at the start of this post. Which restaurant would you patronize? And what do you think the standard term/symbol should be for no-tipping restaurants?

Read the CNN Money article in its entirety: Could this mean the end of tipping?

Usable restaurant check math” by prettydaisies. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.


  1. Mixed thoughts on this. I’ve been in both sides of the equation. One thing I do hate to see is quite clearly demonstrated on the receipt. I can do the math and this is an insult IMHO. 20% of this bill is only $8.60. The additional .52¢ is a tip on the tax. I don’t think so.

  2. I’m a former waitress (20+ yrs) and I find it rude when my receipt conveniently tells me what a 20% tip is. I can figure what I’d like to tip, thank you very much. And tipping for take-out coffee I pour myself? Don’t think so. I do tip heavy for housekeeping and I’m a 20% tipper but I draw the line on tipping for takeout quick meals like sandwich shops. I think a lot of people feel bullied into throwing $ into those tip jars, not me.

  3. Since when is the expected tip 20%? 15% is more than fair. I eat out about once a week in a decent restaurant. Min tab is $100-$150 for two people. I typically spend about an hour at the restaurant. 15% tip on a $150 meal is $22.50/hr – damn good wages for people who don’t work very hard and have few marketable skills (and yes, I did wait tables in college, so don’t bother telling me how “hard” a waiter has to work – get a real job and you’ll find out). And the restaurants I visit are usually full – the waiters are getting tips from multiple tables – earning at least $50/hr range for 3-4 hours “work”, on top of the wage they get from the restaurant. If anything, they are significantly over compensated…

    And why is there a tip anyway? Pay your employees and put it in the cost of the product. When I go buy a car, I know the person I’m dealing with is getting a commission. But when I buy the car, I’m not presented with a bill that lets me fill in the commission. So why is it any different with a waiter?

    Tip culture sucks.

  4. For a developed nation to substitute tips for wages is bad public policy. It is time for this antiquated system to just go away.

  5. I prefer all-inclusive meals, but I don’t think I would avoid a restaurant where I live because it uses the traditional tip model. However, if I’m traveling, I would be more likely to patronize an all-inclusive restaurant so I know I’m not violating tipping customs.

  6. I hate tips. I hate being forced to decide how much EXTRA I need to pay for a product. My honest answer is always ZERO!

  7. @TRC – I completely agree with this. There are some restaurants I would go to no matter what their tipping policy because the food is just so darn good. But if I haven’t been to a place before, or am on a trip and don’t know the tipping customs, the scales would definitely tip in favor of all-inclusive pricing.

    If this does take off, I’ll be curious to see how it impacts waitstaff service as well. Will all of the best servers gravitate to the tipping restaurants where they can potentially earn more money? That could be interesting because, if it were to shake out that way, well then I’d be tempted back to the tipping restaurants I suppose.

  8. I want to have the decision whether to tip or not. No tipping means no incentive to give me exceptional service. I,too, have been to Europe where the tip is included. The waiters ignore you because they get the tip anyway.

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