AT RANDOM: Tipping the balance

When I worked as a server many years ago in several busy Vancouver restaurants, the minimum wage was $3.65 an hour

When I worked as a server many years ago in several busy Vancouver restaurants, the minimum wage was $3.65 an hour.

Even in those bygone days, that was not much of a salary. Needless to say, I relied on tips to enjoy a decent standard of living.

It’s still the same today: the minimum wage may have gone up, but tips are the real reward for a job well done.

But a Vancouver Island restaurateur has decided to do away with the time-honoured tradition of tipping by paying his servers a decent wage and benefits.

At Smoke ‘N Water in Parksville, owner David Jones plans on paying his service staff $20 to $24 an hour and his cooks $16 to $18 an hour.

I think it’s a great idea, in theory. Waiting on tables has often been considered to be a stepping stone to something else, not necessarily a career. But the skills needed by a good server are many: from diplomatic skills to knowledge of wines, not to mention a level of physical fitness to withstand long hours on your feet. So kudos to Jones for paying his staff real wages and recognizing them for the professionals they are.

And any of us who has had meals ruined by surly, rude or just incompetent service knows the cardinal rule of a restaurant experience: great service can save mediocre food, but the most fabulous meal in the world will be ruined by lousy service.

Jones hopes that by eliminating tipping, he will eliminate the stress many customers feel by having to calculate tips, not to mention worrying whether they’ve left enough (although thanks to new debit/credit card machines, most of those calculations are figured out automatically); and the stress servers feel when they realize they’ve been stiffed after providing top-notch service.

I’ve travelled in many countries where tipping is included in the price of the meal and have experienced some of the worst service imaginable, ranging from sheer indifference to a group of us being yelled at by a server as we left a restaurant in Austria. I believe someone in our group had asked for a specific condiment. It wasn’t as though she had asked for out-of-season truffles to garnish her hamburger.

There was simply no motivation to provide decent service. She was paid whether she cursed at us, or simply served us our food. Unfortunately, in her case it was the former. We never got our food.

I do think many of us are completely and utterly burned out when it comes to tipping. It’s one thing to tip your barista for making you an outstanding latte, it’s another when you’re in a beer and wine store. I just don’t see the point of providing a tip when I’ve walked over to the cooler myself, opened the door, removed the wine and taken it to the counter.

When I worked in the service industry, we  kept the bulk of our tips and paid a percentage into a tip pool for the cooks, bus boy (yes they were all boys in those days) and hostess (yes, all female in those days).

We took pride in providing good service and hoped we would be rewarded. And when we were it was the icing on the cake.

On the other hand, it might make for a more relaxing meal in a busy restaurant, where servers aren’t worried about turning over as many tables as possible to up their tip potential.

For now, though, I’ll take the potential for great service.