Observations From a Tipless Restaurant, Postscipt 4: On Tipshaming

This is a postscript to a series detailing what I learned from operating our farm-to-table flagship restaurant, the Linkery, as a “no-tipping” restaurant that instead charged a fixed percentage for service, from 2006 to 2013. During the writing of the series, I received a lot of great comments and questions that I’m covering in a few postscripts. Click here to read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, and Part 6.

“Tipshaming” occurs when a service worker (usually a restaurant server) takes to social media to call out a public figure for tipping inadequately. Recently, Brendan O’Connor, a food truck employee in New York, was fired for calling out a Wall Street firm on Twitter, for not tipping on a to-go order.

I thought this was particularly interesting since tipping on to-go orders is not, as far as I can tell, a firmly established social norm. I infer from media stories about Mr. O’Connor, however, that tips make up an essential part of the income of this food truck crew. If that’s true, my question is, what else do we expect these people to do when they don’t get tipped?

In a normal workplace, if you work and don’t get paid your agreed-upon wages, you take your employer to the Labor Board or to court. But because tips are agreed-upon only in the sense of being a social norm, if someone violates the norm there’s really no recourse for the employee. Yes, the guest might get deliberately poorer service on a subsequent visit. But that still doesn’t help the employee who’s worked and not gotten paid.

By making the employer not responsible for paying the full wages of the worker, we introduce a lot of randomness into the compensation system. And the people who get randomly screwed over are left with no way to fix their plight. All they can do for satisfaction is retaliate against the person who seems to have caused the problem, by hassling them on the Internet. Nobody wins except the Daily News.

Click here to read some final thoughts on this series.