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Will eliminating tipping affect quality of service?

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Question:

With a lot of restaurants deciding to do away with tipping, I need to ask what that will do to customer service. I have servers that go the extra mile and some that do as little as they can get away with. Is it really fair to have them both receive the same amount? 

– Pegi Rambo, General Manager, 4B’s Restaurant, Havre, Mont.

Answer:

It may not be fair that under a no-tipping arrangement—or a tip pooling arrangement for that matter—a great server would earn the same amount as a mediocre server. But what’s worse, in my mind, is that a guest is being served by a mediocre server in the first place. How can you develop that server into a great one? Or make a change?

Many people feel that tip pooling or eliminating tipping altogether would result in a decline in service quality. After all, if servers are not receiving immediate incentives for exceptional service, why should they provide it?

I am familiar with the argument but find it insulting to the professionals in our industry—not to mention insulting to hardworking nontipped employees like me! I think we all know examples of nontipped employees who go above and beyond, and their peers who may be similarly compensated but need much more development. While money motivates, to be sure, a lot of research points out that other motivating factors come into play as well. In short, there are both good and bad employees providing good and bad service in both tipped and nontipped roles. 

Many scholars feel that tipping is only loosely connected to service quality. Cornell Hospitality Professor Michael Lynn, one of the leading experts on the topic, wrote a much-cited review paper titled, “Restaurant Tipping and Service Quality: A Tenuous Relationship.” He writes, in the abstract, “The connection between service quality and tip sizes is tenuous at best, as shown by an analysis of 14 studies that examined the relationship between service and tips. … While the studies taken together found that, indeed, tips increased with the perceived quality of service, the relationship was weak enough to raise doubts about the use of tips to motivate servers, measure server performance, or identify dissatisfied customers.”

My advice is that if you rethink your compensation structure, think also about the best methods for training, motivating and developing servers. If your service quality is highly dependent on the guests’ generosity, your restaurant may have bigger problems. A great piece on Danny Meyer and others’ push to eliminate tipping can be found here

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