Slipping into Tipping
January 16, 2016
At the very end of 2014 I wrote an essay about my tipping dilemma and asked for advice.
You know, I suspect, something about restaurant tips. Restaurants are able to pay a modest hourly wage, below the normal minimum because the preponderance of a waitstaff’s salary comes from tips. This is a good thing for both sides. Restaurants are able to contain labor costs and waitrons earn far more than they would if they were receiving an hourly wage.
Of course it’s you who are paying the difference.
Retail is something else. Bread Furst pays a good wage to our retail staff – well, good by industry standards. We do that because we don’t expect customers in our bakery to pay a 15-20% tip. Indeed, I don’t expect our customers to tip at all.
It is not, after all, expected in hardware and grocery stores, nor at Saks Fifth Avenue. So why should it be in a bakery?
I have always disliked the way in which quick-service food retail handles tipping .
For me this is an aesthetic issue and I take my lesson from what I have experienced as a customer:
I order at the counter from a young woman in torn jeans and a wrinkled and slightly soiled shirt. I want a coffee to go. She turns around, takes a cup, presses a spigot, asking, “Leave room for milk?”
She turns back, hands the coffee to me and with a few strokes hands me an I-Pad that says:
Gratuity ______ 10 %
______ 15 %
______ 20 %
I think, “Jeeze, she’s simply filled a cup. Why should I tip her?” I look up querulously. She is looking directly, expectantly into my eyes.
I didn’t want customers to have this experience here and so I banished tipping.
Well, guess what. It happened here.
If you are a regular customer of Bread Furst you know that our service has been slow. One of the principal reasons is that I made a big mistake at the beginning in my choice of point-of-sale systems – our cash register system. At the time it seemed to be the best choice available; but in fact, I chose a system that made customers wait long times to check out. It was frustrating to you and awful for us.
We took a long time to choose a new system but finally we did and we installed it last week. It comes with a tipping option that forces you to choose.
As a result tipping increased 300 percent.
I really don’t know what to make of this and what to do about it. I know that customers have asked frequently during our year and half of life if they could leave tips; and for a year we have had a discretely placed jar for those who really wanted to do so. That seemed like a good compromise. Customers who really wanted to tip could do it and those who didn’t want to weren’t made to feel guilty about that.
But it seems to me that some customers who didn’t think about tipping were now being asked directly to tip and I wonder if some of you may resent that.
But perhaps that is just the view of a 77-year old traditionalist.
Eun Yim, our general manager and a far younger person than I, says that the practice “has become so standard (that when I shop) I don’t think about it. If it’s a quick service place and I order a cup of coffee, I don’t see any reason to tip.”
Matt Demma who works here on weekends, a young man committed to the retail food business, says he always tips when he buys because he knows that like him, the people serving him “survive on their tips.”
And I know that some of you want to tip. Indeed a customer told me just a day ago that she wanted the option when she checks out. (But another customer overhearing the conversation said he finds the tip screen a subtle coercion.)
I really don’t know what to do. On the one hand I don’t want to deprive our service people of a wage increase. That’s what it is, a wage increase that costs us nothing. On the other hand we already pay a decent wage and we are paying a fortune for health insurance.
We could do what restaurants do and, in view of the energized tipping, lower our base wage. We’d benefit from that as an organization but it wouldn’t please our sales people.
But what about that? Why is it that the salespeople alone benefit from tips?
Our sales staff is very important as it is the face of our bakery. But what about those who produce what we make for you? What about the bakers, cooks, and pastry staff? They don’t benefit from tips unless we pool them; and that is something that some restaurants do.
None of this addresses the curious fact that in spite of what I wrote in 2014, we slipped into tipping and did that at a time when others, led by Danny Meyer, the estimable New York restaurateur, are questioning and abandoning the practice.
We have taken the tipping option off our point of sales system at least for the time being. Please let us know what you think.