Meet Joe. Every Sunday morning, he sits down at his local diner to order the usual: scrambled eggs with a side of buttered toast and sizzling bacon. At the end of his meal, Joe generously tips Martha, the matronly waitress who always makes sure his bacon is extra crispy. However, as he pays the bill, not once does it cross Joe’s mind that the people who were actually frying the bacon to his desired crispiness might be being cheated out of a fair wage.
Traditionally, restaurant workers are highly underpaid for their efforts. The kitchen staff members are the unseen backbone of the business, while waiters rely on the unpredictable disposition of patrons to make their tips. Both scenarios can be problematic, but the less-seen staff are particularly underappreciated, making between two and a half to four times less than their customer-facing counterparts. One way to address this drastic pay gap is by changing tipping models so that the entire staff receives a share. This helps to alleviate the problem of exploiting minimum wage workers in the restaurant industry, though implementing the change successfully is tricky.
For many establishments, disrupting the current tipping model means including a set service tax within the bill rather than adding a tip on at the end. The restaurant thus has the option to split up this tax evenly amongst its staff to avoid a huge disparity between the wages of the front of house staff and the unseen workers in the back. For those concerned that this might be unfair to waiters taking the brunt of the face to face work, restaurants can choose to divide up the tax according to the roles and responsibilities of each staff member. That way, everyone gets a fair share based on the amount that they contribute.
The restaurant industry is already one of the most difficult to succeed in––even the smallest changes run the risk of losing valuable staff or customers. Andrea Borgen, the owner of the popular Los Angeles spot Barcito, has struggled to find the perfect solution to keep both her employees and her customers happy. The biggest challenge in changing the tipping model is maintaining reasonable menu prices while making sure the entire staff gets compensated for their efforts. Customers are wary of menu price increases or unexplained added service charges, but often that is the best solution to addressing the pay gap.
If you are a restaurant owner attempting to make the shift, first talk to your staff to get their opinion on what works best for everyone. If the change in tipping models is meant to serve your whole team, there’s no better place to start than talking with them. There should be open communication and a clear willingness to work together to find the best solution, rather than an unwelcome, authoritarian change. By creating an environment where your employees feel taken care of, they will be more willing to trust new, experimental systems. Establishing a team-centric culture and taking care of employees in other ways, such as offering health insurance and stable schedules, is the foundation that must be set before implementing new models.
It is not easy to alter any long-standing system, particularly one that would have such immediate effects on both customers and employees. However, in order to address workplace inequality and the exploitation of minimum wage workers, the restaurant industry must change with the times, developing new ways to ensure fair workplace practices. Changing traditional tipping models is one alternative to minimize the wage gap among the restaurant staff.