Imagine There's No Tipping: It's Easy if You Try

In a recent New York Times article, the paper's restaurant critic, Pete Wells, inveighs thusly against the prevailing practice of tipping in U.S. restaurants: "It is irrational, outdated, ineffective, confusing, prone to abuse and sometimes discriminatory."

I agree. Like Wells, I routinely tip at the generous end of the scale, around 20 percent of the bill, tax included. And except in very rare cases of exceptionally abysmal service, I follow that policy wherever and whenever I dine out.

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But that's just me. And that's the point, and the problem with tipping. It's just too discretionary.

Restaurant servers (and cabbies, and hotel maids, and so on) deserve to be compensated fairly, at a rate that is predictable and transparent.

If they provide sub-par service, it's the restaurant management's job to rectify the shortcoming, or fire the wayward worker. Not everyone is cut out to work in customer service.

Wells points to several high-profile restaurants (Per Se, the French Laundry) that have recently begun including service in the bill, dispensing with tipping altogether. He suggests that we may be seeing the beginnings of an industry-wide change.

Not everyone will welcome the change. Some servers make more from tips than they would on a straight salary. Some restaurant owners, especially at the value end of the food chain, fear that raising their prices to cover severs' higher salaries will deter business. Some diners relish the power they feel tipping gives them.

But as Wells notes: "The people who take care of us in restaurants deserve a better system, and so do we."

Reader Reality Check

What's your take on tipping?

This article originally appeared on FrequentFlier.com.

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