Automatic gratuity leaves the table, with it servers’ peace of mind

Ask me why I like serving, and I’ll give you a variety of answers. “I like being able to talk to people all day,” I may say. Or, “I like how each shift is different.” “I like the flexibility of serving,” I’ll say some days. Or even, “I love the discounts I get on food.”

Ask me what I dislike about serving, and my response is always the same, almost automatic: the money. The tips.

I’ve learned that almost everybody has a different idea on what an appropriate tip is. Some people say 10 percent, some say 20. Others say double the tax, which in Tennessee is very close to 20. Some say even more. But some don’t tip at all.

Back in June of this year, Taylor Swift released a letter to Apple regarding its Apple Music streaming service not paying artists, producers and writers for the first three months. In her letter, Swift wrote that it is “unfair to ask anyone to work for free,” and ended it by saying “We don’t ask you for free iPhones. Please don’t ask us to provide you with our music for no compensation.” The argument Swift presents is an exact replication of how I feel about tipping.

When you go out to eat and have a server who takes great care of you, they are going the extra mile and waiting on you hand and foot because they are under the impression they will be paid for providing you with an exceptional dining experience. Taylor was right; asking anyone to work for free is unfair, and when people do not tip their server, that is essentially what they are doing.

Another reason why tipping your server is important is because an increasing amount of restaurants are implementing a tip out to other employees. This means at the end of my shift, a portion of my tips go into a tip pool, which is then divided between hosts, food runners and table bussers. The determinant of how much I tip out is not based on how much I’ve made in tips that night, it’s based on a percentage of my total sales. This is based on the notion that my tables will tip accordingly to their bill; however, sometimes that isn’t the case. This is extremely important with higher bills. Higher bills mean higher sales which mean a larger tip out. Essentially, if a party of eight comes in and their bill totals $150, and they leave me only $5, it is costing me money to serve them.

Previously, serving parties was not as big of a risk tip-wise because of gratuity. An 18 percent forced gratuity, usually on parties of six or more, was standard practice throughout the restaurant industry. However, this practice is becoming more and more uncommon in light of recent IRS rulings. According to, in January 2014, the IRS ruled that automatic gratuity is not a tip, but a non-tip wage. And since servers only leave with tips every night, this non-tip wage would appear on their paycheck, after it had been taxed. Subsequently, a lot of restaurants in the United States have decided to throw away automatic gratuity all together in an effort to not have any excess bookkeeping. This change in the system is responsible for why you see a “suggested gratuity” at the bottom of your bill.

Tipping varies country to country, even state to state. According to CBS News, a bar in New York City has instituted a mandatory tip of 18 percent on every bill. Bar Marco in Pittsburgh made headlines earlier this year when the owners abolished tipping and started paying servers an annual salary of $35,000. According to CNN, a Bar Marco server informs their tables at the beginning of the dining experience they will not accept tips, and if a tip is left, the money is donated to local charities. Since they implemented the no-tip policy in April, Bar Marco has seen their profits nearly tripled.

According to TripAdvisor, if you dine out in France, a 15 percent service charge will appear on your bill. Oppositely, it is considered offensive and a sign of disrespect to tip your waiter if you are dining in Japan or China.

Australia is a country that does not have a tip system. All servers are paid a standard living wage so tipping is not customary. However, if service is excellent, many customers will leave a small tip behind as a sign of gratitude.

“Personally, I prefer the Australian system over that of the United States,” said Kaitlin Bruneau. Bruneau is studying abroad this semester in Australia and has a part-time job at a local bar in Sydney. “It’s reassuring as servers that if I go into work, and it is a slow night, I will still make money to pay bills.”

Will America follow in the footsteps of Australia or Bar Marco in Pittsburgh? Will they make a mandatory tip like France? Only time will tell. In the meantime, if you are dining out and your server is taking care of you, please take care of them when the bill comes and leave them a tip.