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State making tips an entitlement for the entire staff is just wrong
dennis Wyatt web
Dennis Wyatt

If I tip whoever cuts my hair, I don't expect them to share it with the janitor or the owner.

The same is true if I tip a waiter in a restaurant.

The waiter I tip, of course, might share the tip with the busboy and kitchen staff that made it possible for the waiter to deliver the service that justified my tip. That's up to them.

The federal Department of Labor wants to change that. They want to give employers the power to force workers who receive tips to share that money with non-tipped colleagues. A slight caveat pertaining to California law: The state allows restaurants to require the sharing of tips to waiters with others that provide "direct table service" such as bartenders and busboys but not kitchen help such as cooks and dishwashers. Should the federal law change there would be a question whether the state rule on tip sharing excluding kitchen staff would continue to remain in effect at places that require tip pooling.

I don't begrudge someone sharing tips. But I've got to be honest. In the past when the kitchen staff messes up my order - you'd be amazed at how many times you ask for no onions and they're still placed on the veggie burger - I didn't allow that to color my tipping decision. I figured it wasn't the waiter's fault.

I typically tip 15 percent but if the service is lacking for no apparent reasons, it slides down to a 10 percent tip. Four times in my life I have left absolutely no tip. To be honest, given how rude and inattentive the waiters were in those cases I should have asked to see the manager. In the worst case scenario when a busboy took care of us while the rude waitress we had went AWOL and continually messed up the order, I made sure he got a $20 tip making it clear it was for him and not the waitress who was standing behind him glaring at me.

Should the Labor Department rules change, I'm more likely to lower my tipping percentage.

If the food isn't up to par or the place is a little messy but the server is exceptional, I would feel a bit "used" knowing that people who made the dining experience subpar were going to get tips regardless of the type of job they did.

And disliking the aftertaste of onions that lingers even after I pick them off my order, I might just drop by tip down to 5 percent or zero.

Tipping historically has been for exceptional service. It has since morphed into an expectation.

I can overlook the assumption that tips are somewhat automatic given as the person who voluntarily pays them I have been basing it on my table service and not things that are out of control of the server. But if what I believe is to be a tip going to the server is being split with kitchen staff that can't tell a veggie burger from a beef burger and makes me wait twice as long to get what I ordered, I probably won't leave a tip.

That said, the proposed Labor Department rule and even those California has in place regarding tipping are one-sided. They completely ignore the person footing the bill - the tipper.

There should be a requirement that restaurants post their tipping policy in terms of whether it goes to the server - and whoever they chose to share it with if anyone - or whether it a forced pool sharing with the "direct table service staff" or everyone on the restaurant staff except the owner that is excluded by law.

If owners feel compelled under the proposed federal law to force tip sharing because they believe cooks, dishwashers and others are underpaid, then they should raise their wages and, if needed, to raise prices to cover the costs.

The restaurant owner is already charging me a price for what I ordered to cover their costs and profit margin. To assume I should voluntarily cover the cost for them underpaying staff that I never intended to tip is ludicrous.

If you change it so my tip is treated as an automatic share with everyone who works in a restaurant, I will change my approach to tipping. A good server with any brains will spread their tips around to people who hustle to make it possible for them to do a good job. But if that server has no choice but to share, I will start figuring my tips on an overall assessment of the dinner experience.

I'll start at 15 percent. If the wait for a seat was long and there weren't adequate seats, I'll take 5 percent off. If there is a mess on the floor that has lingered too long, another 5 percent off. If the bathroom isn't up to Class "A" standards, that might be a negative 5 percent. The kitchen for the 119th time puts onions on the veggie burger or in the salad, deduct another 5 percent. Take 10 minutes to get me a bill, another 5 percent off. Failure of others to control a wailing kid on the other side of the restaurant is a forfeit another 5 percent. Anyone on staff that looks grumpy, ax another 5 percent.

The bottom line is tips should be an option and not a given.

I won't participate in yet another federally-imposed entitlement program if the government tries to make it essentially a way of compensating everyone in the restaurant as if they are entitled to it.

This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt and does not necessarily represent the opinion of Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.