Our society accepts the restaurant industry’s hyper-sexualized, customer-driven culture as normal. Many customers feel highly entitled and inherently deserving of impeccable service, regardless of their behaviour toward restaurant staff catering to their every whim. Unfortunately, this entitlement often turns into verbal and sexual harassment.
According to a report from the New York Observer regarding sexual harassment within the service industry, 90 per cent of female restaurant workers have been verbally and sexually harassed at work. This may be due to the current cultural structures that surround the service industry, as they perpetuate certain attitudes that enable harassment.
Not only can customers be culprits, but many servers have accepted this system as a fixed set of cultural norms. Having worked in the service industry for a number of years, I’ve often felt pressured to cozy up to my customers to get to know them on a more personal level. I understand the rationale behind this — it encourages customers to return and ultimately fills a server’s pocket with more change. Often, though, the fine line between ‘friendly’ and ‘too friendly’ is crossed in order to make that 20 per cent tip.
Tipping culture puts servers in unsafe positions.
To change this established dynamic between customers and servers, a shift in power must be employed, and my solution would be to introducwe a ‘no tip’ policy. While restaurants rely on customers to subsidize servers’ wages, they could instead mark up their menu prices by a certain percentage, and pay their servers a living wage. To revoke a customer’s tipping option changes the dynamic between the customer and server by creating a level playing field — one in which servers no longer feel obligated to tolerate inappropriate customers.
While this model provides a straightforward solution in theory, it has faced some resistance. The Smoke ‘N’ Water restaurant in Nanoose Bay initially began business with a no-tip policy, though it recently switched back to the classic tipping-system due to customer preferences. Owner David Jones believes that his restaurant was slightly ahead of the curve — despite popularity with the staff, customers were unhappy with the policy, as many of them believed that tipping promotes good service.
The reality is that tipping culture creates an environment where customers are ‘always right’ and servers are placed in vulnerable positions. Rather than encouraging impeccable service, tipping fosters a work environment that encourages servers to humour or tolerate inappropriate customers who enjoy pushing boundaries. Servers should not have to throw away their dignity in exchange for a 20 per cent gratuity.
Transitioning to a ‘no-tip’ policy will not happen easily, as it always takes time to shift a cultural paradigm. However, despite the skepticism, I believe this model would change the restaurant industry for the better; without it, servers will continue to accept different forms of harassment as part of their job description.