Portland Servers Earn at Least $15 an Hour. Why Should We Tip Them on Top of That?

Even if we did somehow abolish tipping overnight, it wouldn’t save you any money.

Tips started out as a way to make up for earning less than the minimum wage. Portland servers, however, earn at least $15 an hour. Why should we tip them on top of that just for doing their job? —I Hate Tipping

It’s a shame when diners’ natural impulse toward generosity winds up being exploited for financial gain by a bunch of lazy, entitled freeloaders who can’t be bothered to pull their own weight in the service economy. That’s why the rest of us would really appreciate it, Hate, if you and all your non-tipping buddies would drop the Mr. Pink routine and start paying your fair share.

We’ll put aside the question of what kind of person can be presented with a cheap, easy way to show kindness to another human being and think only, “How can I get out of this?” Instead, we’ll focus on simple economics.

First, like it or not, tipping is an accepted part of U.S. service industry compensation, and everyone knows it. An establishment where tips are good effectively pays better, and will be able to hire and retain better employees than one where tips are lousy or nonexistent. When you go to that restaurant and tip poorly or not at all, you’re benefiting from a higher level of service provided by a well-trained staff and paid for by your fellow customers. You’re not paying for it, though—a classic free rider problem.

What’s worse, by not tipping you incrementally reduce the average compensation that each employee receives. This (probably along with your abrasive personality) makes these jobs just a bit less attractive to top-flight servers, driving down, if only slightly, the level of service received by non-skinflints like myself.

Anyway, even if we did somehow abolish tipping overnight, it wouldn’t save you any money. All that would happen is that every server and bartender in America would quit (some, no doubt, in memorably TikTok-able ways) unless and until management agreed to make up the difference with a wage raise equivalent to the lost tip income—an expense they’d pass along to you and me.

Diners are going to pay market value for service workers’ labor one way or another. The current system, arcane though it is, does end up allocating the relevant resources efficiently. The fact that it does this while also showing the world whether the diner in question is an asshole is just gravy.

Questions? Send them to dr.know@wweek.com.

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