I hate tipping.
Well, no, that's not true. I love tipping; as a bartender, I depend on it to pay my rent and my bills and so on. But I hate that I have to rely on the kindness of strangers to make a living. I hate that, if the restaurant is slow, my bank account suffers. I hate that taking a vacation means I have to work doubly hard when I get back to make up the cash lost from not working. I hate that if I'm sick or can't work, or—God forbid—have to go to the hospital, I don't make any money while I recover.
So when I heard about a sushi restaurant in New York that abolished tipping altogether, my little heart swelled a few sizes. They're serious about it, too. There's no tip line on the credit card receipt. Cash left on the table is given back. And the following note included on every bill: "Following the custom in Japan, Sushi Yasuda's service staff are fully compensated by their salary. Therefore gratuities are not accepted. Thank you."
I wish so hard that that sort of thing would catch on everywhere. Europe and Asia already are on board. Per Se in New York has an automatic 20 percent service charge attached to every bill and pays its front- and back-of-house staff a salary. Here in Chicago, Grant Achatz's Next operates similarly, with a service charge included in the cost of pre-paid dinner tickets. Many restaurants will tack on an automatic gratuity for large groups, but that seems to be as close as the American restaurant industry as a whole is getting to eliminating tipping.
The fact that we bartenders and servers are willing to roll the dice with our income is a little scary. Imagine that you're a doctor—and if you actually are a doctor, good for you—and your patients decide how much they pay you based on whether or not they like the diagnosis they receive. That's what it's like working for tips; a stranger rates your performance on an arbitrary scale and decides what sort of pay you receive. If you don't do well on a presentation at your office, your salary for the day doesn't get docked. As a server, if you're having an off day or someone just doesn't like your face, you might not make as much as you would have otherwise.
Here's the thing, though. As much as I hate depending on strangers to pay my bills, I have done kind of OK for myself in the service industry. Sometimes the payout is ridiculous. Like, $500-a-day ridiculous. And while that is in no way the norm, the fact that making that much money is an option at all makes me hesitant to want to become salaried because I might make more with tips.
Despite my internal struggle, at the end of the day, I absolutely love the service industry. I love the people I work with and interacting with all sorts of people every day. To have all that and peace of mind where my bank account is concerned would be the best of both worlds.
RedEye special contributor Stacey Andeen is a Chicago bartender.
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