Over Tipping

Why I’m finished with added service fees

Back Web Only Aug 17, 2015 By Thomas Dodson

Magpie Café killed tipping in Sacramento. It won’t be a sudden death, nor was it intentional. But when we look back in five years, we’ll remember Magpie as patient zero.

We’ll also remember its amazing biscuits and gravy. But that’s a different story…

In case you missed it, upon Magpie’s reopening at its new location at 16th & P streets in midtown, diners (myself included) noticed something peculiar on their bills. Along with the traditional gratuity and total, Magpie slipped in a “kitchen tip.”

What’s a kitchen tip exactly? Good question. According to a Facebook comment by Magpie owner Ed Roehr, it’s a way to give customers “the chance to acknowledge culinary professionals on our staff in a meaningful way.”

Ah. So, it’s an extra tip on top of the 15 to 20 percent we’re expected to leave their server?

No, says Roehr, all tipping is voluntary. He continues on to say, “tipping this way doesn’t end the culture of tipping as we know it.” Ideally, patrons who traditionally tip 20 percent will now tip their servers 17 percent and the kitchen 3 percent.

I follow the math. But this new system brings up a slew of questions, and once you start asking questions, you get answers. And those answers might change how you see the world.

The Bird Is The Word

I hit Magpie on a gorgeous Sunday morning back in July. I believe it was the eatery’s second day in its new location. I received a bill with the now-famous kitchen tip line. I shared a picture on Facebook. Chaos erupted. Magpie took notice and explained the new philosophy. Again, digital chaos erupted. Some denounced the move. Others, mostly service workers or tied to the restaurant business, were ready to throw Magpie a parade.

Poll: Will an increased hourly wage decrease tips?

I slugged through the noise to ascertain facts. I learned a lot. First, I learned there’s no service wage in Sacramento. Waiters and waitresses make at least the minimum wage of $9 an hour. I had no idea. I just assumed service workers made the same I did when I worked in a restaurant in South Carolina during college. Yep, a whopping $2.13 per hour, which is still the federal minimum wage for workers who receive tips.

But everyone here makes at least $9/hour.

Hmm, OK. Remember this. We’ll revisit.

Second, waiters and waitresses often tip out to bartenders and bussers at the end of their shifts. I knew that. But what I didn’t know is that it’s taboo — and potentially illegal — for waiters and waitresses, also known as front of house, to tip out the kitchen staff (back of house).

And that is why Magpie implemented its new tipping system. It’s to circumvent the system and to get a portion of the tips into the hands of the back-of-house staff. The back-of-house staff that, by the way, also makes at least minimum wage.

The Wage Debate

Sacramento is staring down the barrel of a minimum wage increase. Labor leaders want Sacramento to follow Seattle and Los Angeles, increasing the minimum hourly wage to $15. The Metro Chamber and Region Builders are spearheading a staunch defense. I predict they’ll attempt to reach a settlement of $12 an hour. Stay tuned. It’s going to be a long and ugly fight.

So let’s take a look at Seattle for a minute.

Iver’s, a Pacific Northwest seafood restaurant chain, pushed its fish and chips in early. Despite Seattle’s annual slow build to its $15/hour minimum wage mandate, the restaurant chain went ahead and increased its employees’ pay to $15, abolished tipping completely and raised all of its prices.

It’s still too early to tell how it’s playing out for Iver’s. It’s a bold move, to be sure. But kudos to them for embracing the inevitable.

So, now I ask you, dear reader, will you continue tipping service workers in Sacramento knowing they make $9/hour? Yeah? You will?

How about when you know they’re making $12/hour? Maybe?

What about if they’re making $15/hour? Will you tip them then? No. You won’t.

Remember this when the wage debate fully engulfs Sacramento.

Slippery Slope

After Magpie put tipping on the forefront of people’s minds, I started asking other questions about the concept that I’m afraid I still can’t answer.

Why are we expected to tip the person who hands us our coffee at Starbuck’s but not the person who hands us our coffee at McDonald’s? Why are we expected to tip the person who drives us around in a car but not the person who drives us around in a bus? Why are we expected to tip the person who cuts our hair but not the person who cuts our grass? Why are we expected to tip the person who washes our car but not the person who keeps it running?

So far, most of the answers I’ve gotten boil down to “because it’s a really hard job.” If that’s the case, then why aren’t we tipping roofers in summer? That seems like a really hard job.

Here’s My Tip

As if I’m not already on enough blacklists, let me just ink my name to the service industry’s list. I’m over it — the whole thing. Tipping for tipping’s sake, that is.

Am I going to stop tipping altogether? No, of course not. I’m too scared. I’ll keep tipping waiters and waitresses because of the societal pressures. No one wants to be that guy.

But I am opting out of all other forms of tipping. Sorry, dude who takes my $3 for a cup of coffee that someone else actually makes, I’ll be taking that change back. Your $9/hour job in a climate-controlled environment will have to suffice.


WineyDude (not verified)August 20, 2015 - 3:18pm

If Sacramento raises minimum wage w/o exception for tipped/commissioned sales people, the customers lose (mandatory tips) , Good Servers lose (high hourly wage but no tips = lower total income) , Business owners lose (higher labor costs). The only winners are bad waiters.

Someone Who Actually Works in a Kitchen (not verified)August 24, 2015 - 2:45pm

I get where you're coming from, but as the guy mentioned above, the only winners from higher wages will be bad servers.

Servers and bartenders get taxed on every check between 10 and 20% automatically whether they make tips or not. Generally that's why it's better to tip in cash. As cooks we go through a lot of shit to get our money and anything helps when it comes to tipping. You don't tip the guy at McDonald's because he's making at least $12.50/hr. I was making $8/hr working in a 250 degree smoker at Tankhouse in 106 degree weather. Jobs that actually take a passion to do end up being the ones that are never paid enough.

I applaud Magpie for introducing the kitchen tip. Hopefully everyone will follow.