Monday, November 12, 2007

Desperate scramble for line cooks (and the future of tipping)

The Chronicle this morning takes a front-page look at how low kitchen wages make it quite difficult to retain solid line cooks, while increasingly demanding chef bosses make it even tougher.

This is one of the more interesting aspects of the widening divide between the tipped front of the house and untipped kitchen workers. Owners argue that recent minimum wage hikes have exacerbated the divide by diverting owners' money to waiters, who earn minimum wage but have historically been their best compensated employees because of tips. Owners say that money would have otherwise been spent on raises for the kitchen staff.

Proposed solutions to the problem range from replacing tips with a service charge to, more recently, getting the city to freeze the minimum wage for tipped workers, instead of increasing it every year.

Eater SF isn't sure it sees the problem, here, since waiters only get paid (*cough*) nine bucks an hour, and this one blog that hates everything ever in the Chronicle also hates this story.

One solution that occurred to me recently is simple but uncomfortable and unlikely: if we all cut back our tips enough to make up for the minimum wage hikes and eventual health care benefits, owners will have room to raise prices and give wage hikes to the back of the house.

After another year or two of minimum wage hikes, 10-15 percent could become the new 15-20 percent. If your tax dollars and menu prices have hiked the minimum wage several times in four years to 35 percent above the statewide minimum and if the promise of free health care for uninsured workers is delivered (assuming failure of a pending a suit by restaurant owners), is it not reasonable to adjust your tip to account for this more dignified standard of living?

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cedichou said...

Hey brother, could you spare a link, if you're gonna talk about me?

Signed: your faithful reader/Chron critic.

November 12, 2007 1:11 PM  
Anonymous said...

Lowering your tip does nothing to compensate the owner or kitchen for excess $$ now going to the FOH. The Service charge could recapture the difference without raising prices by taking some of what you would have tipped back to the house (the service charge is not the server's). The biggest down side is the sales tax on said service charge (and the lost tip revenue, if you're a server).

November 12, 2007 3:29 PM  
Ryan said...

Anonymous, if enough people cut their tips, owners could raise prices a proportionate amount. Further, consumers can coordinate their efforts in a way that businesses may not be legally allowed to. And it keeps owners from being the bad guys to their staff. (Also, aren't there some legal limits on what you do with an explicit service charge?)

If the restaurants do act, rather than consumers, I prefer the service charge to be built into the price. And the tax, while you're at it. (Hey, I just got back from Europe, what can I say.)

Maybe with a note on the menu that says "X% service charge included in the prices," so if people tip, they know it's supplemental.

cedichou, fair enough!

November 12, 2007 4:14 PM  
erik_flannestad said...

I'm sorry, I fail to see how tipping less will help anyone.

All that will do is make your server think you are a cheapskate.

The only real answer, that I can see, is an equitable sharing of tips between front of house and back.

It is absurd, in this food mad city, that waiters are taking home 80k and cooks and chefs 15-30k.

How much of that tip is because of the food on the plate?

November 14, 2007 10:18 AM  
Ryan said...

I *AM* a cheapskate!! And I avoid eating out a lot these days, because I feel like a walking dollar sign (particularly after my France trip where service is relaxed and, surprise, not everyone dies of a heart attack despite what they eat).

But my idea was a coordinated effort, not unilateral undertipping.

Re sharing, There are regulations preventing mandatory sharing of tips with the back of the house, or so I have been told by owners. Perhaps these could be changed, but I'm not sure the political support would be there, and it's kind of sneaky and misleading, IMHO.

(I'd be thrilled to see my tip used this way but think customers should understand this is happening, and I envision a conspiracy of nondisclosure and small type to prevent this from occurring.)

November 14, 2007 11:54 AM  

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