One of the benefits of growing old is remembering when things were different, but it also can be a disadvantage.
I’m thinking of the venerable and increasingly onerous practice of tipping for service.
Please consider some caveats before we dive into the subject.
First, my widowed mother with five young boys to feed and clothe worked as a waitress. The greatest tip she ever received was a marriage proposal from a traveling salesman who became my stepfather.
Our oldest son, Dan, worked his way through college and a law degree as a waiter in an upscale Salt Lake City restaurant. There was no tip pool. He kept what he earned. More later. I also have washed dishes in a restaurant. By hand. I didn’t get a share of the waitresses tips.
This history informed my attitude and tipping practices to the extent that I’ve always tried to be a good tipper.
The problem lies in what’s happened to tipping over the decades in the United States of America.
Tipping has become truly out-of-hand. No pun intended.
In my early years, tipping was for service above the normal expectation. Over time it has morphed into servers’ wages and even more. Now tips in most eating establishments have become a tronc.
A tronc (pronounced: trons) is the pooling and distribution of tips to employees other than the server; i.e. waitress or waiter.
Legal troncing practices vary among states and federal regulations apply.
Washington law forbids owners, managers, supervisors and kitchen employees such as cooks from participating in tip pools. Yet a loophole allows employees to “voluntarily” share tips with owners, managers or supervisors.
I’m told that this “voluntary” sharing is used in some Pullman establishments.
I’ve read the state statute, which apparently was written by the restaurant industry. It’s definitions of tip pools are so convoluted that I doubt many attorneys can confidently interpret them until — or unless — the state Supreme Court weighs in.
From my dining experience, it appears that few eating establishments are in compliance with Washington’s law, especially in printing definitions of tips and service charges on receipts, if they apply a service charge.
A legal publisher, NOLO, explains on its website: “It’s not as easy as you might think to figure out exactly how much of what a customer pays is a “tip.”
Would knowing affect the size of diners’ tips?
The present practice is a rip-off in more ways than can be covered in one column. But it appears that sufficient loopholes have been written into Washington and federal law to allow even owners, managers and cooks to claim a portion of servers’ tips.
In my callow youth, 10 percent was considered a good tip. Then it became 15 percent and now is 20 percent. Some eating establishments are even pushing for more than 20 for excellent service.
Tip pools should be totally illegal and owners should be required to pay bussers, cooks, dishwashers and other nonserving staff sufficient wages that they don’t have to depend on customers’ largess.
There is research that shows tips for food service don’t improve the quality of service, as the industry claims.
I’m just contrarian enough that the largest tip I’ve ever given was to a Wenatchee waitress who dumped a bowl of hot soup in my lap.
She also broke at least three stacks of dishes on her shift.
I went to the restroom after paying my tab at the cashier’s counter. As I came out, everyone in the restaurant was looking strangely at me. I had paid the tab with a truly significant tip and a note for the waitress telling her “I hope the rest of your shift will go better.”
It falls far short of my mother’s largest tip, but I still feel good about it.
Terence L. Day is a journalist and retired WSU faculty member who has lived in Pullman for 46 years.