I've been hearing that argument for decades. And though I've spent plenty of time working in restaurants, I've never known one where the owners paid their tip-getting employees one cent more than the minimum wage. I've also endured penny-pinching owners who demanded that the servers pay the dishwashers out of their tips.
I wonder whether the nontipping contingent realizes that if an owner raised a server's wages to compensate for lost tips, the price of a $25 steak dinner would increase by nearly a third. No wonder the National Restaurant Association opposes wage increases for restaurant employees.
"The customers would have to pay in increased food costs," says Mary Simpson, managing partner of the Capital Grill and a longtime veteran of the restaurant business. "The operating margins of restaurants are very low. If wages went up, as they do in states like California, the prices of food go up too.
"In the European model, the gratuity is included in the cost of a meal," Simpson adds. "In our current system, the customers have the option of leaving what they want to recognize good service."
Another reader, Tad DeOrio, had to offer his tip on the state of the "new" Sidney's Diner (3623 Broadway), reopened in the spring by musician James Fulton and his partner, William Lafferty. DeOrio was unimpressed: "Amazingly enough, nothing changed ... the phone is still at the unattended cash register so the staff has to run to answer it, then return to the kitchen. I was there Saturday morning. It was sad. It took 45 minutes to get a cheese omelet and toast. The waitress couldn't remember the order, didn't know to bring utensils and water and kept forgetting coffee. Their reopening should boost [competitor] Chubby's business."
Was it really that bad? I went to see for myself one weekday afternoon. The dining room is cleaner now than it's been in decades, but the service still stinks. The waiter -- who was as glibly polite as Eddie Haskell -- gave me a napkin only when I was halfway through my lunch. And lunch was a big disappointment. The faux patty melt, which defied the menu's description, came on barely toasted bread dripping with rubbery provolone cheese (instead of American), and there wasn't a grilled onion in sight.
Tad wrote that he wouldn't return to Sidney's unless he "was wasted." At least in an altered state, one wouldn't realize -- or care -- that anything's amiss at old Sidney's.
Situations like that just prove why the gratuity shouldn't be included in the cost of the meal.