Nix tipping? Top servers react to food writer's idea

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by Joe Arnold

WHAS11.com

Posted on October 11, 2013 at 5:42 PM

Updated Friday, Oct 11 at 6:00 PM

LOUISVILLE, Ky (WHAS11) -- Louisville's top servers and bartenders are reacting to a suggestion by a veteran restaurant and food writer that the practice of tipping be ended and replaced by higher menu prices and better wages for all restaurant staff.

"It's always been this way and I just think it's a commission based sales industry just like everything else," said Kyle Tabler of Volare Restaurant.

"It's a difficult situation because servers work for tips," said Dawn Bianconcini of Volare Restaurant.  "They'll step it up a little bit if they know they'll possibly get a bigger tip."

Steve Coomes makes his case in a blog post on InsiderLouisville.com.

"As a former chef and a server as well, I know that the back of the house guys, the people who are cooking the meals, work twice as hard as the servers do, in my opinion, and they make half as much," Coomes said.  "The restaurant is a team effort, and when you get a good meal, it's also due in part to the people who cooked the meals."

"So why does the compensation favor the server?," Coomes continued.  "I don't think it's fair."

Coomes added some servers don't report their fair share to the IRS, and though restaurant owners can be held responsible for servers under reporting, they can't legally force servers to pool or share tips.

"We have food runners, we have bartenders, we have bussers, so all of that is shared tips," Bianconcini explained. "So, we give them certain percentages and you have to work your way up to being a server so obviously the servers make more." 

"The bartenders make more but the bussers work hard too, so they also have to work for their percentages," she concluded.

WHAS11 spoke to Bianconcini and other servers and bartenders recognized as Louisville's best at the Louisville Convention and Visitors Bureau's ROSE Awards on Wednesday.  

Would they trade the possibility of a big tip for a more consistent paycheck?

"I think a consistent wage would be nice," acknowledged Lissa Ramos, a bartender at Sidebar on Whiskey Row.  "I think everybody would work the same way everyday with every table and every guest. But, I kind of think it's fun not to know."

"To just do your best everyday and if it's not a good day at the end of the day that's alright, and if it's a great day, that's awesome," Ramos added.

"You don't know from week to week if the restaurant is going to be busy or if it's going to be slow," Bianconcini said.  "You can have a great week, you can have a really slow week.  So you have to rely on being very smart with budgeting your tips."

"It makes it more interesting, I think," agreed Anna Krichbaum of Sidebar, "It makes it more compelling."

"I like the whole gamble of tipping," Krichbaum continued.  "It's one of the only jobs I think that we still have in the United States that is kind of old school."

Kyle Tabler, a Volare Restaurant bartender estimated tips make up fifty percent of his earned income.

"I think it's like any other salesman. I think of tips as commission," Tabler said.  "It's the same industry we have as car salesmen or insurance salesmen, other salesmen.  We have to make our sale and do the best job and then we get compensated for that."

"It's always been this way and I just think it's a commission based sales industry just like everything else," Tabler said.

Coomes rejected what he described as a "pathetic power trip" by some diners.

"Some of them are a bit sinister saying, 'I like to punish and I like to praise,' and they want to have the ability to say the meal was bad, the service wasn't good, I'm not going to tip as much."

"Frankly I think that's a little rude," Coomes continued.  "We don't do that with other professions. We don't do that at the doctor's office when they make us wait or the airline when they pull off a plane without us being there."

Coomes' proposal would require restaurateurs to decide how much their staff should be paid, rather than customers.

"I think beyond a shadow of a doubt restaurateurs know who their best servers are and who should make the most money and who do make the most money," Coomes said.

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