Restaurant tipping became a hot topic this summer, fueled by a series of lawsuits involving big chains including Applebee’s, Olive Garden, Red Lobster and Starbucks.

The suits and legal rulings targeted different aspects of the practice, such as tip pooling and automatic gratuities for large parties, which Darden Restaurants Inc. was considering dropping for groups of eight or more, the Orlando Sentinel reported.

Paul C. Paz, a Portland, Ore.-based waiter and creator of, an online community that aims to elevate the status of waiters, recently shared views on tipping and service with Nation’s Restaurant News.

What is the future of tipping?

Tipping will remain a significant part of waiters’ incomes. In general, tipping and related tip-pooling and sharing practices work in favor of the owners as they subsidize wages by passing the labor cost directly onto the consumers, thus lowering the industry labor costs. There is little business incentive to eliminate tipping.

How will efforts to increase the minimum wage affect tipping?

The industry has, for many years, targeted getting unlimited access to this revenue to also supplement the back-of-the-house wages. This is especially significant with the advent of mandated annual increases to the minimum wage in many states. There will be a legal clarification on the ability of applying both tip-credit and tip-pooling simultaneously that will have a huge impact on the many operators currently doing this (legally or not).

How are consumer attitudes toward gratuities changing?

Consumers are going to be more conservative on tipping, as the demand for satisfactory service will be accentuated by their need for added ‘value’ for their dining dollar. Waiters are going to have to step up their skills in order to keep the tipping percentages at just the current status quo.

And employer attitudes?

Too often, tip income is used against the tipped staff as a negative. We often hear leadership complain that servers are overpaid because of their tip income. Annual increases to minimum wage are blamed on the tipped staff. There is resentment in the air toward tipped staff. ... The irony is that many employers word their [job] ads, ‘Come make good tips!’ Then when the staff proves that statement is true — and more if they elevate their service-sales skills — they’re treated like thieves. The industry leadership must support and promote the earnings potential of the professional waiter in order elevate the craft to a legitimate career choice in America.

You call servers ‘skilled tableside-revenue builders.’ As the restaurant workforce median age seems to be rising, what effect do you see?

The industry will have to elevate the waiter positions to a legitimate career option in order to stabilize the costly turnover and improve the revenue-building skills and standards of the craft. Part of this change will have to occur internally, such as it did 25 years ago with the advent of industry education foundations that, in fact, elevated the back-of-house positions to legitimate career options. That move led to attracting a new and fresh labor pool excited about working in the industry.

What do you see in the future for training and professionalism in the industry?

At this time there are only a few hundred words about [front-of-the-house roles] in the [National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation’s] ProStart curriculum containing thousands of pages of industry content. I envision a new box to be checked in ProStart college-prep/career curriculum options titled “Waiter.” I also see the evolution of formal certification for career waiters as a part of career development and job advancement.

Contact Ron Ruggless at
Follow him on Twitter: @RonRuggless