Joe's Crab Shack is Trying a No-Tipping Model

In Depth

Joe’s Crab Shack has been testing out eliminating tipping at some locations in potential preparation for a national roll-out of the policy, and honestly, I’m not sure how to feel about it.

Over the last two months, Ignite Restaurant Group, the owners of national seafood chain Joe’s Crab Shack, have eliminated tipping at 18 locations to test how such a move would look on a national scale. Front-of-house employees at the restaurants are now making $12-14, and while that’s less than a server should be making (because it’s less than anyone should be making, frankly), it’s also a far cry from $2.13/hour.

Kitchenette is on record as abhorring our current hopelessly broken tipping system. It’s absolutely a terrible way to conduct business for both customers and servers. So why wouldn’t we applaud Joe’s and Ignite for this move?

Here’s the problem: a lot of restaurants that have thus far eliminated tipping have taken a good idea (“Hey, its shitty that servers depend on tips to make a living, and that customers are expected to subsidize their wages”) and responded to it in a very stupid way (“BAN ALL TIPPING FOREVER, DO NOT ALLOW ANYONE TO TIP EVEN IF THEY WANT TO”). It’s unclear just how far Joe’s Crab Shack has taken this concept, and whether tipping is discouraged or outright banned makes a hell of a big deal.

It says something about America’s unique brand of stupidity that as a general rule, we can’t seem to comprehend the concept of a viable system where it would be fine for customers to tip if they wanted to, but that it wouldn’t be a compulsory part of the social contract. Under an ideal system, servers and bartenders would get by just fine without tips, but if a customer thought they did a great job, that customer could decide—again, of their own free will—to leave them something extra. It’s a win-win scenario for everyone involved (who, exactly, doesn’t benefit from such an arrangement compared to either where we are now or a system where tipping is banned entirely?), and there are countries where such a system currently works just fine. A lot of American restaurants that have decided to eliminate tipping don’t seem to understand that there’s a middle ground between “mandatory” and “banned.”

Again, it’s unclear just how far Joe’s has taken this policy. Some of what we do know sounds good; for instance, putting signs up around the restaurant explaining the policy. Eliminating tip lines from credit card receipts, as they’ve also done, is…less good, but understandable, as long as servers are allowed to accept cash tips—customers frequently don’t read signs, so it makes sense to cut out the middleman there, even if it makes it impossible for customers who don’t have cash to tip at all. But until we know more about specifically how Joe’s—or any other restaurant—implements their attempt to eliminate tipping, it’s hard to say whether their plan is a good one.

In summation: mandatory tipping systems are bad. Getting away from tipping as a necessary part of the social contract is good. Banning tipping altogether and not allowing employees to receive tips is decidedly not good.

Image via ehrlif/Shutterstock.

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