To tip or not to tip? (Or more accurately but less punchily: to have a tipping system or not?)

In wake of last week's announcement by New York restaurateur Danny Meyer that he would be eliminating tipping at his restaurants (and instead building a service charge into the menu prices), dueling op-eds in the Times and Post over the past week debate the merits of tipping as a custom and means of paying workers.

In the Times, Saru Jayaraman, Director of U.C. Berkeley's Food Labor Research Center, argues that tipping helps keep in place the special, lower minimum wage for restaurant workers (she aptly calls it the "subminimum wage"). Jayaraman also traces the racialized history of the tip and notes that tipped workers are still disproportionately minorities or women, with the latter group forced to endure sexual harassment from customers in expectation of a tip. Employers, not customers, should pay the workers, she argues.

In the Post, columnist Richard Cohen responds with the view that tipping actually helps ensure better service by injecting loyalty to the customer into a restaurant worker's calculus, and he dismisses the notion that sexual harassment by customers would be reduced if tipping were eliminated. Tipping is, for Cohen, "both a responsibility and a privilege."

What stands out to me about these contrasting arguments is whose perspective each adopts in considering the practice of tipping: Jayaraman is thinking chiefly about the worker; Cohen, the customer.

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