Michael Lynn is, quite possibly, the world's expert on tipping. The Cornell professor has written 51 academic papers on the subject. On a Freakonomics podcast, host Stephen Dubner asked Lynn what he would change about tipping.
"You know," Lynn said. "I think I would outlaw it."
Lynn says it is discriminatory.
His 2008 study titled "Consumer Racial Discrimination in Tipping" found that, looking at black and white customers and waiters, "consumers of both races discriminate against black service providers by tipping them less than white service providers."
Lynn says about $40 billion in tips are given each year. He has found that many things affect tipping besides race. Blondes get more tips. If a server touches a customer for four seconds on the shoulder when delivering the check, he will get higher tips than a server who touched for only two seconds. Squatting down next to the table to chat increases tips. Drawing a smiley face on the check increased tips for female servers — but not male servers.
Ryan Sutton, the food critic at Bloomberg, wrote about tipping in his blog, The Price Hike (hat tip to The Consumerist): "The critically acclaimed Sushi Yasuda, a 14-year old Japanese restaurant in Midtown Manhattan, eliminated tipping last month and raised its menu prices to reflect that development, owner Scott Rosenberg tells The Price Hike."
The restaurant has this notice in various places: "Following the custom in Japan, Sushi Yasuda's service staff are fully compensated by their salary. Therefore gratuities are not accepted. Thank you."
Dena Takruri at The Huffington Post says: "The dismal reality is that most people working in the service industry are grossly underpaid, earning a federal minimum wage of $2.13 per hour. Customers' tips are not only taken as an expression of gratitude — they are essential to our service workers' livelihoods. But not everyone is happy with this onus being on the customers, so why not dump the tipping system altogether and advocate for higher wages instead?"
A petition at petitiononline.com has garnered only a handful of signatures so far to end tipping in America — although the anonymous petitioner is not concerned so much about the servers' livelihoods: "Waiters should be paid a set wage. Diners should not be extorted into giving a higher percentage of their bill as tips by greedy servers."
PayScale's latest year-end survey on tipping found that waiters made 58 percent of their income from tips in 2012.