“Praise be to *insert your favorite deity here* for low and behold the Linkery is closing!”
– Howeler G., Yelper
“NOT a fan of the Linkery.”
– Geno P.
“Yay! They are closing! Yay!”
– Brian S.
The Linkery closed earlier this year after eight years of serving the hip San Diego neighborhood of North Park. While the Linkery’s menu focused on farm-to-table dining, stuffing sausages in-house, and craft beer, the restaurant gains much of its notoriety from its tipping policy: absolutely no tipping allowed. In place of tipping, a mandatory 18% service charge is applied to each and every bill.
Before you condemn this unconventional business practice, hear me out. More importantly, hear Jay Porter out.
Porter, the Linkery’s owner, passionately defended this tipping policy in the face of wide criticism. He points out that tipping well does not necessarily affect better service, nor does good service automatically lead to higher tips. Cornell professor and tipping scholar Michael Lynn found that quality of service is only weakly related to tip percentages. Tipping also encourages servers to profile their guests along racial, ethnic, or cultural lines. If the server perceives a guest as someone who is likely to be a very poor tipper, they’re not likely to deliver very good service. Furthermore, tipping may lead to discrimination against the server. Lynn has also conducted studies that show whites earn higher tips than blacks, slender women earn high tips than heavier women, etc.
I’ve worked in the industry off and on for about ten years now, since I was a teenager. Having bussed, hosted, served, and managed, I see these theories put to practice every day and they’re true; the practice of tipping often leads to some kind of discrimination.
Porter is right to desire for his restaurant a compensation system that protects both servers and guests from unfair treatment. Shortly after the restaurant closed this past summer, Porter published an essay in the online magazine Slate defending his service charge. Just a few weeks later, a former Linkery employee published a scathing response in the San Diego Reader.
“Let’s set the record straight. The Linkery had poor service, whether in spite or because of its tipping policy.”
– Ian Pike
Looking for validation of Pike’s comments, I scanned the Linkery’s Yelp page for some additional opinions.
“automatic 18% gratuity for two people – you have to be kidding me.”
– Texas A.
“The Ugly: 18% gratuity is forced onto every bill. And you can’t change it, for better or worse! You have no options!”
– Brian E.
“Service was obscenely slow…not that it matters to the wait staff, because THEY INCLUDE THE GRATUITY IN THE CHECK”
– John W.
This collection of harsh comments seems pretty normal to me. Even the highest-rated restaurants on Yelp have a critic or two, and those who decry restaurants online are often outnumbered by the silent majority that keep their pleasant experiences to themselves (note that in the Linkery’s case, many other reviews told of positive experiences and great service). Negative Yelp reviews don’t scare me. What scares me are the customers who take their grievances to the internet before complaining the people with the power to actually improve their experience.
A few months before the Linkery closed, the San Diego Eater interviewed manager Odette Cressler. Asked specifically to explain the 18% service charge, Cressler insists that “[i]f the guest didn’t like the food or isn’t happy with the service, we will remove the charge. What’s important for us is good communication with the guest.” She explains the philosophy behind the service charge: that “every team member is concerned about every guest.” And it’s important to hire people who agree with that approach, because “we’re not for everyone and not everyone is for us, as in every restaurant.”
I never ate at the Linkery. I can’t attest to the quality of the service or the dedication of the management. However, given Ms. Cressler’s testimony and Mr. Porter’s defense of his practice, I believe that the Linkery wanted to give good service. I don’t believe they wanted to cheat their guests or cut corners. There has been a misunderstanding. To find the root of this problem, think about how you would address poor customer service in any other industry.
If you received poor service in a grocery store, in an electronics store, or over the phone with your bank’s customer service department, you wouldn’t ask that the individual’s pay be docked. You might complain to their manager and ask for a discount, or you might simply choose not to return to the establishment. If you were given a discount, a gift certificate, or a simply apology for your negative experience it’s because the establishment is accepting responsibility for their employee’s actions. They recognize that this person was acting on behalf of the organization that employs them; if the employee failed to provide a satisfactory experience, the employer must take responsibility for that. The employer might solve the problem by improving employee training, taking disciplinary action against the employee, or terminating that person’s employment. But it is never in the hands of the customer to enact any sort of discipline.
America isn’t used to this practice in the restaurant setting. We like that we can have an opinion without dealing with the confrontation of voicing it. We’re comfortable accepting that an individual gave us poor service and we lower or forego the tip when we see fit. At the end of the meal, both the server and customer are left in the same boat: feeling shortchanged and cheated, but without any constructive solutions to solving the problem. That’s why I always thank the customers who bring their complaints to my attention. It gives our team something to work on, some specific feedback instead of the simple knowledge that they left feeling dissatisfied. We’re happy to discount their check or buy them dessert to thank them for speaking up, and truth be told they usually end up tipping pretty well. Sometimes people just want to be heard.
Let your servers hear you. When you feel like you’ve paid for something you shouldn’t have, speak up. Jay Porter wanted to give you an experience worthy of that service charge. If you didn’t receive that 18% kind of service, you should have said something.