I hope more restaurants will follow the lead of this sushi place in New York that does not allow customers to tip the staff. When you get your check, there's a note at the bottom which reads:
Following the custom in Japan, Sushi Yasuda's service staff are fully compensated by their salary. Therefore gratuities are not accepted.
Instead, the management pays its employees the way most other industries do -- with a decent salary and benefits including vacation days, sick leave, and health insurance. That last one is important because, as Saru Jayaraman explained on my America Weekend show in April, too many restaurant workers without health insurance don't go to the doctor when they're sick. Instead, they go to work, where they're in contact with our food.
Sushi Yasuda says it hasn't seen any drop in business since raising its prices 15%, probably because customers realize that their net cost hasn't changed -- when you eat there, you're still subsidizing the employees' income in the same amount, but their salaries aren't dependent on your level of generosity or grumpiness.
Some may argue that tipping is the only way to ensure good service, but that's not how any other business works. You don't give the mechanic a few extra bucks when he changes your oil. You don't tip the man at the dry cleaner when you pick up your shirts. You don't tip the woman at the Apple genius bar who explains why your iPhone screen won't scroll. No one who works in an office cubicle receives tips, even if they spend their days giving great customer service by phone and e-mail.
I'd prefer waiters and waitresses and bus boys and bartenders get the same on-the-job benefits other Americans receive, so I wouldn't mind if restaurants raised prices 20% to cover the cost. It wouldn't have any short-term impact (despite protestations from the National Restaurant Association), and the long-term impact would be good for employment and our economy.
Now if only I liked sushi.