US restaurants are realising waiting staff should be paid a decent wage and not in tips. The UK should do the same – Stephen Jardine

Just before the pandemic, I was on a late-night flight from London to Zurich. It was stormy and mid-flight the pilot warned we were about to experience some turbulence.

What followed was the most terrifying 15 minutes of my life. The plane repeatedly dropped like a stone then started rocking and vibrating as if we were in a giant spin dryer. The girl next to me was sobbing, the elderly man next to me gripped my arm. And then it was over. We landed in a rain-soaked Switzerland and the pilot apologised over the tannoy for the distress.

No apology was necessary, we were all just happy to be alive. Several people shook hands with the cabin crew as we disembarked and thanked them for staying so cool. I thought about organising a quick whip-round because if anyone ever deserved a tip, it was the pilot and the team on that flight. However that wasn’t necessary because they were simply doing their job, if in challenging and difficult circumstances.

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Waiting staff, in contrast, have to write down an order, pass it to the kitchen then carry the plates of food to the table without dropping them or putting a thumb in the gravy. I’m not denigrating the job. A great waiter or waitress is the difference between a bad and a good night out but are they really worthy of a special payment for doing their job competently?

The truth is that tipping is a scam that developed years ago to dodge tax and allow employers to underpay their staff. Many of the loopholes surrounding it have now been tightened and last month the UK government closed another one when they made it illegal for businesses owners to keep any card tips left for staff. But the fact remains, if staff were paid a proper wage then it wouldn’t require us to top up with tips to an acceptable level.

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Tipping is demeaning for staff. They have to pretend to look the other way while we fumble with the card machine and try to work what is the right amount to leave. It’s annoying for customers who feel an obligation to tip even if service has been poor because they know the staff are underpaid (which may be why the service is poor). And it’s fraught with trouble for employers who have to ensure there is a system while staying at arms length from it.

Hospitality businesses in the United States are the worst offenders when it comes to tipping. Traditionally many employees were on next to zero salaries and literally worked for tips.

However that may be changing. Like here, America is enduring a severe shortage of hospitality workers. According to the New York Times, some restaurants have responded by eliminating tipping and raising wages and prices instead. The idea is that both staff and customers then know exactly what they are getting.

If that can happen in the home of tipping, why shouldn’t it happen here? If employers aren’t prepared to do it, then the government should step in and intervene to create a level playing field. With all the changes going on at the moment, this is the perfect time to get rid of a system that only exists because no one can remember when it didn’t.

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