05/23/2014 02:15 pm ET Updated Jul 23, 2014

Earning Tips vs. Higher Wage: One Waitress's Opinion

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As you know, there is much debate over the tipping system in the U.S. and beyond. The new theory is that deciding how much to tip is a hindrance to the dining experience.

I say it is a privilege.

On a daily basis, we as people have little to no opportunity in deciding how much something is worth to us. We have to pay the wage set by someone else: the government, the stock-exchange, or the local mechanic.

Going out to dinner and deciding what the service is worth to us is a rare honor, and I would like to remind people of this perspective.

Tipping is a privilege.

There you are, sitting in a booth at the restaurant. You are full, ready to pay your tab, and you feel... well, how do you feel?

I probably don't have to convince you that the service you receive impacts your experience. You probably have left a restaurant thinking something like, "My service was horrible!" for a multitude of reasons. Hopefully though, you have left thinking something like, "My server rocked. She really made my experience great! I'll be back."

But now the question is, what do you leave for a tip!?

As a general rule, poor service receives a 15 percent tip or lower, adequate service receives a 15 percent tip, great service receives 18 percent to 20 percent or higher. But remember, when you go out to eat, you are an employer. You can choose to be nice, fair, generous, rude, demanding or even choose not to pay at all.

This tipping structure has been around since the restaurant model began.

But recently a new way of thinking has evolved which takes a very passive stand. It goes something like, "It's not up to me to pay the server, it's up to the owner!"

I challenge your thinking with a friendly reminder. Every transaction you make throughout your day pays someone's salary. Grocery store employees, bank tellers, soldiers, road maintenance crews, etc. Just because you don't sign a line that asks you what you believe they should earn, doesn't mean you're not paying it.

"I demand this privilege be taken away!"

Are you sure?

There is a growing campaign to change the tip system from, "the customer chooses," over to, "the owner chooses."

What would that do? Instead of you choosing to tip $4 on that $20 steak (when it's wrapped in great service) your steak will be $24. How convenient!

In exchange for this non-negotiable gratuity you'll receive, um, well, a "pass" on making any decisions at the end of the meal.

"Whew! If there's one thing that irritates me it's deciding how to spend my own money!"

"Incentives are dumb!"

When you remove the diner's privilege of choice on how much to reward their server, there are ramifications. You remove the server's incentive to strive for excellence.

Why would your server refill your water, remember your drink, be there with a new linen after you drop yours on the floor, or pay any special attention to you?

I can hear some of you angrily thinking that integrity should be incentive enough to do a great job. To that I say, "HA!" and, "I wish that were the case." The problem is, servers are just humans. I know it's hard to believe that under that black polyester-blend uniform and fancy apron lies a real human, but it's true. And human nature loudly screams, "Take the path of least resistance!"

Currently servers try to wow and impress you so you'll happily choose to reward them. If we servers/humans no longer have to go above average to earn our wage, you shouldn't expect service that goes above average.

Now don't go and get mad at servers. Take an honest look back on your own day at work. Chances are you choose the path of least resistance too, unless there is something extra in it for you. A bonus perhaps? A new client to sign on? A promotion? A bigger paycheck? The list goes on.

Would you put in extra effort at work if you received the same paycheck as if you didn't?

If you said yes, you are either a liar or your level of active participation and consistent excellence correlates to your income -- just like servers.

The Living Wage

My first restaurant job was at a corporate restaurant. I was an inexperienced server working with other inexperienced servers. No one was trained in how to provide stellar service. Instead of providing great service training, they lightened my workload by giving me a maximum of three tables at once. That basically ensured that I gave poor service to no more than three tables at a time. As you can probably deduce, I did not earn a wage that made for comfortable living.

So I chose to take the profession seriously. I studied wine, spirits, and food. I got a job at a great restaurant where they spent months training me in how to provide an excellent experience to the guests. And guess what? I began earning a comfortable living. The verb in the previous sentence is key: I earned it.

The point is, servers get out of their career what they put in. Any server who cries that they don't make a comfortable living is choosing not to earn one.

Own it!

Servers are here at your service. You can choose what that service means to you via a tip. I don't believe that people really want to give up another freedom by allowing someone else to choose what something is worth to them.

I challenge everyone to take charge and embrace this rare opportunity to make your own decision.

When you go out to eat you turn into someone's employer, whether the tip is included or not. You can choose to be a great and giving employer, and tip generously, or you can be difficult and high maintenance, and choose to pay a lower wage. Today the choice is yours, not the owners. Let's keep it that way!