Has this country gone insane with tipping?

Increasingly, I find myself in restaurants set up like McDonald’s, where I order at the counter and pick the food up myself when it’s ready. It’s efficient. No problem. But the latest trend seems to be paying on an iPad, where it asks if you want to leave a tip.

Okay, I’ll just get the obvious out of the way first: I tip wait staff because the laws in this country allow employers to pay them less than the minimum wage and those workers generally rely on tips to earn a living. It’s a crazy system, but that’s the way it goes.

But there’s no wait staff here. I stand in line to order. The food is set on the counter and I walk it to the seat myself. Nobody asks if I want a refill. Nobody asks me how everything is or brings me a bottle of Tabasco. Nobody tries to appear upbeat when they’d rather be off the clock. Nobody suggests menu items or keeps an eye on me in case I want something else. Then I clear the table myself. What exactly am I tipping for?

Traditionally, the server leaves the bill and you figure out a tip while they wander around for a few minutes. I leave at least 20 percent, even if the service is terrible. There’s a guilt that weighs upon me that this person is counting on me to pay his or her wages.

But in these restaurants, the cashier is staring directly at me as I pay the bill. What am I supposed to do, ask them to quantify a tip? The iPad spins around and I feel like a heel if I don’t leave one. Here’s 20 percent for punching my order into the computer. (I’ll concede there’s usually an option of 10, 15 or 20 percent or no tip).

Are the cashiers paid at wait staff wages? And even if they are, full tips have usually required dealing with customers for 45 minutes or an hour, however long they’re seated. A cashier can be done with you in under a minute. How can that possibly equate to 20 percent? Do they split the tip amongst the rest of the staff?

Part of me feels like I’m being nickled and dimed from the minute I step out of the house. Free parking is disappearing anywhere near my hometown. Convenience fees? Fees for not using a bank account? Airline seat selection? Checking baggage at the counter rather than online? Fees for talking to an actual person? Eighteen different phone and cable taxes? I leave tips at sandwich shops and ice cream stands. Now I have to tip so I can serve myself in a restaurant? What’s next, tipping the grocery store cashier?

I know I’m spitting into the wind, but how about we raise the menu prices enough to pay everyone a living wage and reserve tipping for when someone does an outstanding job? “Wow, that person was really great. I think I’ll show my appreciation.” Or at least reserve tipping for when someone actually does something.

I’ve read that there are restaurants toying with this idea and I like it. Apparently some people argue that it’s a disincentive for waiters and waitresses to do their jobs well, but I imagine those complaints are made by people who don’t even look at the wait staff when they’re being waited on. The idea might also lower take home pay for some servers and I’m against that, but it also ensures that the wait staff doesn’t get stiffed by cheap-asses.

And for anyone who wants to provide solutions, don’t bother. My inner guilt will always oblige me to leave a good tip and offer disgruntled mutterings to myself before I tuck in.

Irish Food Revolution

Irish Food Revolution

The better half (Libby) and I have grown increasingly excited about the burgeoning food scene in Ireland. You can still run across bland, unimaginative fare there; that’s certain. But the Irish are less and less willing to put up with it and there are diners all across the country throwing down their spoons and shouting, “I’m not going to take it anymore, dammit!” (Okay, but it probably has happened at least once.)

Likewise, food producers, bakers and chefs have taken up the gauntlet and are creating some really bold culinary concepts, borrowing ideas from across the globe. And they’re doing it in an unhurried style that is pure Irish. After the collapse of the Celtic Tiger, the Irish took a step back and asked themselves what they had that they could use. And what they seem to have realized is that there was a lot they were already doing right. I’m talking about small farms with animals eating what they were intended to eat, and a new appreciation for the quality food the Irish have always excelled at like hearty breads and slow cooking.

Now cities and towns across Ireland and Northern Ireland are expanding their collective palates and jumping into a new culinary scene with great abandon.

So, to make a longish story short, Libby started a website last year called IrishFoodRevolution.com and since I’ve been helping her out so much, we’re adding my name to the ingredients. We’ll be posting new recipes and collecting information on small food producers and restaurants in an attempt to highlight what we see as a future food destination.

And we hope you’ll join us.

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