A Modest Proposal to Stop Tipping Bartenders

Note: This appeared under humor/satire sections at The Huffington Post, but went viral because many people interpreted it literally…

Bartending was, by far, the most enjoyable job I’ve ever had. Think about it: Get paid to listen to music, talk to attractive women, casually watch television, and comment on current events without people thinking you’re crazy.

But I don’t understand America’s tipping culture. Why don’t we tip the people who do our dry cleaning? The bus and subway drivers who get us safely from point A to point B (or pilots for that matter)? The people who serve us at casual cafes or fast-food restaurants or the security guards who protect us at work and at school from the filthy unaccredited masses, or for that matter, bouncers?

Why do we tip taxi drivers 10% to 15%, waiters and waitresses 15% to 20%,  and hotel chambermaids $1 per night, while bartenders expect to rake in $1 per drink (or more if we’re feeling generous)?

Why aren’t all professions created equally? And why is this hypothetical bartender the worst offender, in that he or she collects the same $2 for two drinks that required exactly 19 seconds of work as what I tip to the delivery person (dare I say man!) who has just braved rain, snow, sleet, and hail to bring me my bento box? (In the big city, we don’t tip our mail delivery folk either, because, at least in my case, we don’t even know who they are. That said, my dad has always made a habit to give the old Christmas bonuses to our letter carriers in suburbia.

During my years in England, I never once tipped a bartender. It would have been totally strange to do so. When I bartended in Dublin, Ireland, the vast majority of my tips came from American tourists and business travelers (thanks for keeping the Celtic Tiger roaring for a few more years!). Occasionally, some regular customers at Bruxelles on Harry Street would say to me, “Take one for yourself,” with the expectation that I’d charge them for an additional drink and either pound something on the job or put the cash in my pocket (mercifully, “management” looked the other way in the former situations). But tipping, in any form, was a very rare occurrence reserved only for instances when my performance was exceptional in the face of adversity (read: delivering large orders in a timely fashion when the pub was a rowdy zoo!).

In no place other than America are people paid $1 as a standard “thanks” for delicately removing the top off of a glass bottle or pulling a pint. And when America’s Bartenders do this 50 times in one hour, it ads up to quite a bit more than the $7.25 New York City minimum wage or $10.25 in places like San Francisco with “living wages.”

That overly-bearded hipster who has ignored you in favor of people who display more cleavage or douchebags who are more aggressive than you or jerks who flash large bills, is clearing nearly $500 — 80% in cash — during a standard 8-hour shift on a busy night. And when he doesn’t serve you for 15 minutes, despite your constant eye contact, followed by internal heeing and hawing about how you’re not going to tip the bastard, you do it anyway, for fear of retribution that if you don’t tip him this time, your 15 minute wait will be doubled to a half hour sentence next time.

As a non-cocktail drinker, I am particularly irked when I lay down $1 for the usually no more than 12 seconds to crack open a beer or pour a glass of wine. I’d happily keep a bottle opener on my keychain and then handle it myself, and charge neither friends nor fellow barmates for my services.

There are even folks who tip even better than the standard $1 per drink. Oftentimes, these people have worked at some point in their lives within the service industry, and say things like, “I know what it’s like to live off of tips.” And to that, I wonder, is it like being the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, whereby you’re paid disproportionately well relative to the work that you’re doing?

Fact: It’s not hard to earn out-sized tips when people are drunk. And the $1 tip becomes, $50 on $35 worth of drinks and so on. But this is ludicrous. Bartenders, other than their value as untrained psychologists for the “regulars,” provide very little social value.

We can all bet that those bartenders from sea to shining sea, and most certainly in swing states, will be voting for Mr. Romney this fall, since they’ve got way more in common with him than the journalists, cops, retail employees, teachers, and non-profiteers who make way less dough.

Thus, I have created a modest proposal for fixing this problem. Maybe, the type of bar that I need to find, is the one that lets technology do the work, fully replacing the bartender. Let us, as they stay in start-upland, “disrupt” the bar.

My technical solutions? Well, 16 Handles got it right by charging people by the weight for frozen yogurt. Why not do the same for alcohol? Either use vending machines that distribute specific alcohols based on weight (perhaps using a credit card verification check) or let people distribute their own alcohol from taps. Of course, while firing the bartenders, it would be wise to have a couple of non-tipped bouncers around to make sure that drunkards aren’t getting served. And this also eliminates the waiting, the possibility of misheard orders, and the lack of a linear structure in determining who is served first.

After griping about this issue, a British friend recently told me, “I believe this is a substitute for a social welfare system here. However, like all welfare systems, it has been abused beyond its original, noble, intentions.”

What if you took all of the money that you would tip to bartenders in a given week, and then donated it to a charity? Then, you’d feel way better about yourself … and have a hefty tax deduction. In the mean time, you can use your “tax refund” to work on that bar disruption start-up.

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Part 1: The law that could save sustainable journalism will be destroyed unless the US Senate acts now!

I recently argued that upstarts like Matter that have made successful pitches on Kickstarter are not the solution to solve journalism’s long-term problems. Why? Because crowdfunding, in its current form, does not permit ordinary people to make investments. Rather, crowdfunders make donations, or in some cases loans. The outcomes are variable and generally unsustainable.

When David Cohn started the crowdsourced journalism non-profit Spot.us four years ago, it worked on a similar premise to Kiva, whereby donors received part or all of their money back if and when a crowd-funded story sold to a legacy media outlet. Cohn prevented any one person from influencing which stories were funded by limiting each donor to funding 20% of the total amount raised for each pitch. Of course this system is potentially flawed in that one donor can spread his/her money out to friends etc, but at least Cohn tried to implement a system of checks and balances.

We’re on the brink of a revolution that could lead to saving sustainable journalism and create many jobs

We may be on the brink of a journalism revolution. Currently, only accredited investors are able to invest in newly formed companies, which prevents Kickstarter, Spot.us, and any other crowdfunding site from raising capital for startup companies and entrepreneurial journalism ventures.

Forbes reports:

Under current federal and state securities laws, startups are prohibited from selling stock or other securities via crowdfunding sites or social networking sites. Such laws include:

  • A prohibition against “general solicitation” – which means that a company may not offer or sell securities unless there is a substantive, pre-existing relationship between the company (or a person acting on its behalf) and the prospective investor (see “Can I Raise Money For My Startup Via Twitter?” );
  • Disclosure and state law compliance requirements if the investors are not “accredited investors” — which usually makes the offering of securities too costly and onerous for a startup (see “Ask the Attorney – Securities Laws”);
  • A requirement that any intermediaries (including websites) must be registered with the SEC and applicable state securities commissions as a “broker-dealer” in order to legally accept any transaction-based compensation in connection with the sale of securities (see “Ask the Attorney – Beware of Finders”); and
  • A requirement that any company that has 500 or more shareholders and total assets exceeding $10 million must register with the SEC and file periodic reports.

These laws were designed with good intentions: Nobody wants to see Mom and Pop lose their hard-earned money to a snake oil salesman. But in today’s crowdfunded world, they no longer make sense. When tech-savvy Americans realized this, they sought action.

In the United States Congress, Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC) (who made some excellent contributions to 2010 Census oversight, which I know from my time spent running MyTwoCensus.com), introduced crowdfunding legislation that was one of the most popular bipartisan initiatives in recent history, garnering support from Democrats all the way up to President Obama himself. McHenry’s bill, the Entrepreneur Access to Capital Act,  H.R. 2930 (full version here), passed 407 to 17.

This makes total sense. Republicans generally don’t believe that the government should be able to tell people how to spend their money. After all, anyone can gamble or booze away all of their savings, can’t they? And Democrats don’t see why accredited investors who are members of the “top 1%” should be the only folks permitted to invest in startups, thus preventing the upward mobility of the masses.

Specifically, the highlights of H.R. 2930 are as follows:

– Create a crowdfunding exemption from SEC regulations for firms raising up to $2 million, with individual investments limited to $10,000 or 10 percent of an investor’s annual income.

– Excludes crowdfunding investors from counting as shareholders for purposes of calculating the 499-shareholder cap under 12(g) of the Securities Exchange Act

– Preempt state law and exempts the ban on general solicitation for the new crowdfunding exemption.

Now, as always seems to be the case as of late with the American government, just when we’re on the brink of something great, the millionaire’s club also known as the United States Senate has failed to move forward with this legislation, thus preventing it from making its way to President Obama’s desk to become a law.

Despite Senate Republican Scott Brown of Massachusetts championing similar legislation to the resolution that the House of Representatives passed, lobbying groups like the NASAA (North American Securities Administrators Association, “the oldest international organization devoted to investor protection”) have wielded their influence over the 100 people who control the fates of the other 300+ million.

What needs to happen now is simple: An online campaign of the magnitude of the SOPA/PIPA protest variety must be enacted to create swift and effective action to boost America’s economy by causing the US Senate to pass comprehensive crowdfunding legislation. Sites like crowdfundinglaw.com and startupexemption.com have already been set up to explain this law and advocate its passage. And using a Wefunder.com petition, more than $6 million has already been pledged to support investment in new ventures if this legislation is passed.

But will Google, Craigslist, Wikipedia, and all of the other organizations that led the charge against SOPA and PIPA step in to assist with this one?

As someone who is not interested in the “rewards” that Kickstarter campaigns promise their donors, but rather direct return on investment in monetary form, I and other like-minded people would be happy to invest in startups despite our lack of accredited investor status. I don’t gamble in casinos, but I’d be happy to gamble on good ideas and innovation.

Coming soon: Direct effects of crowdfunding legislation on new journalism business models…