Apr. 26th, 2017

walkitout: (Default)
Not too long ago, I read _Waiter Rant_, which was entertaining. The author has a number of things to say about tipping, but basically accepts the proposition that the owner of the restaurant cannot afford to pay service staff the amount of money service staff collects from the customers in tips.

I've always thought this was a suspect argument. Sure, the owner can't pay Saturday evening tip rates for all the hours the wait staff is at the restaurant, doing all the tasks that they do. But there's no obvious reason why servers could not be paid an amount over the course of a day/week/two weeks/arbitrarily selected pay period which was equivalent to what they would have made with their current "tipped minimum wage" + tip income, less tip outs to other staff, and, for that matter, raise other staff pay to be equivalent to what they were receiving in tip outs. It's all revenue in the door from the customers. This is not manna from heaven. And in fact there are very high end restaurants which have eliminated tipping, even in NYC, for long enough that we are now seeing articles reviewing the impact of that decision (as opposed to the earlier spate of articles which only looked at _that_ restaurants were making that decision).


This article notes that while it _is_ all money in the door from the customer, revenue on the bill is handled differently whether it is on the bill, or a tip -- and that can have an impact on how much is then available for distribution among staff. And a lot of the rationale for eliminating tipping is the front of the house/back of the house division that was described vividly in _Waiter Rant_, but which presumed undocumenteds running the kitchen forever and ever amen, a scenario which just isn't happening any more. If restaurants can't come up with ways to even out compensation to the kitchen, they are not able to retain employees -- this is a chronic problem with restaurants, and eliminating tipping and repricing is one strategy for getting around this without just raising prices across the board and leaving tipping in place.

Over at BI, Matthew DeBord has produced another deliberately provocative piece, this time about Uber's problems and how they would all/mostly/okay maybe some of them get better if Uber introduced a tipping feature.


Debord claims that he "assumed Uber was baking a 20% tip into every ride". Which is a little odd -- that would illegal, among other things, altho I can certainly understand that people who have been keeping up with Uber news might go, like that ever stopped Uber. Tipping drivers and tipping waiters share some things and do not share others. The commonality -- personal service -- is pretty unambiguous. The difference -- taxi drivers are, at least in theory, truly not employees but rather independent business owners of the medallions -- is murky. Most actual drivers are NOT medallion owners, and their actual location on the employee/contractor continuum is often ill-defined and not entirely in compliance with all applicable laws.


I sure sympathize with servers who live in a state (like Massachusetts) where their employers can pay them a different, lower minimum wage. I wish every state went the way Washington did, raising the tipped minimum wage to parity with minimum wage (and they even left tipping intact).

That said, I finally took two Ubers in Seattle, roughly the same route (3 miles from a location on Cap Hill to a location in the downtown business distract). I tipped in cash ($5 on a roughly $16 ride) each time. First driver was a bit surprised, but we'd had a conversation about how this was my very first Uber ever. Second driver looked straight up shocked to have a $5 in his hand. Both were black car ride. I tip my car service (even with a baked in gratuity, I added cash) when I go to the airport, so I figured it wasn't unreasonable to do this. But honestly, if Uber has finally managed to change the expectations, turning that around now seems ridiculous. I'd much rather have the price on the ride go up and keep the no-tip culture, than push the price lower by reducing the amount to the driver and have the driver recover it by pressuring for cash tips.

DeBord argues that tipping is predictable at 20% -- he also says 20% is for "exceptional" service. And part of his argument is, everything requires a tip in NYC. But exporting that all over the country isn't necessarily where I think we should go with this. I'd far rather see us move in the direction of the restaurants experimenting with eliminating tipping to more fairly compensate back of the house. I'd rather see us move in the direction of paid employees vs. contractors. With transparency of benefits and, you know, compliance with labor law.

I know I'm asking a lot. I know it won't happen. But blithely saying that Uber should add a tipping feature is missing the Very Best Thing Ever about Uber. At the end of the ride, all you have to do is grab your stuff and get out of the car. I cannot tell you how obnoxious I have always found it to watch the meter, count out cash change (because of the non-existent credit card reader, or the reader that is conveniently for the driver "broken") while calculating a tip, and also collect all my stuff and get out of the car. I hate having all that happen at once, and I've left things in taxis. Uber really de-stressed the end of the ride. If they add a tipping feature, I hope they at least automate it to a customizable default so they don't lose the Just Get Out of the Car with My Stuff feature.
walkitout: (Default)
Airlines often suffer from scandals, some worse than others. United, however, seems to have become a black hole for scandal, attracting more and more reports of odd and/or awful things which have happened there.

First, of course, was the leggings. A twitter controversy because passengers on the flight were horrified to see tweener girls turned away for violating dress code rules by wearing leggings. United initially claimed their contract of carriage allowed this (it does not), then said no, these were pass travelers and pass travelers get free travel but have to abide by a dress code. One assumes that in this case, the dress code is designed to avoid irritating the paying customers. But United seems unaware of the rationale for their own dress code -- they quite happily stuck to procedure even though it was pissing off paying customers. Little did we know this was foreshadowing, and this particular scandal would live on far past its ordinary expected lifetime, as the background to later and greater United scandals.

Scandal number two was the Really Epic One. It is the chewiest scandal of recent years, and ideally suited to small talk and other forms of idle conversation. Very few people are prepared to defend the United position, and all the rest of us are quite happy explaining to them why they are wrong. There is no threat to relationships, such as can happen when discussing sexual topics, religion, or our most recent election. We're not going to find out the other person disagrees with us and is prepared to terminate our relationship over that disagreement. So we can vent at will.

It helped the scandal live on, that it tied into so many other things of concern to many of us. Police officers who treat people too roughly. Service oriented businesses that are anything but service oriented. Our lingering sense that whenever we get on an airplane, Something Horrible Might Happen. And all the smaller injuries of airplane travel: fees, fees and more fees, lost luggage, too small seats, overfull planes, etc. But the piece de resistance is realizing how many rules and regulations United managed to violate by bumping paying customers to fly repositioned employees -- after the paying customers were already in their seats. We can all have confidence that taking the time and trouble to memorize the details of this scandal will pay off in future small talk opportunities, when various trials go to court and we hear further announcements of changes to policies at the airlines, changes of job title, etc.

Now that the extremely unfortunate injuries perpetrated on a customer of United Airlines by Chicago Aviation Police have attained a sort of self-reinforcing cycle of news, we also get to hear about every other odd and unfortunate thing that happens if it is connected to the scandal and/or United. So Delta got a little blip of news coverage for increasing the amount of money that its gate agents and their supervisors can offer to volunteers to be bumped. Other people who lost cherry seats have been able to share their stories and the possibility they might file suit.

And now, we have the death of a giant bunny, a bunny destined for glory in the future as the largest bunny of all time, whose opportunity to be that grand bunny was destroyed (as well as losing its life) by flying on United. Or possibly before flying on United or after landing.


Less respectable news outlets are having a lot of fun with the rabbit breeder's past.

That's a lot of fun.

Where is United going to go with this (not the bunny -- the bunny is a sidelight)?

Well, United has taken many tacks with these scandals. Munoz' career as CEO has been checkered, to say the least: he took over from a scandal ridden predecessor, had heart surgery, then came back anyway and focused on employee morale, receiving an award for his performance from PRWeek which caused them some chagrin when the major component of this scandal arc occurred.


Munoz would not be the first person to engage in a turnaround who, forced to prioritize, was then bitten in the ass by the things which were not prioritized. A lot of people who are not necessarily interested in the details of how tough a job Munoz has on his hands have been a little surprised he was not summarily dismissed. Alas, I don't think it would be that easy to find someone willing to attempt to run United as CEO at this point in time. I know I wouldn't take it on. Would you?

Indeed, his employers have taken a different approach to disciplining Munoz. He apparently had a clause elevating him to chairman, and another clause saying he could resign as CEO if that didn't happen. Both of those have "voluntarily" been removed from his contract according to this piece at NYT:


Not only are they not sacking him, he doesn't get to leave.

I, personally, would much rather see a thorough analysis of process at the legacy airlines and their junior partners such as United Express and Republic Airways, and a concerted effort to bring that process into compliance with relevant regulations. I would _also_ like to see the airline industry as a whole acknowledge its unfunded future liabilities (pass travel, whether space available, positive space, must ride, etc. -- these are all important, either as union contracted benefits or in order to reposition employees). Vouchers and other pass travel _used_ to be widely recognized as valuable; that value has been virtually eliminated now that airlines run all planes 100% full all the time, thus preventing the use of frequent flyer awards travel and other pass travel. If flights left 5% of the plane available for use by passes (including must rides which were at the core of the major scandal for United), we might not get back to the world where the middle seat was usually empty and you might luck out and get a whole middle row on a wide body and take a nap.

But we could at least stop feeling like the funniest joke in our repertoire right now when asked, "How was your flight?" is "I have all my teeth, see! (big smile) The bar is sure low, now, isn't it?!?"

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