That’s the question floated recently over at the Atlantic Food Channel, where Corby Kummer suggested that America’s tipping culture is broken and needs to be fixed.

Y&H has understood for more than two years now what kind of animosity tipping can bring out in diners. For those who don’t remember, or missed it altogether, check out this July 2007 edition of Ask Tim, which generated 70 comments, many of them quite nasty toward the idea of a required 20 percent tip.

It was clear then, and it’s clear now: The whole process of compensating waiters and waitresses is totally messed up. It creates resentment on both sides of the table.

But what’s the solution? Raise the price of a meal? I doubt that, in this economy, many restaurateurs would be inclined toward that idea. Automatically put the tip on every check? I doubt diners would cotton to the notion of stripping them of their right to tip according to the level of service.

Maybe we should try to professionalize the whole wait service industry and make it more like the French model? I think part of the problem is that Americans still view waiters and waitresses as second-class citizens, as artsy-fartsy actors and actresses (or writers or painters or just no-talent bums who think they’re artsy) who’re waiting tables while waiting on their big break.

I think professionalizing the trade would go a long way toward creating sympathy for one very difficult job. And believe me, I know exactly how difficult it is from direct experience.

Image by indip.dj via Flickr Creative Commons, Attribution License

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