Our recent podcast about tipping mentioned a San Diego restaurant, the Linkery, that adopted a strict no-tipping policy. The Linkery has since closed its doors, but owner Jay Porter (who was featured in the podcast) has been writing about the effects of a no-tipping policy. Here's Part 1 and Part 2 of his blog posts. A summary of his takeaways:
1) Due to poorly cohering laws in many Western U.S. states, using a service charge has typically been the only legal way for a restaurant business to balance wages between servers, bartenders, cooks and dishwashers. That’s why restaurants like Chez Panisse instituted such a [service charge] policy.. Subsequent court decisions in the Western U.S. have opened up the possibility that other arrangements are legal, but the service charge is still the safest model.
2) Because tips cannot legally, in most cases, be controlled by the employer, they are typically distributed (or not distributed, as the case may be) according to a social compact between the employees. That social compact is either unenforced or enforced through social means, like ostracization. In either event, the systems for both acquiring and distributing tips are easily gamed by members of the compact who are intent on doing so.