Will Fast Food Workers Start Asking For Tips?

LOS ANGELES , June 12, 2014 () – I walked into a Jersey Mike’s last week to get a Pastrami Reuben (the best deli sandwich I’ve ever gotten from a non-deli, by the way) and when I went to pay, the worker at the register asked me something that I’ve never encountered before at a fast food restaurant:

Would you like to add a tip?

A tip? At a fast food restaurant? Seriously? For what? Putting some tomatoes on some bread and telling me how much it costs? It’s one thing to leave a tip when I go into a restaurant, sit down, and a waiter or waitress takes my order, gets my refills without asking, brings me extra napkins and pretends that my jokes are funny. But now I’m expected to leave a tip for someone who essentially does none of that?

I ended up leaving a 15% tip. I mean, what else was I supposed to do? I was on the spot, caught off guard, and to be honest: I would’ve been embarrassed not leaving a tip because the worker was right in front of me.

I have yet to be asked for a tip at other fast food restaurants, and I haven’t come across news articles indicating that this will be a growing trend. But honestly, it wouldn’t surprise me if it did for one simple reason:

Fast food wages.

In the last several months, there have been protests from fast food workers around the world demanding a minimum wage of $15 an hour. I’m not saying these workers don’t deserve such a wage—they do—but it’s not going to happen. Paying these workers $15 an hour will lead to billions of dollars in additional costs for these companies; last year, McDonald’s said such a wage increase could cost the company $8 billion. These wages won’t be increased unless the federal government steps in and raises the minimum wage. Simple as that.

But tips for fast food workers? That could help bridge the divide. These workers get additional money, and it isn’t costing companies any more out of pocket. It’s win-win. Your normal consumer may be a little put-off at first about asking to leave a tip (like I was), but they’ll get over it quickly. Consumers aren’t going to switch their long-term loyalty from Jersey Mike’s to Quiznos because Jersey Mike’s asks you to leave a tip.

And speaking of Jersey Mike’s and tips:

After I left a tip that day, the Jersey Mike’s worker gave me a free cookie.

I’ll be leaving tips over there from now on.

Nevin Barich is the Food and Beverage Analyst for Industry Intelligence. Email him here or follow him on Twitter here.

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