I walked into a Jersey Mike’s recently to get a Pastrami Reuben (the best deli sandwich I’ve found in 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 at a fast food restaurant:
“Would you like to add a tip?”
I stared at her, confused, and that’s when she pointed to the pay machine. “Would you like to add a tip?” the machine asked. It even broke down how much my final tally would be for a 10%, 15%, or 20% tip.
This was a new one for me. 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. 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 I don’t believe it’s 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 claimed such a wage increase could cost the company $8 billion. These wages likely won’t increase unless the federal government steps in and mandates it. Simple as that.
But tips for fast food workers? This idea could help bridge the divide. Workers get additional money, but it won’t cost companies any more out of pocket. It’s win-win. Plus, though your everyday consumer may be a little put off at first about asking to leave a tip (like I was), she’ll likely get over it quickly. Consumers aren’t going to switch long-term loyalty from a chain like Jersey Mike’s to Quiznos just because Jersey Mike’s asks you to leave a tip. Besides, after I left a tip that day, the Jersey Mike’s worker gave me a free cookie.
I’ll be leaving tips from now on.
Nevin Barich is the Food & Beverage analyst for Industry Intelligence, a Los Angeles-based market intelligence firm. It's the perfect job for him: He loves junk food, he often works besides a glass of Diet Dr. Pepper, and anytime one of the health nuts in his office gives him grief for eating a Big Mac, he gets to smile and say: "Hey, this is my job." Email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.