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Kounta Hits the Tipping Point (Tips for Taking Tips)

To tip or not to tip: that is the question. Other related questions: how much do I tip? Who do …

By Dave Eagle

Photo by Torba K Hopper (Flickr)
Photo by Torba K Hopper (Flickr)

To tip or not to tip: that is the question. Other related questions: how much do I tip? Who do I tip? Where do I tip? The rules and customs around leaving a little extra for service aren’t set in stone; there’s no international standard for a practice that’s evolved over time from a reward for a job exceptionally done to one that is expected in some venues. In the United States, where the federally mandated minimum wage has stagnated at a paltry $7.25, the practice of tipping is the lifeblood of people working in hospitality. That would be bad news for workers if it weren’t for the worse news: in 17 states, employees working where tipping is customary can be paid as low as $2.13 an hour, a wage so low that there’s almost no reason good enough to withhold a gratuity. Contrast that with Australia, where the minimum wage currently stands at $17.29 an hour—the equivalent of $12.12 in the US—and tipping is a hotly debated practice. Having to pay employees a living wage compels owners to price their food accordingly, something that reflects the true cost of each meal and the work required to bring it to you.

That’s the idea behind Chef David Chang’s recent decision to ban tipping at his new restaurant—Momofuku Nishi—in the Chelsea section of New York City. The motivation for doing this came from the experience he had while opening and running another Momofuku in Sydney back in 2011. In an interview over at Lucky Peach (a food magazine and website, and also another one of Chang’s businesses), he explained what it looks like when a restaurant pays its employees enough that they don’t have to rely on tips:

I got to see just how much our cooks and servers make. It’s a considerable amount, and there is greater parity between the front and back of house..It is crazy how much money a cook can make relative to NYC—still not enough, but a lot. The real cost of selling food [in NYC] is not accurately reflecting the labor that goes into it.

no tipping
Photo by Natalia Balcerska (Flickr)

Chang isn’t the only chef doing away with tipping in his restaurants, but that doesn’t mean this a craze that’s sweeping the nation. If tipping is to be done away with entirely, there needs to be a huge change to the way owners run their businesses and what customers expect of them. It’s safe to say that Americans would experience some serious sticker shock over the cost of a meal where tipping is banned. Generally, a gratuity in the amount of 15% – 20% of the bill is the norm, but if food prices are to be brought in line with labor costs prices would need to rise by about 25%. And if your service is terrible? You’re still paying a higher price. I’d argue that that’s a good thing—it shouldn’t be a customer’s responsibility to punish or reward employee performance.  But I’ve also argued that every newborn child deserves health care and a free banjo, so I don’t see tipping going away anytime soon. And as long as we’re going to be stuck with a practice for which there are no rules or even consistent standards, you—as an owner—might as well make it as easy and painless as possible for your customers. With Kounta’s tipping add-on, you can do just that.

If you’re wondering why we’d need to program an entirely separate module to put a blank line on your receipts, the answer to that is simple: the module does much more than just add a tip line for customers to fill out. Tipping is a simple proposition: throw some cash down on the table above and beyond the total cost of the bill. But that simple act complicates things. If employees are pooling tips, then you have to be able to keep a running tally. And whether or not tips are being pooled, if the customer adds the tip to a credit card purchase, that will also need to be tracked so that the right amount of cash is taken from the till to disperse out. Sometimes that can happen before payment, sometimes after. Sometimes it happens at the very moment of payment. There are plenty of variables, but in all cases, money paid as a gratuity for service needs to be tracked separately from the money paid for the meal itself. With Kounta’s tipping module, we’ve got you covered. With it, you can:


  • Enter pre-defined percentages—this is helpful for out-of-towners who don’t know the local customs. It also eliminates the need for humans to do the math since one tap of a button (among multiple selections) handles the percentage and addition calculations.Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 5.03.40 pm
  • Add the option for a custom tip. Some people just don’t like to be told what to do (ahem), and will want to enter their own damn tip amount, thank you very much. Kounta will take care of adding it to the subtotal, though.
  • Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 4.47.37 pmAdd a tip line to the subtotal before taking payment. Someone asks for the check, and you bring it to them, with a bank line for the tip and another blank line for the new total. A customer can fill this out and then hand over her credit/debit card to have the whole thing finalised in one shot. You add the tip to the bill in Kounta before running the card, and the POS tracks it accordingly.
  • Have the customer enter a tip directly in the POS at the time of payment. If you’re bringing your tablet or smartphone tableside to process the payment, you can hand it over to a customer so she can select from any of the presets or directly enter a custom amount. Kounta shows the total; you swipe the card, and voila!
  • Go back and add the tip after the fact. Just when you think you’re out, they keep pulling you back in! You’ve swiped the card, payment’s approved, then handed the paper receipt over to the customer, at which point he then adds a tip and a new total. You can go back into Kounta and amend the totals on already completed sales, and flagging the extra amount as a tip.
  • Account for tips when finalising takings at the end of the day. When you run your end of day reports, Kounta can tell you how much cash should be removed from the till to distribute the tips out to your staff. This includes any tips that were charged to a card since you’ll be reimbursed that money from your processor’s next scheduled payout.

Of course, you could go all David Chang and ban tips from your restaurant altogether. And that’s another reason tipping is an optional module. It would be a mixed message if you make a big deal about not accepting tips and then bring people receipts to sign that have a tip line on them. Even with an explicitly stated ban, I’d bet most people would feel terrible writing “$0” down. Spare them the embarrassment and just turn the whole thing off.

As you can see, we’re neutral on this whole debate of whether to tip or not. Every meal has a tipping point, and it’s up to you to decide how to handle that. But whichever way you go, we’ve made it easier for you to do it.