The Tipping Point

Flying Lion Brewing: Hold My Beer

The Tipping Trap

Tipping is a tradition in the US but is now creating problems for both businesses and their customers. It has created a culture of uncertainty and inequality.

One problem with tipping is that it places the burden of paying workers on customers, rather than employers. As a result, workers’ wages are often unpredictable and unreliable, dependent on the whims of customers. 

Tipping can also be awkward for customers. Payment systems that require customers to select an amount to tip can put the customer in an uncomfortable position of having to decide how much to tip. This can lead to stress for customers who don't want to under-tip and offend the service provider or overpay for the service. It can also create resentment if the service doesn't meet expectations, but the customer still feels obligated to tip.

Hence, we're caught in a tipping trap.

Hold My Beer

One of our favorite local businesses is Flying Lion Brewing, a craft brewery located just a short drive from Mercer Island in the Columbia City neighborhood of South Seattle. The business is co-owned by Griffin Williams and his family. It opened in 2014 and is now a cornerstone of the Seattle craft beer scene. The brewery is housed in a former grocery store, which has been renovated to include a taproom, outdoor patio, and production space.

The taproom is a welcoming space with plenty of natural light and industrial chic decor. The bar is made from reclaimed wood and the walls are adorned with local art. There's a spacious outdoor patio for sunny afternoons. The taproom is open 7 days a week and is kid and dog-friendly. You can take a seat at the curved bar, enjoy the open air when the garage door is rolled up, or grab a spot on the heated patio. Although they don’t have a kitchen, guests are welcome to bring their own food from home or one of the numerous restaurants in the neighborhood.

As reported in a recent Seattle Times story, for Williams, the absurdity of our culture’s tipping trap hit him when he purchased a charging cable from an on-line electronics store. They had a tip option at checkout,” he said.

Williams had already become concerned that tipping was causing a big pay gap between the bartenders — who got all the tips — and the people who made the beer in the back of the house. As the cost of raw ingredients and overall production costs increased during the pandemic, he was forced to raise beer prices, which in turn resulted in higher tip amounts and an even larger pay gap between servers and back of house employees. The experience of being asked to tip for an on-line purchase proved to be a tipping point, and Williams acted.

They ultimately raised the pay rate of the bartenders from about $16 an hour to roughly $28 an hour. Then they raised the base price of the beer about 20% (from about $5.45 to about $7.25). The result is the servers and back of house employees now make similar wages. They also implemented a retirement savings program for all employees. To Williams, this felt fairer for employees and created a better customer experience.

Now, when the bartender presents you with an iPad screen to sign, the old suggested and custom tip buttons are gone. According to Williams, customers are happy not to see the tip screen.

In addition to brewing great beer, Flying Lion Brewing is also a community hub. They host regular events such as trivia nights, a weekly group run that starts and ends at the taproom, and an annual multi-day Dark Beer Festival.

Overall, Flying Lion Brewing is a must-visit destination for anyone who loves craft beer, sustainability, and community. And now, you won’t need to tip.

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