Ah, the tip: bane of the math-afflicted, we've accepted it without much notice here in the USA since the 1700's or so (when the practice was imported from Europe.) Nowadays, the Continent is content with a service charge but us Americans soldier on, figuring out 15 and 20 percent gratuities with discreet little calculators after dinner's done. (Were they nice to me? Was the food tasty? Was the server exceedingly hot?)
Does it have to be this way? The New York Times points us to the Linkery, an eatery daring to ask the question. And daring they are: they toss an 18 percent gratuity onto the check and discourage tips, asking those who'd like to leave a little sumthing sumthing extra to donate to a charity. Shocking - but then again, some big fish in the culinary universe are doing the same thing, including Thomas Keller and Alice Waters. The rationale is to spread the love to the back of the house and to equalize the dining experience, ensuring servers don't get hosed on tips if they're stuck with a crowd of Grade-A assholes.
Of course, this also means servers won't have access to the largesse of the rich and generous (who may leave a cool 200 dollar tip if feeling flush) and also means a not inconsiderable paycut for servers in general. And won't service tend to the crap end of the spectrum if the waitstaff don't have a carrot (or a stick) awaiting them at the opposite end?
People just don't tip in China and India, and will regard you with blank stares and extreme confusion if you do. (Why do you leave your money, madame?) I will confess: I became pleasantly accustomed to not having to think about it, to being able to walk off with abandon after having paid my bill. Far as I could tell (and this is borne out by actual real-scientist evidence), service doesn't suffer when tipping is not involved: a good server is a good server.
Still: a flat service charge is just that, and can mean that a diner has little recourse for providing an obvious critique when crapola service is provided. If I am given truly lousy service, I like having the power to leave squat behind on the table when I depart: such are my rights. Perhaps it is a little sick that I enjoy having the power of some avenging diner-angel, but so be it. Further, I also enjoy the benevolent power that I can dole out when I receive truly exceptional service: I like being able to make some poor, struggling method actors day with a generous tip.
I can't make up my mind, but I imagine the American restaurant industry will happily solve the problem for me. As is, I will enjoy not having to do arithmetic in Asia and simply get someone else to handle it for me when dining in my home country. Or, you know, guess.