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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

What Kind of Tipper Are You?

Did you hear about the Japanese steakhouse in Winston Salem, North Carolina that banned a regular customer from ever eating there again because she was a notoriously bad tipper? What kind of tipper are you?
  • Inglorious bastard: no tip at all
  • Cheapskate and proud of it: 5-10%
  • Fiscally conservative with good intentions: 15%
  • Class act: 20% and more
The word tips is commonly thought to be an acronym for: To Insure Prompt Service. But linguistic experts who study the origin of words, debunk that derivation...claiming it has no historical authenticity. Nonetheless, tipping is generally defined as a 'reward' for good service rendered. In restaurants throughout the United States, tipping is not legally required. However, it's socially expected lest you're thought to be a stingy old coot. Many eating establishments embed a pre-set gratuity on the bill and frequently add an 18% service charge for large groups. Restaurant patrons usually base their tip assessment on the performance of the server. Yet  very often a server provides excellent service and only receives a nominal tip. Good service does not necessarily beget great tips.

Although tipping is at the discretion of the patron being served, in the United States it's customary to leave 15 to 20 percent of the total bill as a tip. Critics of tipping complain that it's not right for restaurants to pay waitstaff low wages and then expect customers to supplement the server's salary with tips. Restaurant owners argue that the cost of meals would significantly increase if their staff was paid more. It's an old conflict that is unlikely to soon change. The custom of tipping is what it is.  People who eat out recognize that fact. 

Personally, I leave a 20% tip...even if the service is inferior. If the service is exceptional, I will leave a larger percentage. I base my tipping philosophy on the fact that waiting on strangers, serving food to them and catering to their impetuous, belligerent and capricious culinary whims is not a very enjoyable occupation. Waiting on tables can often provide a fairly decent income and it's not always possible for servers to get other jobs. I am not in the restaurant business. But years ago in high school, I spent one summer waiting tables in a popular local eatery. I have never forgotten the experience nor do I ever wish to repeat it. Many of my customers were pleasant but a lot of them were uppity, obnoxious and rude. I saw the ugly side of humanity from behind my mustard-stained waitress apron. Most patrons left lousy tips to all of us servers even though we worked our butts off.  Back then, I even had to prepare some of the food. A popular item on the menu was a moo sandwich. I'm not talking hamburger here. Have you ever shoved a hunk of cow tongue through a slicing machine to make a tongue sandwich? I usually served it with a side order of gagging. Need I say more?

So that's why I have some empathy for those stalwart men and women, young and old, who work in restaurants. Speaking of old...I was having dinner with a friend at a very popular seaside resort restaurant last week and we couldn't help but notice that our server was an extremely elderly woman. I swear she had to be 85 years old. She was thin as a knife edge, wrinkled as a used napkin and was hoisting heavy serving platters loaded with dinner plates. Each platter probably weighed more than she did. Yet she whipped the plates off like they were frisbees, served her tables quickly and raced back to the kitchen for more. I never once saw her smile but she did a commendable job. My guess is that this lady did not enjoy working as a waitress in her golden years but had no other options to make ends meet. And yes, she got a hefty tip from my friend and me even though she screwed up our drink orders...twice. My friend called it the: There but for the grace of God, go us...tip.

If the service at a restaurant is deplorable, I blame it on the restaurant owner or management. They are responsible for the quality of their product and their staff. I readily admit there are some elements of society who simply should not be employed in the restaurant industry bringing food to people. We've all been served by the lazy jerk who acts like he despises mankind and we worry about what he sprinkled on our soup. My question is: Why was he hired in the first place? There are some really incompetent servers out there. For the most part, though, I think these workers do try their best to please the customer.

If a server is sloppy, inattentive or even surly...they might just be having a bad day. Maybe waiting tables is their second or third job. Maybe they got a sick kid at home or they have marital issues or their home is in foreclosure or their car broke down or the chef threw pasta at them. There's a lot of backstage drama at a restaurant...so I'm told. Maybe they are doing the best they can at a job they hate because there is no other work out there. Who's to say? But I try to give even the less-than-illustrious servers the benefit of the doubt along with a decent tip. As for those servers who are capable, courteous and efficient, my appreciation is duly expressed. And I never ever ask for a tongue sandwich. Sphere: Related Content

19 comments:

Carole and Chewy said...

I'm one of those stingy old coots. I tip for good to exceptional service. If the restaurant owner wants to charge me more and pay his staff better, I'm okay with that. I worked as a waitress more than a few times myself,and I'm usually not too impressed with the quality of the servers I come across now. Of course, that makes the really good ones stand out. But I won't eat anywhere that the management automatically adds the tip in.

RawknRobynsGoneBlogWild said...

I tend to fall under the category of fiscally conservative with good intentions. I agree that there's much to the dining experience that the wait staff have no control over. I worked in food service, so I know that people can be idiosyncratic control freaks about their food and service. But I don't leave a good tip for bad service on the part of the waiter/waitress. You're a more generous person than I am, BP.
Cheers,
Robyn

The mad woman behind the blog said...

We tend to get into a rut and only eat at one restaurant for months at a time. The advantage is we know the menu and the staff and they know us. And our tips reflect both the quality of food and service but the fondness we have for the staff.
If the staff doesn't welcome us (meaning my toddler) then we don't make it habit to return.

ReformingGeek said...

I tip more towards the 20% but only if the service is good. If it's just OK, then I will tip closer to 15%.

If the service is poor and there is no explanation given and the server is rude, I will tip less than 15% and will probably complain.

It's kind of you to give bad service the benefit of the doubt.

CountryDreaming said...

Class Act, 20% tip. And if I'm with friends or relatives who are picking up the tab, I've been known to offer tip money if I think the tip looks a wee bit miserly for my taste. Have a sister who was a waitress and learned that the IRS taxed her according to what the IRS expected she would get in tips ... customers often failed to live up to IRS expectations. Caveat: If I get a mean waitress I'll leave less.

Coffeypot said...

I agree that the owner, manager of an eating establishment is responsible for the training and policing their servers, cooks, busboys, etc. But the server is directly involved with me. If the service is inferior, the food served cold, late or wrong, or there is an attitude, the server will not get a good tip. I don’t care about their back story. They are working with people and thus should make the effort to do their job correctly.

I won’t make a point of it unless I am asked. Then I will tell anyone who wants to listen and I will encourage the manager/owner to be there. I have only had to do this once in my life, and I do tip 15% or 20% most of the time. My business cards even have a tip chart on the back. I believe that someone is, for what ever their reason, serving me, so I treat them with respect and courtesy.

Sarah said...

15 to 20 percent for me, depending on lunch or dinner. but i think the japanese restaurant went too far. a tip is to be appreciated, not expected. it shouldn't be a mendatory thing.

Douglas said...

I am neither stingy nor a coot (though old is probably apt) and my tips are generally in the 20% range unless service is poor. Then, it dips maybe even down to 10%. I do not reward poor service. I expect good service. I do this because I try to be a good customer. I am pleasant, non-demanding, courteous to the wait-staff, and am never rude to anyone who is not first rude to me. In return, I expect the same.

Marla said...

Good post. I tend to tip big. I hated waiting tables so I appreciate those that do it.

K.R. said...

I agree with comments on waitresses and tipping. I worked at a big hotel one summer to put my way through college and learned so much about my fellow man. I also learned the hard lives my fellow waitresses had and what hard work it was.
I TIP BIG.

Janet said...

I, too, waited tables in high school and it can be challenging. I like to tip generously and maybe even make someone's day. I've had enough "grace" extended to me in my life that I want to pass it on. Sometimes the undeserved kindness can change a crabby heart.

Fran Hill @ Being Miss said...

I'd said you verged on the very compassionate in terms of your tipping. But, as you say, you've been there.

Colonel Andy Weddington, U. S. Marines (Retired) said...

As a teenager I bussed tables and washed dishware, glasses, silverware, and pots and pans--the old-fashioned way (no fancy smancy machines). In short, busted my a** for low pay and to help out the wait staff. Nary a tip. Unless the waiter/waitress is a complete zero I reward them. If the food is exceptional, a visit to the kitchen. And the dishwasher. I never forgot the lessons of being bicep-deep in hot soapy water.

J.P. Travis said...

20% from me unless somebody is rude, and I don't think the 20% buys me the right to be a jackass. I am as polite to wait staff as I would be to my own mother, and I notice that I only need to eat somewhere once or twice to be remembered and treated like royalty. Even the guy who makes the burgers at Wendy's knows me and makes a point of greeting me, simply because I thanked him one time for remembering that I like extra tomato. I was married for ten years to a woman who treated all service staff like dirt, and it was unbearable for me. I am at a loss for why some people think they can treat people who serve them food badly, or why they think it's a good idea to treat them badly. For God's sake, you're going to EAT what THEY serve you!

Blissed-Out Grandma said...

Usually closer to 20%, and at least 20% if we have the toddlers along. I hate it when I'm with someone who leaves a too-small tip. I've been known to add a bit to it...even when that embarrassed the cheapskate who left too little.

gayle said...

Usually I tip around 20% but less if the service is bad!!

Will Shealy said...

Nicely put! Having been in the industry for fifteen years, (I finally reached escape velocity and am on the sales end of things) I know that servers generally don't even get checks. The tips they do get, (especially when they're good) almost always get reported when on a credit card. So the tax eats away at the check, and they often end up owing taxes at the end of the year. (Hint: tip in cash when possible). Though you only served for a Summer in high school, you write from the perspective of a server. You could not have said it better.

Mark said...

I'd say in the UK that 10% is considered a fair tip; 15% for good service.

The practice I really hate is when restaurants add an 'optional' ten or twenty percent for service to your bill and then hand you the credit card machine with a line asking for another tip. Whenever that happens I ask that they deduct the original service charge as well!

I also like to pay the waiting staff in cash because I don't trust the owners to pass it on if the tip is paid on a credit card.

workinghard said...

When I was a child, my mother was a waitress and we lived on those tips. I remember her counting them out in the morning. It was sometimes the difference between a good meal or not. Enjoyed your article. I tip 20% because some child might eat a better meal.

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