5.08.2012

Tuesday LTP: What Do You Tip?


Last week's LTP post on Tip Guides brought up a ton of interesting points and questions! I was planning to respond to each one individually, but once I realized how much I had to say, I figured it would better to just turn into another post on tipping.

According to the Emily Post Institute, the general tipping guidelines for restaurants are as follows:

Wait service (sit down): 15-20%, pre-tax
Wait service (buffet): 10%, pre-tax
Host or Maitre d': No obligation for greeting you and showing you to your table.
Take Out: No obligation/10% for extra service (curb delivery) or a large, complicated order

First, let me just get this out of my system: yes, Bandera, you heard from Emily Post's people - the tip amount should be based on the the PRE-tax amount. Hmmmppph.

As I mentioned last week, I think it's the job of the restaurant owners (i.e. their employers) to pay their servers a proper salary. In fact, I would go so far as to say that all states should force all restaurants to pay their waitstaff at least the federally mandated minimum wage. Servers should be paid by their employers to complete the mandatory duties of their positions - they should not have to depend on tips to earn a livable wage, just as customers should not feel guilted into tipping at a higher rate just because they know the servers are being paid so little.

As a customer, it shouldn't be my concern if the server is being paid a fair wage or not. If a server does acceptable work (satisfactorily completes his/her duties), then they should be fully compensated by their employer and that's that. Tips should not be used to make up a gap in the server's salary. It should be my choice to decide that if server does exemplary work that merits a tip for going beyond expectations (the basic duties of his/her job). Tipping was originally meant to reward servers who provided customers with extraordinary service - now it's expected that you tip at least 10% even if you were unsatisfied with your service.

Yes, I know that tipping is technically optional, but I don't see it that way. Unless there's an extreme situation (more on this later), I would never not leave at least a 15% tip (my standard is 20%, but I will go down if there was a server-specific issue) because I know the system is complicated and unfair. Even the government treats tipping as though it's mandatory! I've heard various people argue that the low wages/tipping system is necessary in order to force servers to give the customers a high level of service. Bullshit. I've been to several restaurants in the U.S. and many in Europe in which tipping was abolished or there never was a standard tipping system. The service was excellent in those places and the servers seemed much more motivated to provide a high level of service - maybe because they were actually being paid fairly & didn't have to bust their assess just to pick up a few extra bucks from each table? Also, as a customer, I felt much more inclined to actually want to leave to a leave a tip (even though it wasn't expected) because I had received such good service. I think my money has much more impact when it's being used to reward someone providing more than just basic service (positive reinforcement), rather than being used as an excuse for employers to not pay a fair wage.

[FYI, I worked as waitress/host/cashier when I was in college - it was at a restaurant that paid fairly well & discouraged tipping. The job totally sucked, but not because of the lack of tipping.]

Today's LTP: I want to know all about your views on tipping...

1. Do you take anything in consideration (e.g. cost of meal, speed of service, overall satisfaction, type of restaurant) when deciding on what to tip? Do you have a set standard?

As I mentioned, I normally leave a 20% tip unless there's something that goes wrong and/or the service isn't all that great (and I will go up if the service is especially spectacular). I have a friend who always leaves a flat $5 tip, no matter what... I guess servers just better hope they get her table for a $20 meal and not a $50 one. :-)

2. Has there ever been a time in which you didn't leave a tip? What made you decide not to leave a tip? Did you inform the server and/or manager of why or did you just leave without saying anything?

Discounting my college days in which we were all a bit naive about tipping, there have only been two times in which I intentionally chose to not leave a tip. The first time happened in Salem, MA during lunchtime. The waitress dropped off our food, cashed out the two tables next to us, and then disappeared back into the main dining area (we were the only table left on the patio). We didn't see her for the rest of the meal - not only did she never return, but no other servers came out to check on us at any point. Half an hour after we finished the meal, we wandered into the dining room to try to find her, as we were sick of waiting (we didn't even have the bill!). Oh, that's when we found out that she had actually left for the day after she brought us the food... and neglected to let anyone inside know that there was still a table outside. They didn't even have a ticket for us. Awesome.

The second time was at one of my favorite restaurants in Chicago - the waiter was extremely rude and condescending and made everyone at the table very uncomfortable. A member of my party actually ended up complaining to the manager and we also decided not to leave a tip. We knew that the waiter wouldn't possibly think it was his behavior that led to the lack of tip (as we were obviously uncultured cheapskates), so we left a note on the receipt that detailed exactly why we made that decision. I don't know if anything good came out of that note, but I do know at least the a-hole waiter, the hostess, and possibly another manager saw it (and it made me feel better to write it).

3. Do you ever tip when you get take out?

I don't tip when I'm just picking up an order, but I will say that I always feel really uncomfortable when the host/hostess watches me cross out the tip line on the receipt... it makes me feel like I'm doing something wrong (maybe because I'm just a little do-gooder at heart).


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4 comments

  1. I'm with you, Starr, I tend to avg 20% tips, but rarely less than 15%. In extreme circumstances, like our order is taken but *we* have to work to see the server again, I will leave less.

    I don't think I've ever not left a tip; I lean toward the belief that leaving a 10% or less tip has more of an impact than nothing at all. I'll also go out of my way to ask for a manager, and/or call or email the restaurant when I get home if the service &/or food was questionable. I did this last year, when our Father's Day pig-roast was awful all-around. (yes, they ruined a pig-roast!!!) The owner wrote me back within hours and welcomed us back to eat AND drink for free. I think we managed to get a $60 meal which included a couple rounds of craft-beer for free. My food was better, the hubs' was not... but the service was much improved. It did make me feel good knowing that the restaurant owner seemed to give a shit.

    As for take-out... no, I circle the total when I pick it up. (I used to cross out the tip-field, but also felt guilty) I hate it that they print out a tip-field on take-out registers. Really? I need to tip for bagging & carrying my food 10 steps? No. Delivery, I usually stick to the buffet rules of 10%-ish.

    Great post!!

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  2. I know just how you feel, with Item 3! I cross out the tip line also, and it does make me feel a little odd. Delivery I do 20%. Buffets 10%, or more if there's plate clean-up or drinks service to the table.

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  3. I agree with pretty much everything you wrote. We usually leave 15% for average service and 20% or more for exceptional service. We almost never get take out but we wouldn't tip for that. Delivery, however, gets a few bucks, depending on the bill. There have been a couple of occasions when we have not left a tip at all but always spoke to the manager about why.

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  4. I normally stick to 20% for good service, but had always calculated after tax, I will now start calculating it pre-tax. When I've had service that wasn't that great I will do 10% to 15% but I have had a couple of occasions when the service was so awful that I left a written "tip" on the receipt but didn't leave a monetary tip - AND if I'm given a comment card you better be prepared to get some comments. In more recent years, I have gone out of way to speak to a manager, I did email once or twice but found that the person receiving the email never followed up or cared to so now I try to address the issue before leaving the restaurant.

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