The practice of tipping waiters and waitresses — such a routine part of our lives that it is far more than a custom — remains a strange way to do business. It enables restaurants to pay their servers minimal salaries, which probably helps them stay open. But that requires the decency and common sense of customers to give those people what might approximate a living wage. Some of us, of course, are better tippers than others, so there are periodic efforts to require a uniform tip:
Fairtip.org is petitioning for all U.S. restaurants to automatically include a 20 percent tip on the bill. The website was launched in May and has gained 3,000 online supporters.
According to restaurant analyst Dennis Lombardi, a vocal push to change tipping practices happens roughly every eight years, but nothing changes.
”I’d be surprised that this is something that really takes hold,” Lombardi said. “It’s the culture we live in. To a lot of customers, 15 percent is a sufficient tip, not 20 percent.”
Some people start with a minimum tip of, say, 10 or 15 percent and go up or down depending on the service, always keeping that penny handy in case they want to send the message that the whole experience sucked. I tend to leave 20 percent, reducing it somewhat if there was something I didn’t like. Only rarely have I left nothing (usually when the service was so bad I’ve asked to speak to the manager). One time (I think it was at the Gas House), a waitress thanked me profusely for my tip. "It was just the usual 20 percent," I said. "Yes," she replied. "But this is such a 10-percent town."
I think you can tell a lot by the way people tip. I’ve heard from a number of waitresses that the best tippers tend to be young men who are obviously out on a first date, and the worst tend to be women dining in a group. (Don’t send me e-mails accusing me of sexist assumptions — I’m just reporting what I’ve heard.)
One inequity in the system that has surely occured to others is that the servers who make the most aren’t necessarily the ones who work the hardest but the ones who work in the right kinds of establishments. I’ve known a few waitresses who worked diligently and loyally for the same place for 20 or 30 years, probably earning enough to barely keep body and soul together, simply because their employers were family-type restaurants that cater to the budget-minded. A halfway decent waitress in a high-end place that serves liquor can probably earn more in tips in one night than some of their counterparts in the daytime places can in two weeks. And then there are the dishwashers, who work just as hard as anybody for as little money and don’t get any tips.
However you tip, I hope you aren’t one of those people who routinely stiff the servers because "it’s up to the restaurants to pay them good wages." Even if that is so, it’s not a situation created by the people who are serving you. And if the restaurants did pay the help what is considered a decent wage, the price you’d have to pay for your meal would probably give you a heart attack.