10-percent town

November 1, 2006

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.

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5 Responses to “10-percent town”

  1. Doug Says:

    I hang out at around 15%, rounding up when I’m too lazy to do the math, and increasing when the service was pretty good. I’ve occasionally decreased, but it’s not too common because so often whatever went wrong was probably out of the control of the person waiting on me.

    You make a good point about the inequity of the tip system though. I doubt it’s demonstrably harder to carry a $30 meal to the table than a $5 or $10 meal — and yet that potentially has a 300% affect on the size of the tip.

  2. Bob G. Says:

    My FIRST job (while still in high school) was busing tables at a nice Italian restaurant in Philly…and it was one of the more memorable (as well as pleasurable) experiences in my working life.

    I was paid a flat rate per evening or day(weekends) which came to not more than $5 an hour, so if you worked 4 hrs = $20. The “tips” were added up by the waitresses and THEN divided among the busboys (both of us), and sometimes…on a GOOD night, we’d get another $20!

    I do see the gross inequities today, and I always tip accordingly, but I do see a disturbing trend…that being too many “kids” waiting tables (or busing them) wanting to “be my friend” and cajole. Now I’m all for amicable people…the world NEEDS more of them, but let ME become YOUR friend instead, OK?

    Other times, I see wait staff joking ior doiung nothing when there’s work that needs doing, and unless you go to VERY upscale eateries, you don’t see (or at least I don’t) much pride in the job. Granted, cleaning up after others isn’t the “best” way to become a service worker, but it DOES give you a nice slice of HUMAN NATURE (at it’s best AND worst). And who can fault a “crash course” in Psych 101 (gratis)?

    But one of the “perks” to working at a good restaurant….the daily “specials”….for FREE…or even something the customer just didn’t want and sent back…
    And then you get to “work it off”…..talk about a WIN-WIN…LOL!

    😉

    B.G.

  3. Dan Turkette Says:

    I have a friend that puts 20 $1 bills on the edge of table. Each time the server does something wrong he takes a dollar off the pile. If they do something spectacular he sometimes adds a dollar. Whatever’s left at the end of the meal goes to the server.

  4. Leo Morris Says:

    OK, Dan. This is the first time in a while you’ve commented on this site. I have 20 nice things to say on the table . . .

  5. craig Says:

    the problem with automatically adding 20% is there is no incentive to get good service. then on top of that you may have people who own places that will start taking the money out for other “costs”. i usually tip 18-25% because i am in the industry, even for bad service i will tip 12% because i know how important tips are but at the same time if i had to sit and huddle over my drink not wanting to finish the last sip because i am worried that i am not going to get a refill i am going to get pretty annoyed and do not think that deserves a 20% tip. 20% is for a service who doesnt make going out to dinner suck.


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