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To tip or not to tip? That's up for debate.

Why Tip?

By Josiah Hesse

Last May, I was sitting in a bar in Spain, wondering why I was so relaxed. Beyond the typical high of travel — augmented by the Mediterranean lifestyle of beaches, naps and midday wine — I felt an ambiguous sense of peace in every bar and restaurant I visited. I couldn't quite put my finger on it, and I mulled it over while I fiddled with the handful of euro coins I'd left on the bar after paying for my drink, which hadn't been touched for over an hour. My host explained to me that tips weren't necessary; as she put it, "These ladies are paid properly by the owner. They don't need customers to pay their wages."

Finally, I realized why I'd been so relaxed since I'd arrived in Spain: None of the bar staff were flirting with me. Or at least, not the kind of faux flirting you deal with in the States. I'd been to a dozen bars in 24 hours, and no server had patronizingly asked me about the weather, praised my clothes, or over-laughed at my jokes like a psychotic Phyllis Diller after too many whippits. They were casual, sincere and only took an extra interest in me if I was worth taking an extra interest in. Other than that, they just served me wine and sandwiches and left me alone.

I'd never really thought about it before, but in almost any American service establishment where the workers' income is dependent on the gratuity of the patron, I'd suffer a small tensing in my neck whenever conversation was required. The phony exchange of "Good morning!" "Oh, I just LOVE your hat," "You're so funny. You should be a comedian!" exhausted me to the point of just ordering takeout. Doesn't it hurt their face to smile like that? I'd wonder. I've always been tempted to just once respond to that "How ya doing this evening?" with a "Well, my inner child is terrified of dying alone, and in the face of melting polar ice caps and an ever-expanding universe, I often wonder why I get out of bed in the morning. How's by you?"

There are plenty of people who don't tip (just as there are plenty of people who don't vote). But none of them will identify themselves as the kind of person who doesn't tip. Tipping is not a polarizing issue, like gun control or abortion. Unless it's Steve Buscemi in Resevoir Dogs, it's rare for someone to publicly preach against the perils of an extra 20 percent. And if anyone dares to go into such a rant, the most common and immediate response from the guardians of gratuity is: "Well, you obviously have never worked in the service industry." For me, though, that's not the case. During my early- and mid-twenties, I traveled around the country, learning to write while living in hostels and on Greyhound buses. During this time I worked in several chain restaurants (Bennigans, Perkins, Red Lobster) as well as two Denver establishments (Tom's Diner and the now-defunct Supreme Court). Tips were integral to my income in these jobs — which was a problem, because I was the worst goddamn server in the history of restaurants. There would be nights when, after I had ordered a post-shift meal, I'd find I had less money in my pocket than I came to work with. Ultimately, I had paid the restaurant for my job.

All the while, I watched my co-workers bring home hundreds of dollars in tips. They were laughing, flirting and generally massaging the egos of customers — while I couldn't be bothered to make eye contact, let alone give a courtesy laugh to a bad joke. I was terrible at selling my personality, and therefore made couch change in tips. It was a relief when I was inevitably fired from these jobs (often at the insistence of some offended customer). Every morning I look at the ceiling and say a prayer of thanks that my income is no longer dependent on my smiling at idiots.

It's worth noting that I do tip. Every time. I tip all my bartenders, the lady who cuts my hair and my tattoo artist (even though the latter is somehow exempt from having to make any attempt at niceties). And I probably tip in larger amounts than the average patron. But I never made any pretense as to why I'm tipping: I'm doing it because I live in America, and that's how things are done here. Like wearing clothes at the beach, finding privacy to smoke pot and voting Democratic, I tip not because I want to, but because it's more of a hassle not to. If tipping were a sincere evaluation of a server's execution of the job, I'd be all for it. I love the idea of making the customer judge and jury of an employee's aptitude for the job, but this is not the case today. You'd have to be a brain-damaged ape with an Oxycontin habit to think that anyone in 2012 tips based on how quickly they get their food. They tip based on a) guilt and social pressure for not tipping and b) how much the server/bartender makes them feel special. And anyone who doesn't tip isn't holding back because they thought the service was bad; they aren't tipping because they're cheap.

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38 comments
beepboop
beepboop

i've been a server for 5 years now. and for some reason, people think that you're supposed to tip 10%-15%. umm not true. its 20 percent. and for $4.25 an hour, you don't tip, and that means i'm working for free. If you can't tip, go to mcdonalds where you dont have to. your'e paying for your food, and the service.


dano323
dano323

I say not tip for one month...Why not?

SeanM
SeanM

The truth is that one way or another the consumer will pay the wages of the servers and bartenders. I have traveled extensively and hail from overseas. In places like Australia where the minimum wage is getting toward $16AUS ($18US) and where tipping is not expected, there is also no service in many restaurants. You order food at the bar and you buzzer tells you to go pick it up. Where there is service, the cost per dish increases by a minimum of 20-30%. In the UK on the other hand, a little tipping has been expected in restaurants but not in bars. This has led employers to keep wages low, but service does not rise to US standards by any means, and that often leads to loss revenue for the owner of the establishment though the loss of the upsell or the over attentive server who ensures that you next drink is on the way. 

 

The US system is built on tipping, with a different minimum wage for those in the service industry. To change this you would have to raise the minimum wage (which in many cases would eliminate any chance of overtime) and pay a real wage. In Colorado I would estimate that the average for a server is between $10 and $15/hour worked in tips. The minimum wage basically offsets taxes. There are very few servers getting rich, but yet they work tirelessly to ensure needs are met.

 

If you are unhappy with service tell management. There is always a stack of applications at every restaurant. If you are pleased with service, tip and then tell management. Either way you ensure that you experience when you return will be better. 

 

The fundamental here is that unless the base system is changed, tipping is a cost associated with dining out. If you don't really like to tip then to a place where you are not expected to pay someone's wages. If service is poor tip badly or not at all but tell someone why you are doing that. If you enjoy the service then tip well and keep that person encouraged to do a good job. 

Jonny G
Jonny G

OK, I may get it from my some fellow industry people for saying some things, but here we go.  For me good service = generosity on the tip.  It's where the front of house employee makes their wage.  Debating this point (that the wage comes from the guest) is like debating science: you can make up as long and passionate a counter argument as you like, but the world still spins around the sun, no matter how much you want to believe in our own centricity.

 

If a server is good at their job, if they have the ability to read me and my guests and make our experience more enjoyable, they get the ducats.  I should preface this with I'm usually in a good mood when I go out to eat and only go where I can afford (including the tip), and thus usually am more apt than some to have a good time.  But, if the server is bad at the job: if they are slow, uneducated, unkempt, distracted, or incompetent, you earn the big zero.  Zip.  Zilch.  Nada.  I've been known to write "Get out of the service industry" on the tip line.  Poor servers are the credit-default swaps of our industry and they need to be stomped out and made to go do something else.  Like sell credit-default swaps.

 

As for the 10% person, the "do I tip on wine person," and the people who want to believe that the servers haven't impacted the great meals they've had: you roll with that.  I'm sure you lead rich full lives and patiently consider what you say before you write things down and attaching quirky pseudonyms to your missives.  But I wonder if you have done the math?  What would a restaurant have to raise it's prices to in order to have a service staff?  How much would a burger cost?  Or a steak?  Or the $100 bottle of wine?

 

Finally, and this for Philo99, the chefs that I am friends with, and work with, and have worked with have always extolled a mantra that could be distilled as: "The only thing that can rescue a kitchen's mistake is a great front of house."  And restaurant mistakes happen, FOH and BOH, on a scale that staggers the mind at all levels of service.  Thank you for the 10% and let me know if there is anything we can do to make your night better.

 

 

 

Samantha Bergren
Samantha Bergren

Tip often and generously to anyone who makes their living off tips!

Cale Koenders
Cale Koenders

What I don't understand is tipping bartenders for doing the most minuscule amounts of work to serve a drink. Especially a beer. to pop a top of a bottle or a can or to pull down the lever of a tap requires such a tiny amount of effort that a toddler could do it. I have worked many hard, dirty, physical labor jobs in the service industry, risking the well being of my spine many times and never received a tip and never expected a tip. Why? Because my employer was paying my wages and sometimes even minimum wage. I understand that many times they have to deal with drunk assholes and work on their feet for many hours at a time but why does that mean that I have to make their lives better by increasing their bank account while draining my own. And if you ever dare not tip them, good luck getting a drink the next time you walk up to the bar. Seems like if you don't tip a grudge will forever be held against you as a cheap ass and will get passed over for anyone else that will potentially give them a tip. Now i'm not saying I don't tip my bartenders, but it's so far beyond logical that the bar can't pay them a decent wage when they are making a killing off of beer, wine, and liquor sales. You buy about any micro brew at a liquor store and you pay about $1 a piece and maybe a little more. You go to a bar and that same micro brewed beer is $5. So the bar is making a 400% profit, and that's if they are paying retail for said beer. (And they are not) Buying beer and liquor in bulk/ wholesale makes it even cheaper and creates an even higher margin of profit. So basically the bar is making bank and paying their employees shit wages and putting it on the patrons shoulders to pay THEIR employee's wages, (and damn good wages at that) which are generally double to triple what I would be bringing home in an average day, all for popping the top of a beer, pulling a tap or tipping a bottle upside down and pushing a button to make a mixed drink. The only logical reason I can see for tipping a bartender is if you are going to be ordering mixed drinks the whole night and want to make sure that you aren't getting a mixer with a splash of liquor.

Judy Savic
Judy Savic

Tipping is a must unless you live in a country where waiters earn at least minimum wage. Service is also better when tipping is needed.

Oniel Mercure
Oniel Mercure

I usually tip every Friday night. But I catch myself before I fall down...

Justin Pedregon
Justin Pedregon

How is tipping up for debate? You either can or cannot afford the services of another. Cant afford to tip, cant afford to eat out (or go to the bar, valet park, have drycleaning, etc).

Ryan Lusby
Ryan Lusby

Why is this a debate?? I've grown up in the Restaurant business. I used to say-" You should have to work in a restaurant for 3 months before being allowed to eat in one"! Tip....it's %85 of the servers earnings.

Tina Lucero
Tina Lucero

tip a muther some people depend on them tips. life is rough...

Naomi Wolinsky
Naomi Wolinsky

i tip. everyone is doing their best to make a living. if someone brings me food, a smile, and a kind word, i tip. simple

Josiah.Hesse
Josiah.Hesse

A majority of the pro-tipping comments here only serve to reinforce my point. When you say you tip every time, no matter what (and tip generously), what you're saying is the quality of the service has no bearing on what you leave the server. Like I said above, tipping is done out of social obligation -- often class guilt -- and it's ridiculous to suggest otherwise. I am not saying don't tip, all I am saying is lets drop the pretense of why we're doing it. 

 

Greg Tally
Greg Tally

I love tipping cows, although I have been chased into a tree more than once by an angry stampede.

Courtney Donaldson
Courtney Donaldson

not even going to read entire article... perception is not an issue here, no matter wgat country. It is the European standard that the tip is either automatically included in the check or a certain percentage is added to the price of food... Trust me, their vattitudes for ignoring you would be the same here! and

James B Bochenek
James B Bochenek

My mothrr rip was a server and supported 6 kids. Damn right im tipping!

Shaun Healy
Shaun Healy

I will tip full check at 20% everytime.

Tim Tindle
Tim Tindle

When in doubt, just tip. Oh and always tip pedicab guys, they work super hard, and deserve more then what they get.

Patty L Bodwell
Patty L Bodwell

In Italy they add a BIG tip to every check. I kept tipping and then realized I was tipping more than what it cost for the service.

Cody Truesdale
Cody Truesdale

I tip every time. There's no way I could put on a fake smile and do that crap. I would know. I spent three-and-a-half hours as a busboy and made $15.

Philo99
Philo99

 

Nothing makes me laugh more than people who say "because you never worked in the service industry" Ha, yes I did work in the service industry, it was the easiest and most fun I've ever had working, but eventually I had to grow up and get a real job, where I have to show up every day and finish the day sober.

 

I'll tip 10% if the service is great. I would tip more if I felt my tip was going to the right people. A waiter or waitress has never made a great meal for me, that is done by the chefs and line cooks in the back. A server does nothing to make my meal better but plenty of incompetent ones have made my meal worse.

 

If you want to tip 20% for a great meal take a walk into the kitchen and tip the people responsible.

Denver Dave
Denver Dave topcommenter

I have a  friend who is a "lifer" who works at a high end steakhouse and makes enough money that he can afford a nice car and a condo.  He expects 20% or more from every table and pretty much always gets it.  I tip that much as well for good or great service.  I admit that I harbor some resentment about a couple of "expectations" having to do with calculating a tip on the entire check.  1)  What exactly did the server do to deserve 20% on the tax?  Not a big deal unless it's a big check, but still.  2)  If I order $100 bottle of wine, do I automatically "owe" you $20 for opening it vs $4 for opening a $20 bottle.  Exactly the same amount of effort is expended.  Just sayin'.

ybarcewski
ybarcewski

If you can't afford or don't want to tip then don't eat out. You can't live on $8 an hour. We either tip or they have to raise the price and pay a living wage.  I agree with KD that really bad or rude service should not be tipped.  My daughter  worked at Chucky Cheese and  it was amazing how often parents (moms mostly) would bring 15 kids for a party,spend hundreds of dollars, leave the table and surrounding area total mess but not tip. Believe me she deserved a tip and I think 99% of the people who have been to a place like that would agree.  The fathers were much better tippers. Same at Applebees.  And at those types of places all you are paying for is the service anyway because the food sucks.

KDBryan
KDBryan

Wow, the misanthrope who was a shitty waitress and recoils at anybody attempting to make polite chit chat doesn't like tipping? What a shocker. You thought you were above displaying basic social niceties, so it was no wonder you loathed the job and have an utter disdain for tipping.

 

You don't tip out of guilt or because it's expected - you do it because you're a caring human being. You tip because these people, like anyone in customer service, are being paid to be nice and friendly even when their feet are killing them or an asshole is openly rude to them. We pay them shit wages in America and it is just being a good human being to help them pay their rent, feed their kids, get through school, etc. and yes, occasionally for pretending to be nice and friendly when they'd rather spit in our faces. Jesus. I'm glad you can pat yourself on the back for tipping barbers and tattoo artists - too bad it takes the direct application of sharp metal objects in or near your body to trigger your basic decency.

 

The only way I wouldn't tip 20% is if the server was openly rude, hostile AND hopelessly incompetent. I get that they're only human and that people make mistakes or have bad days, so I always tip if it's just one or the other, albeit not the full 20%, just 15% - or, if they're epically in-my-face rude, 10%-5%. We're all living in this world together and being kind to one another, even if it's just a small act like 20% tip, might mean the world to someone. It's called empathy but I guess some people just don't understand that.

BillyBYoung
BillyBYoung

i quit reading after (her?) three examples of tipping included the "tattoo artist." The arrogance displayed by the tatted up idiots in the "service" industry scares me. You covered your body in random drawings. Congrats.

DonkeyHotay
DonkeyHotay topcommenter

Gratuity -- something given voluntarily or beyond obligation usually for some service.

Mantonat
Mantonat topcommenter

 @Philo99

 Kitchen staff don't generally make much money, but they make more than waitstaff before tips. Waiting tables is just a difficult as turning out food and the pay should be comprable. Maybe it doesn't make sense that we have to decide how much to pay the server but not the cook, but that's the way it is. If servers were paid more and the cost of service was built into the price of the food, you'd just be paying more and you wouldn't have the option. You're 10% wouldn't get you very far. In fact, the cost of service at most mid- to high-end restaurants would probably have you whining even more than now. Face the facts: you tip 10% because you are cheap, not because you have some moral or philosophical issue with tipping.

DonkeyHotay
DonkeyHotay topcommenter

 @Philo99 Exactly !!

 

The Tips should go to the Back of the House that created the meal, not the droids that schlep it 20 feet to the table.

 

 

Mantonat
Mantonat topcommenter

 @Denver Dave

 You could apply  the same logic to any expensive food item. It's the same amount of effort to bring you a Grand Slam breakfast or a $200 serving of caviar, so why tip more for the caviar?  For the same reason the dentist makes more money than the dental hygeinist. You may only see the dentist for a couple of minute, and the hygeinist may appear to be working harder, but the dentist earns more because of his or her experience, education, and decision-making. 

thatdudeguy
thatdudeguy

 @KDBryan >like anyone else in customer service

Sorry, but every job is by definition customer service. Tipped hourly work isn't morally exempt from the same economics that govern other jobs. It has been singled out by tradition. Customer service in all forms consists of tailoring your offering to your customer's needs. That includes tailoring the terms of payment to your customer. Guilt and appeals to humanity are not acceptable tools towards those ends (see the MPAA).

 

Studies show that Americans now hate tipping. It's an unpleasant part of the service restaurants offer. As the industry begins experimenting with non-gratuity, it will be interesting to see whether the market responds favorably. I predict it will.

Mantonat
Mantonat topcommenter

 @DonkeyHotay  @Philo99Calling other human beings "droids" is pretty abhorant, regardless of how you feel about the job they are doing or how they should get paid.

 

HoneyBakedAmbs
HoneyBakedAmbs

 @DonkeyHotay  @Philo99 Also, following the philosophy I outlined in the piece: If customers pay the servers' wages (as I think they should; they get better service that way), then the servers work for the customers. Restaurants don't want their cooks working for the customers. The cooks should continue to be paid directly by the restaurant -- that's going to keep their food costs down, whereas if cooks are getting tipped directly by the customers, then you'd see cooks using the higher-quality ingredients indiscriminately. A restaurant wherein cooks are getting paid through tips and tips alone would go out of business in a heartbeat.

HoneyBakedAmbs
HoneyBakedAmbs

 @DonkeyHotay  @Philo99 I'd argue that like any other job, that's dependent on how good your cooks really are. I spent more hours than I'd like to count stopping the kitchen from messing up the plates that go out to the tables -- or asking them to remake something because they didn't read the instructions and made it to spec when the guest requested 86 onions, or whatever. That said, too many servers take the kitchen for granted -- it always pays to grab them drinks, buy them a round when they get off their shift, treat them like gold. When a tray spills with all your food on it, they can make or break you. I worked with several lazy cooks whose reading comprehension skills were nonexistent, as well as many awesome cooks (who got paid very well on an hourly scale, by the way). I never, ever, EVER yelled at the cooks (career suicide!), always did them favors and brought them ingredients and utensils if they needed it, and I can tell you, it paid off extremely well -- because when I really needed something RIGHTNOW because I messed up, they made sure I got it. All that said: I'm not against the idea of tip-sharing with the back of the house -- but then the base wage needs to go up. Between the slow shifts and the crappy shifts, a good cook should be making as much (if not more) than the servers when hourly wages are factored into the equation. If they're not, the restaurant should pay them better.

DonkeyHotay
DonkeyHotay topcommenter

@amber.taufen "I'd argue that like any other job, that's dependent on how good your cooks really are. I spent more hours than I'd like to count stopping the kitchen from messing up the plates that go out to the tables -- or asking them to remake something because they didn't read the instructions and made it to spec when the guest requested 86 onions, or whatever."

 

Fair enough, your words are true.

 

I forgot entirely about restaurants that have an unqualified or incompetent BOH -- the blue collar diners and greasy spoons -- as I rarely eat at such places in spite of dining out 365+ days per year.

 

The solution is of course to raise the FOH wages of wait staff to something higher than Third World serfdom and perhaps eliminate the expectation of tipping all together, allowing management to properly reward higher performing employees with higher pay.

 

There are a few restaurants that apply such a business model, Chautauqua Dining Hall in Boulder comes to mind, iirc.

 

 
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