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When is it permissible to not tip?


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Rona thanks for clarifying your story about not paying for drinks. I hope you don't mind that I asked. Actually I was curious as to how a restaurant responds to this sort of thing. In many ways it would probably be best for a restaurant to comp the upset patrons' drinks and let them leave, which seems to be what happened in your case. But I expect some places would definitely not allow that, and of course it would depend on how much "blame" could be placed on the customer for the service issues.

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  • 5 weeks later...

So why is the whole tipping issue so contentious?

I am going to suggest that it is because, firstly the entire process depends on cultural norms which are not standard across the globe, and secondly that in some countries the tipping practises have led to a lack of transparency. This in turn leads to us-and-them positions and finger poking. Allow me to explain.

1) When I first went to the US, a 5 to 10% tip was the order of the day, depending on quality. Then 10% became entrenched. Then "we have added 12.5% to your bill for your convenience". Then it became 15%. I am now informed that in places in Miami, the major Californian cities and NYC, less than 20% can lead to a lightly chilly response. Why the changes? Which measures have altered given that we are dealing with %s which cater for inflation, etc.

2) These are NOT universal norms, but seemingly reflect US trends. Where I live 5% is perfectly acceptable at this very moment, even though popular guidebooks suggest that 10 to 15% is current in Spain. Absolute rubbish!! For hard data see http://gospain.about.com/od/spanishlife/qt/tippinginspain.htm I concur fully with the results from the survey. In the south of France, excluding the Riviera, the same. In 'non-touristy' parts of Britain, the same. Outside of Amsterdam, the same. In London and Paris much higher levels are the norm. So what unifies these place where higher tipping levels are practised. And I am not even talking about those places in Europe that have "A 10 percent service charge is included in these prices" on the menu.

3) What does any tip mean? I see in this thread that it is for good service. I also see that it is a type of salary supplement, sometimes only for the waiter. So if Mrs X tips 17%, which part represents a salary supplement for an industry that pays sub-par wages, which part is for the overall pleasure of the dining experience, and which part is because of the very pleasant attention from the server? Or, and here comes my discomfort, doesn't it matter?

I can only agree with the Australian who objected to Celebrity Cruise Lines CEO's bombastic promise to "educate Australians into a proper tipping system". The Australian poster's response was ... "Be a responsible company. Pay your staff the wage that they merit, and leave me to demonstrate my thanks for an evening that was especially pleasant and enjoyable."

Culture counts and needs to be respected. If you don't believe that, ask the Disney Corporation management about their US36 million dollar loss in the first years of Euro-Disney when they insisted in sticking to the culturally unacceptable (to Europeans) practices of not providing alcohol with meals and insisting that staff be devoid of facial hair and make-up. They become culturally aware, turned around, and so did their profits.

So, when I go to the US or on a Caribbean cruise, I will respect the culture, fit in, and pay 15% plus a bit more on occasion for exemplary quality and service. I don't like the lack of transparency, but I will respect it. When in Europe I will NOT conform to US practices. I object to a globalisation of culture and habits.

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When in Europe I will NOT conform to US practices. I object to a globalisation of culture and habits.

Me too. Who wants to see McD's in Malmo or baseball in Bucharest? I even object to the homogenization of cultures across the US.

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Prdroinspain,

Nice post, some good cooments and insights

This is what I see:

In N.America there is no support for hospitality workers. We might have Unions, but the lack of anything done for the hospitality industry is pretty much clear for the hosptitality workers.

Basically, we have no standards for waiters, cooks, bakers or butchers.

No standards or benchmarks, no payscale.

No support, and the owners can pay what ever they want.

IMHO, the tipping issue won't go away until ther is a clear standard for a waiter/ess.

The ball is in the Hospitality Union's court to develop and impliment such standards

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"Be a responsible company. Pay your staff the wage that they merit, and leave me to demonstrate my thanks for an evening that was especially pleasant and enjoyable."

This a million times. I like to tip service that is good or excellent. It makes me feel happy, it makes my server happy and I feel that it contributes to better service for future customers.

I hate to tip because I feel like I have to. And in fact I don't. I've never been to America so I cannot comment on what I would do there but I think that I would find it very difficult to tip if I received poor service. I feel very unhappy about an industry that deliberately underpays its staff so when people bring that issue up I really cannot say anything more than "Well clearly that needs to change".

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1) When I first went to the US, a 5 to 10% tip was the order of the day, depending on quality. Then 10% became entrenched. Then "we have added 12.5% to your bill for your convenience". Then it became 15%. I am now informed that in places in Miami, the major Californian cities and NYC, less than 20% can lead to a lightly chilly response. Why the changes? Which measures have altered given that we are dealing with %s which cater for inflation, etc.

I live in California, where waitstaff get paid the same minimum wage as the teenager bagging groceries gets ($8/hr), unless you're in San Francisco, where minimum wage is $9.92/hr. The "I don't make minimum wage before tips, take pity on me" card isn't really an issue here. Hubby and I tend to tip around 20%, never less than 17% unless the service is wretched. That said, we're not talking about fine dining establishments. LOL

From the California Department of Industrial Relations website FAQ on minimum wage

"Q. I work in a restaurant as a waitperson. Can my employer use my tips as a credit toward its obligation to pay me the minimum wage?

A. No. An employer may not use an employee's tips as a credit toward its obligation to pay the minimum wage."

Cheryl

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I'm not sure if it's for better or worse that minimum wage + tips are the standard for waitstaff in America. If a restaurant raised their prices by 18%, increased wages accordingly and informed patrons gratuity is included or "tipping is optional" would people balk at the initial higher price of the food? Americans often don't like to be told what to do, even if it's something we'd do anyway, so would people resent having to pay the included gratuity?

I don't see the standard ever changing.

As far as when is it okay not to tip; for me the server has to be pretty much openly hostile and incompetent. I think that's happened maybe a couple of times. On fewer than 10 occasions when it seems obvious the server is terrible I've left tips of 5% or less.

“Watermelon - it’s a good fruit. You eat, you drink, you wash your face.”

Italian tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921)

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Mano, it's not that simple.

In many of the U.S. States have minuimum wages as well as sub-minimum wages for Servers, normally called a "tipping wage". Who introduced this double standard? May hazard a guess that it involved lobbying and not intelligence?

Here in B.C. Canada the minimum wage has gone up from $8 to $9.50 and will go up to $10 by next year. Some of the Foodservice owners have petitioned the Provincial Gov't to introduce a "tipping wage". I am dead-set against this for a number of reasons, but mainly because a tip is based on a percentage of the entire dining experience , and everyone in that business, including the waiter, is responsible for the entire dining experience. I also believe that if you pay peanuts, you will get monkeys

N.America has no standards/benchmarks for cooking, for service, or for foodservice owners. Because of this, the hospitality industry is one of the lowest paying sectors, and will remain so until standards/benchmarks are establsihed.

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EJ, I forgot about the sub-minimum. Years ago I waited tables and so did my daughter, more recently. To me, it's the same difference. The low wage is ostensibly supplemented by tips, which for some servers is great and others not so much. Also, there are lots of restaurants where excellent servers who maximize tips are required to pool tips with less competent servers.

I'd like the European standard of professional servers who do a good job and are paid a decent wage. If they do a great job add a small gratuity.

Edited by Mano (log)

“Watermelon - it’s a good fruit. You eat, you drink, you wash your face.”

Italian tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921)

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I'd like the European standard of professional servers who do a good job and are paid a decent wage. If they do a great job add a small gratuity.

Exactly. That system relies on national standards--apprentceships-- for cooks(3 yrs) waiters(2 yrs), and a food service operator's license, which requires an extensive course and tests.

It's certainly obtainable here in N. America, but both the Gov'ts (fed and state) and the Unmions have to buy into it.

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A few comments, and a question.

First of all, I see absolutely nothing wrong about griping about tipping on a "Restaurant Life" thread. Tipping is one of the key aspects of dining out and it's hardly a simple issue.

In regard to making the tip obligatory, unfortunately since they did that in France under the euphemism "service included" lots of waiters will say "The service is included; the tip [pourboire] is not". Making it clear they expect something more; a something more which will no doubt escalate with time.

I would not say servers in China would be insulted if you left them a tip; in Beijing these days I suspect more and more expect it. At my hotel there, one maid volunteered, a little hastily, to move a table in my room then looked at me expectantly after I just said, "Thank you." If anything, people new to capitalism tend to overdue it.

It's important to realize too that a tip is no longer that; that is, it is no longer a little bit off the top of the bill. Many servers today expect 20%, minimum - which is a fifth of the bill. Yet very few servers I've ever encountered did anything like 20% of the work in making my meal happen. If many restaurants fail, I suspect the increased "commission" on each bill is one reason. Eating out is no longer a casual way to avoid cooking; it's an economic decision, especially in a recession. So restaurant owners and servers alike should consider if the near-obligation to tip, no matter how bad things are, isn't one reason eating out looks way less attractive.

Never mind the practice some have of abrogating any loose change to themselves as a matter of course. Personally, I always count that against the tip, but I doubt they appreciate that.

Now, my question.

I sometimes go to a wine shop that also does a tasting with four pours and a (communal) cheese platter. When an employee is handling all this, they put out a tip jar. But sometimes I go and one of the owners (a couple) is there alone. And the tip jar has been moved to the back of the counter, visible, but behind some other things.

Do they not expect a tip because, as owners, they're getting the business? Or do they simply find it a bit embarrassing to put out the tip jar and expect that the matter will nonetheless be tactfully handled otherwise? (As in leaving part of one's change on the counter).

Is this a borderline situation where tipping is nice but not necessary? Or just an over-complication of what is usually a simple situation?

Edited by chezjim (log)

Jim Chevallier

http://www.chezjim.com

Austrian, yes; queen, no:

August Zang and the French Croissant: How Viennoiserie came to France

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I would not say servers in China would be insulted if you left them a tip; in Beijing these days I suspect more and more expect it. At my hotel there, one maid volunteered, a little hastily, to move a table in my room then looked at me expectantly after I just said, "Thank you." If anything, people new to capitalism tend to overdue it.

The maid wouldn't have looked at you expectantly if you had been a local person. The hotel probably caters to a lot of foreigners who don't follow the local customs of not tipping.

Regarding the original thread, service has to be really horrible for me not to tip.

Maybe I would have more friends if I didn't eat so much garlic?

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Tipping is an American phenomenon. Europe, Japan and most of Asia don't expect tips and their service is far superior. And the servers don't have chips on their shoulders. They just like to please and are thankful for their jobs. Not like in the USA were the servers have a "the world owes me a living" attitude.

Tipping should be optional. After all, I can serve myself if need be.

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Not like in the USA were the servers have a "the world owes me a living" attitude.

I don't agree with your assessment. More than 90% of the time I have been provided pleasant service in every state I've ever eaten (36 and counting). It wasn't always great service but I have only dealt with a handful of surly waitstaff. I also believe that the courtesy received is often a reflection of the courtesy extended.

Given the fact that most U.S. servers could not subsist on the meager wage paid to them (Federal law permits states to drop the minimum wage for tipped employees to $2.13 per hour), waitstaff rely on tips for their wages. Yes, it is a crappy system but it's what we have in most states. However, here in Minnesota servers must receive the standard minimum wage. Although there was great outrage when this passed (2005) and dire predictions about how restaurants would fail en masse and no new chains would expand into the state (was that a threat or a promise?), of course the world didn't end. We still have crapplebee's and mom & pop places. And I haven't noticed that the food here is significantly more expensive than other states. I hope that other states will follow suit but I don't think there is a trend in that direction.

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Tipping is an American phenomenon. Europe, Japan and most of Asia don't expect tips and their service is far superior. And the servers don't have chips on their shoulders. They just like to please and are thankful for their jobs. Not like in the USA were the servers have a "the world owes me a living" attitude.

Tipping should be optional. After all, I can serve myself if need be.

Mandatory tipping is indeed an American phenomenon, but as someone who has grown up in both the US and UK, I really can't agree with this assessment on service. Service has improved dramatically in the UK over the past 15-20 years, but it really can't compare to most places in the US. In the various European countries, there are vast differences in quality - France and Italy have a tradition of great service; in Berlin in 1989, I experienced some of the worst I've ever experienced.

Across the US of course there are great variations as well, from state to state as well as from city to city.

The variations depend on local cultural norms as well as the financial expectations outlined above - from California's progressive laws, to states and municipalities that allow server salaries starting at some fraction of the minimum wage. And against that, professional waiters at Manhattan's top restaurants who can expect to earn in the 6 digits including tips.

Generalizations, whether in the US or Europe (or, I suspect, Asia), serve nobody in this debate.

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For Americans travelling to Europe, Rick Steve's sums it up pretty well:

"Restaurant tips are more modest in Europe than in America. In most places, 10 percent is a big tip. If your bucks talk at home, muzzle them on your travels. As a matter of principle, if not economy, the local price should prevail. Please believe me — tipping 15 or 20 percent in Europe is unnecessary, if not culturally insensitive."

Remember - In Europe sub-minimum wages could result in prosecution; service is often already included in the quoted cost.

So when you go to Cellar de Can Roca in Girona, please do not tip 15 or 20%. It screws up everything for the rest of us who live here permanently.

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I would not say servers in China would be insulted if you left them a tip; in Beijing these days I suspect more and more expect it. At my hotel there, one maid volunteered, a little hastily, to move a table in my room then looked at me expectantly after I just said, "Thank you." If anything, people new to capitalism tend to overdue it.

The maid wouldn't have looked at you expectantly if you had been a local person. The hotel probably caters to a lot of foreigners who don't follow the local customs of not tipping.

Oh absolutely. But I'm guessing most people here would be in the same case when in China. The fact is, now that the Chinese know that foreigners are used to tipping, from what I've seen and read, they want in.

Tipping certainly is not an American phenomenon. If you do it less in France, it's because the servers were so determined to get tipped, they got it included as a matter of course ("service compris"). And as I wrote, they still try to get a little extra on top of that. And when I went to the hotel nightclub at my hotel in Mexico, the owner (who was serving me) went out of his way to say, as he handed me the bill, "the tip is not included."

Edited by chezjim (log)

Jim Chevallier

http://www.chezjim.com

Austrian, yes; queen, no:

August Zang and the French Croissant: How Viennoiserie came to France

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Considering that waiters in San Francisco already make $9.79/hour plus their employers are required to provide health insurance and paid sick leave if they are full time, I find that a bit ridiculous as one who works for $2.83/hr. and knows how fortunate I am to have an employer that provides health insurance for full time employees. San Francisco waiters have it a lot cushier than most of the rest of us. And I say this as someone who wears those same well worn shoes. Doesn't mean I'd stiff them by any means, but 25% on top of a decent living wage and all the perks?? Pfft. Try working in a less liberal city/state...

The problem is that the smaller group of business owners, business tax payers and job providers will always be a more powerful voice to legislators than the cast of thousands of disorganized shmucks making less than minimum wage. Until that dynamic changes, nothing else will except perhaps in some small aberrant liberal pockets like San Francisco, where local ordinances force business owners to provide all of the perks in addition to a real working wage structure. Punishing service staff because you disagree with the system as it currently exists does nothing except punish the decent hard working soul that just made your evening more pleasant by setting your table, polishing your silver and glassware, help you with the menu and wine list, etc, etc. Many of us wish it were different, but are forced to still make our mortgage payments, utility payments, medical care, food, clothing and shelter come from what is essentially mostly tips. It sucks but it is what it is. I think if more peoples' salaries were utterly and completely dependent on the whims or fleeting feelings of generosity at the end of the services rendered, discussions about tipping or not would cease to exist. :smile:

Edited by KatieLoeb (log)

Katie M. Loeb
Booze Muse, Spiritual Advisor

Author: Shake, Stir, Pour:Fresh Homegrown Cocktails

Cheers!
Bartendrix,Intoxicologist, Beverage Consultant, Philadelphia, PA
Captain Liberty of the Good Varietals, Aphrodite of Alcohol

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I think if more peoples' salaries were utterly and completely dependent on the whims or fleeting feelings of generosity at the end of the services rendered, discussions about tipping or not would cease to exist. :smile:

I am 100% certain that this is true!

There was a 3-page post on tipping in the Village Voice food blog today:

http://blogs.villagevoice.com/forkintheroad/2011/10/how_much_to_tip.php

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I find that a bit ridiculous as one who works for $2.83/hr.

See to me, this is the problem. Not the tipping. It's the ridiculous wage that US servers are being paid in the first place. It actually makes me quite angry, and I can't believe that servers are not covered by the same minimum wage as every other profession. Surely this needs to change.

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I think a combination of greed, apathy, and guilt sustain the whole tipping system.

It's reached the point that even thinking about eating out in the US makes me feel a little depressed. Even in places where there is no question of your being waited on, there's a bloody tip jar, with some irritating message stuck to it, such as 'Tipping is good karma', which doesn't make me feel like dutifully tipping, it makes me feel feel like doing rather violent things. Which I don't do. I don't tip, either, which I think is justifiable (unless sub-minimum wage is now the norm in coffee shops), despite the fact that this horrifies my sister.

Michaela, aka "Mjx"
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mscioscia@egstaff.org

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Jenni, Mjx - it is absolutely unfair and awful, but it is highly unlikely to change soon. Laws here are a patchwork across municipalities, states and the federal government, and there is no one-size-fits-all for this kind of thing

It's really not that difficult to deal with - just mentally add 20% to the prices. Which are in general much lower than most Western countries anyway.

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Precisely. It isn't going to change because the restaurateurs don't want it to, they have the power and the ear of the legislators and local and state laws can sometimes trump them, as they do in San Francisco. There can be a Federally mandated minimum wage, but the "tipped employees" exception is here to stay at least until either:

A) The restaurant workers get organized enough to do something about it. Highly unlikely.

or

B) The Federal government decides that there are no more "exceptions" and pass legislation to force restaurant employers to pay at least minimum wage, tips non-inclusive. Even less likely.

I'm sorry that it angers you. It angers me too, but I've learned to function within the parameters that I am forced to. Just remember that it isn't like fairies or ghosts. You don't have to "believe in it" to do it. Don't punish us hard working souls simply because you disagree with the system. We still have bills to pay and your tips, like it or not, pay them. As I stated before, if everyone's livelihoods were dependent on the kindness of strangers, we'd not be having this discussion.

Katie M. Loeb
Booze Muse, Spiritual Advisor

Author: Shake, Stir, Pour:Fresh Homegrown Cocktails

Cheers!
Bartendrix,Intoxicologist, Beverage Consultant, Philadelphia, PA
Captain Liberty of the Good Varietals, Aphrodite of Alcohol

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. . . . I'm sorry that it angers you. It angers me too, but I've learned to function within the parameters that I am forced to. Just remember that it isn't like fairies or ghosts. You don't have to "believe in it" to do it. Don't punish us hard working souls simply because you disagree with the system. We still have bills to pay and your tips, like it or not, pay them. As I stated before, if everyone's livelihoods were dependent on the kindness of strangers, we'd not be having this discussion.

I definitely would not take out my feelings about tipping on waiters (and not just because I've been there). If I dine out in the US, I tip, and it's 20% unless the server is actively rude (goes down to about 10%), or frighteningly and apparently irreparably incompetent (goes down to 15%, since I really don't want to encourage someone this bad to persist as a waiter). Anyone polite, making an effort, and more or less succeeding gets the 20%, even if they accidentally drop part of a course in my lap, or are apparently catatonic.

But it does make me feel like I'm somehow supporting a miserable system. And it really has an impact on how often I dine out, because knowing that the person waiting on me is essentially relying on the kindness of strangers for the bulk of his or her income is an incomprehensibly Dickensian thing to be happening in the 21st century.

Michaela, aka "Mjx"
Manager, eG Forums
mscioscia@egstaff.org

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