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Is Tipping Big the New Black?


Miami Danny
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My husband is a generous tipper. Sometimes not on purpose. At one of our favorite restaurants, the tip was always added but he never noticed and always added another 20%. Finally, I noticed because I just couldn't believe that the bill was that high.

- kim

In my place, that is called double dipping. If there is an auto grat on the bill, anything extra is questioned by me, the owner, and I have fired someone for this. I always make this very clear with an auto grat.

Neil Wyles

Hamilton Street Grill

www.hamiltonstreetgrill.com

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The whole concept of tipping as a substitute/complement to the wage paid by the employer has to beg the question would we be better off if restaurants paid a living wage to all of their employees and raised prices slightly to cover this additional expense. This way diners could tip as a reward for exceptional service and not be required under social convention to essentially remove the burden of paying the waiter's salary from the restaurateur. Who would lose out in this situation?

Exactly right. This is indeed very close to the current practise in many countries in Europe and Asia, and it works just fine. In Switzerland, where we lived most recently, people only tip for exceptional service and then only by "rounding up" the bill from say, 92 to 100. Many people from those countries simply do not understand the concept of directly transferring personnel costs to the diner through a tipping mechanism. Why not just raise the menu prices and dispense with this subjective and arbitrary personnel-cost subsidy?

I am curious how this culture of laying off personnel costs in the restuarnt industry originated in the US? Why, in the US, do gas station attendants, receptionists, store clerks, stewardesses etc. etc. not have to rely on tips?

First of all, it is not whether we agree with the practice of tipping or not, but that it is the custom in this land. If you try to tip a bartender in England, they might not speak to you for the rest of the night. But here, "I don't believe in tipping" is just another way of saying "I'm gonna stiff the waitress." When I was in Paris some time ago, the service was always included. Yet somehow, several waiters were very coy in answering the question, "Is the service included?", asked in my rudimentary French. They wanted me to 'round up' the bill also, which is sometimes customary. (Is that round up from $18.75 to $19, or to $20?) Service either IS included, in which case you can usually give more, but not less, or you must add it. Very often, in a cash situation, (bartenders, gas station attendant , etc.), you can get away without tipping them, but why would you? I'm not saying everyone should tip big, and every server deserves a big tip, it's just that SOME do.

As far as how owners should pay their staff goes, part of your meal being comped, or free drinks from the bartender, don't come out of the server's or bartender's pockets, but out of the owner's. Do you think the owner doesn't know that comped food or free drinks are going out at his expense, to be converted into tips for the servers/bartenders? It's part of taking care of your customers so they come back.

I also think that Europeans understand very well the concept of tipping, they just choose not to when they're in the states (see above, "I don't believe in tipping").

I'm not gonna touch the 'If you don't like your job, go work in a shoestore' argument.

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It's interesting that the tipping percentage keeps climbing.  It's a PERCENTAGE, a standard part of a whole.  As inflation marches on and prices steadily rise, tipping a certain percentage ensures that tips will rise commensurately.  The plight of restaurant workers has not changed, yet they are receiving a larger piece of the pie via this increase in tipping percentage.  Personally, I like it where it is now and feel it's more fair than the previous 10-15%.

I've thought about this a good bit, and here's my take: When I moved to Atlanta in 1993, I rented an apartment for about $400 a month. It was quite large, well over a thousand square feet, and not in a very bad part of town. Today, that same apartment has gone up to over $1000 per month to rent, then dropped back down to about $850 per month, with the recent housing boom. At the time that I moved here, I could go to a restaurant around the corner from that apartment and buy a bowl of pho for about $5. Today, I can go to that same restaurant and buy a bowl of pho for about $5. In fact, I've been dining out in a number of widely varied restaurants for the whole time I've been here, and the average cost for a meal in a restaurant at all levels of dining probably hasn't increased as much as 20%.

So it would appear that inflation is not hitting everything equally. I can think of many, many situations similar to this, but the bottom line is that the servers working in restaurants have to live somewhere, but at the same time, restaurants must keep their entree prices competitive, even if that means squeezing labor as hard as possible, or making managers work longer hours.

So yes, if restaurants continue to keep their food prices competitively low while other areas of the economy see quicker inflation, then you should be able to predict that the standard percentage for tipping will change to reflect that.

Of course, I could be wrong. If anyone else has a better explanation, feel free to have at it.

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Why does the US have the highest tipping rates in the world? An interesting question and I think part of the answer is that it fulfils two-deep seated desires in the American psyche, the desire to get it (anything!) as cheap as possible and the desire to be able to do something to make yourself feel good. Tipping fulfils both. If the going rate is 20% then a $100 meal is going to cost you $120 and you're prepared for that but the ticket is only $100 and you know you could pay that and walk out (possibly pursued by irate staff, but thats a whole other thing). But you've had reasonable service so you feel generous and drop the waiter 20 bucks, makes you feel good, hey I didn't have to but I've given this person $20 just because I'm a great guy. Result. And if you're in a diner and you give $15 for a $10 tab, whoo man, aren't you just the piece!

And let's not forget this stupidity starts at the top. Keller at the French Laundry slaps you with 18% service. Why? At that level surely he pays he staff well. Instead of $150 plus service why not just say $180 fully inclusive, same damn difference. It's not as if his restaurant is price sensitive, actually giving the real price upfront is not going to reduce his take by one cent.

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I always tip based on the pre-tax total. The tax is not a good or a service that I purchased and someone provided - it's a tarriff that goes directly to the government. It's also worth noting that tax rates for restaurant meals vary wildy in the US from as low as 4% - 5% to as high as 10% - 12%.

As for what percentage I tip... it's not only a function of service but quite often related to the dollar size of the tab, the level of service required and the nature of the service provided. On larger tabs I generally leave 20% or a bit more and as high as 30% for exceptional service. But if I eat at a local diner and get the $3 eggs/toast/home fries special and glass of juice for a bill that totals $4 - $5 pretax - I'll leave $2 for decent service.

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I have a question....when tipping on meals that include a bottle or two or more of wine, do you tip on the meal value and wine or just the meal alone? I usually tip 20% on the entire meal when the wine is average priced but when a bottle of wine is over $100, is 20% expected on top of this?

Paris is a mood...a longing you didn't know you had, until it was answered.

-An American in Paris

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I always tip based on the pre-tax total. The tax is not a good or a service that I purchased and someone provided - it's a tarriff that goes directly to the government.  It's also worth noting that tax rates for restaurant meals vary wildy in the US from as low as 4% - 5% to as high as 10% - 12%.

As for what percentage I tip...  it's not only a function of service but quite often related to the dollar size of the tab, the level of service required and the nature of the service provided.  On larger tabs I generally leave 20% or a bit more and as high as 30% for exceptional service. But if I eat at a local diner and get the $3 eggs/toast/home fries special and glass of juice for a bill that totals $4 - $5 pretax - I'll leave $2 for decent service.

Excellent points.

I tip on the total with tax included out of habit. But you're right it's not a good or a service.

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I always tip based on the pre-tax total. The tax is not a good or a service that I purchased and someone provided - it's a tarriff that goes directly to the government.  It's also worth noting that tax rates for restaurant meals vary wildy in the US from as low as 4% - 5% to as high as 10% - 12%.

As for what percentage I tip...  it's not only a function of service but quite often related to the dollar size of the tab, the level of service required and the nature of the service provided.  On larger tabs I generally leave 20% or a bit more and as high as 30% for exceptional service. But if I eat at a local diner and get the $3 eggs/toast/home fries special and glass of juice for a bill that totals $4 - $5 pretax - I'll leave $2 for decent service.

Excellent points.

I tip on the total with tax included out of habit. But you're right it's not a good or a service.

I'll preface this by saying I tip post tax, but I queried the waiter at Waiter Rant and he told me pre-tax. "The government gets enough..." was his point. I continue to do it because it's negligible, but a dollar is a dollar. Its significance is personal.

Edited by emmapeel (log)

Emma Peel

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I have a question....when tipping on meals that include a bottle or two or more of wine, do you tip on the meal value and wine or just the meal alone? I usually tip 20% on the entire meal when the wine is average priced but when a bottle of wine is over $100, is 20% expected on top of this?

I have a frequent guest that orders very expensive bottles of wine. His bill for two often exceeds $1000.00

His gratuity on that bill is $100.00

Now, that is only 10 % but all the server did was two apps, two mains, two $$$ bottles wine and one dessert.

In a situation like that, $100.00 is good enough. As he does this 6 nights a week, he know what he is doing and the value of what he had.

We did his Xmas party one year and they spent $10,000.00 He left a $1000.00 tip. When you get into those sort of numbers , he is basically figuring a flat tip. And that is just fine for two waiters to split.

Edited by nwyles (log)

Neil Wyles

Hamilton Street Grill

www.hamiltonstreetgrill.com

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Tipping is evil and morally wrong. Waitstaff should be paid a decent wage, and menu prices should be honest and include the service element. Just because tipping is widespread in some cultures doesn't make it right. The system is broken, and by tipping you continue to support a bad system.

Why do people tip big?

Showing their wealth in front of their date/friends? Ugly

Buying better service. Unlikely, since the tip is after the meal

Gratitude? The wait person is just doing their job

Trying to build a personal relationship with the waitperson? Personal relationships built on money exchange are usually called prostitution.

Buy respect from the waitperson? Money doesn't buy respect

Boost their fragile ego?

Charity for the poor waitron? Not nice either, and there are better (and tax-deductible) charity causes. Maybe we should start a "Waitstaff benefit" charity, that would allow tax free tipping, and support the poor waitstaff...

Edited by jackal10 (log)
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I always tip based on the pre-tax total. The tax is not a good or a service that I purchased and someone provided - it's a tarriff that goes directly to the government.  It's also worth noting that tax rates for restaurant meals vary wildy in the US from as low as 4% - 5% to as high as 10% - 12%.

As explained by me up here, the difference in total cost to the customer between tipping on the tax and on the pre-tax is around 1.5% assuming a 20% tip and a 10% tax rate. If the tax and tip rate are both 20%, the total difference to the customer is only 3%. This is, I think, an entirely inconsequential difference to the customer.

To the worker, on the other hand, the difference in the size of the tip is equal to the tax rate. If the tax rate is 10%, the difference in the amount of the tip varies by 10% depending on whether you tip on the pre-tax or total amount. A 10% difference in income, I think we will all agree, is not inconsequential to the worker.

If increasing my tab by 1.3% increases my server's income by 8.625% (NY sales tax), I am happy to do it.

In reality, people do this anyway most of the time by rounding up when it comes time to put down cash or write out the credit card receipt. It doesn't take too much rounding up to reach 1.3%.

--

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You are confusing percentages and absolute amounts.

Leaving $2 extra is $2 less for you and $2 more for your server, whatever the percentage.

Whether that £2 is best spent on your server, or on better ingredients or keeping alive someone in a third world country, is your choice. I would rather there was not a societal compulsion where to spend it.

Personally I would rather it spent on better ingredients. I think that would have most effect on my dining pleasure. In a $100 meal it represents about 10% of the raw ingredient cost.

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Let's also remember that wages are taxed by the fed/state and tips are, if reported. Paying staff a salary, and nor relying on tips insures that everyone pays fed/state tax. I know my local bartender would prefer to take the tips over salary to the tune of 70-80K/year tax free.

"I drink to make other people interesting".

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You are confusing percentages and absolute amounts.

Leaving $2 extra is $2 less for you and $2 more for your server, whatever the percentage.

This is true, in an absolute sense. However, for me there is a difference between leaving $2 more or less as part of a total payment of $150 and leaving $2 more or less as part of a total payment of $15. And, the fact is that with the percentages I'm talking about (3% or less) it's a very small difference to the customer. Even on a very large bill of around $500, we're talking about less than $15. On most bills, it's more like one or two dollars. My feeling is: if I have the means to spend $100 on dinner, spending $102 isn't going to mean much to me. Two dollars is, after all, only two dollars.

Whether that £2 is best spent on your server, or on better ingredients or keeping alive someone in a third world country, is your choice. I would rather there was not a societal compulsion where to spend it.

Yes, I think you have made your feelings on this subject abundantly clear -- and they are not unreasonable points that you make. If you would like to start a thread on the inherent problems in the "working for tips system," I invite you to do so. I think it could make an interesting discussion. But this discussion isn't about changing the system, it's about choices people make within the system.

--

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I'm still interested in the psychology of why people tip, especially large amounts. I gave some possible reasons above. I think its to do with boosting their own egos, or to impress, rather than as reward.

Maybe its somehow its to do with guilt, perhaps at being waited on, or at the sensual pleasure of food...

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Yes, I think you have made your feelings on this subject abundantly clear -- and they are not unreasonable points that you make.  If you would like to start a thread on the inherent problems in the "working for tips system," I invite you to do so.  I think it could make an interesting discussion.  But this discussion isn't about changing the system, it's about choices people make within the system.

Agreed. A new topic should be started. But I've had a really long day, and I'm not sure that I can hold back my bitterness enough to start it tonight. :hmmm:

Edited by TheFoodTutor (log)
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A well-run restaurant makes a lot of money.  Otherwise, they wouldn't be open. 

heh heh heh - good one. Can't wait to tell my boss; i'm sure he'll say "good to know."

It's a common misconception. Some high-end, well-run restaurants make a lot of money, but the vast majority of well-run restaurants struggle just to stay afloat. It's the poorly-run restaurants that close.

Marsha Lynch aka "zilla369"

Has anyone ever actually seen a bandit making out?

Uh-huh: just as I thought. Stereotyping.

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I'm still interested in the psychology of why people tip, especially large amounts. I gave some possible reasons above. I think its  to do with boosting their own egos, or to impress, rather than as reward.

Maybe its somehow its to do with guilt, perhaps at being waited on, or at the sensual pleasure of food...

Well, there are two questions.

First is the question of why people tip. This seems like a simple question: people tip when and where it a cultural expectation. I agree that, in America anyway, tipping is no longer a "reward" but rather part of the social contract.

Second is the question of why people tip large amounts. That is a question that has many answers, depending on who is being asked. I am sure that some people are big tippers for the very reasons you suggest.

I tip a minimum of 20%, which I consider standard. This is because I have many friends in the food business and I know that they depend on this income to support themselves.

--

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  Two dollars is, after all, only two dollars. 

These days, it's a gallon of gas. That'll take me 30 miles up the road. That's something.

"Only $2" may be trivial pocket change in NYC but it has a little more significance in my present lifestyle just 8 miles across the Hudson. I'm gonna think carefully aboiut where it winds up every time.

I love New York, but it runs on its own scale.

Thank God for tea! What would the world do without tea? How did it exist? I am glad I was not born before tea!

- Sydney Smith, English clergyman & essayist, 1771-1845

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But this discussion isn't about changing the system, it's about choices people make within the system.

Last night we were in an upscale restaurant where the service absolutely sucked. It began with our waiter seating us at a "special table" by the window that was reserved for someone else and then asking us to move after the wine was already served. Then he brought the appetizers for another table to our table - and got surly when we told him of his error.

From there on he decided to ignore us - you know the strategy. Our wine is empty and I try to signal him while he repeatedly looks around the entire room and "fails" to see us. Then there is a 20 minute delay between the time we order our second bottle of wine and the time it arrives - without any explanation. And of course the wine is corked, and of course the waiter insists that it is not. We almost left then and there - but our show was next door and it was too late to get a table anywhere else.

Now admittedly this doesn't happen often. Infact this might have been the worst service we have ever had anywhere.

Well I made my choice "within the system" - and this guy got a tip of zero. Social contract? You must be kidding.

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  Two dollars is, after all, only two dollars. 

These days, it's a gallon of gas. That'll take me 30 miles up the road. That's something.

"Only $2" may be trivial pocket change in NYC but it has a little more significance in my present lifestyle just 8 miles across the Hudson. I'm gonna think carefully aboiut where it winds up every time.

I love New York, but it runs on its own scale.

It's also a ride on the subway, which takes many of us where we need to go. Let's not be too presumptuous here. :raz: IIRC, 8 miles across the Hudson shows some pretty ritzy homes and lifestyles that I couldn't even dream of touching.

Re tipping: does anyone know its origins, historically? I would guess that the owners of early pubs and lodging houses didn't pay anyone to serve guests, but "allowed" them to do so for whatever tips they might get. Eventually they got salaries, but the tipping gesture remained. But that's a complete guess on my part. Anyone have any knowledge of "tipping history"?

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I'll preface this by saying I tip post tax, but I queried the waiter at Waiter Rant and he told me pre-tax.  "The government gets enough..." was his point.  I continue to do it because it's negligible, but a dollar is a dollar. Its significance is personal.

Huh? The amount the government gets (the sales tax on your meal) is not changed by the amount you tip. In the sense that the waitron is reporting her/his tips and paying income tax on it, yes, that tax amount is changed...but even then, this comment makes no sense: "Don't give me a raise, boss. I'll just have to pay income tax on it." Maybe I should stand up, but this one went right over my head.

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