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Tipping in Chinese Restaurants


Ducky
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I took a few Chinese friends out for dinner the other night at one of my regular Richmond Chinese places. We had a fine meal and good service, and when the cheque arrived I paid with credit card and left 20% or so in cash on the little plate.

My Chinese friends were astonished, and maintained that in Chinese restaurants the server never gets the tip - that this goes straight to the owner, and that therefore they never leave more than a token tip.

So to test the proposition I left the tip on the plate, and watched, as our waitress carried this to the person behind the till and handed it to him without so much as even a glance to see how much I had left.

Can I conclude from this that my friends were correct - and that tipping practices are wildly different in the Chinese restaurant scene? I fear I have been seriosuly and pointlessly overtipping in the establishments all of these years.

I neglected to add that I am a dumb "gweilo".

I would appreciate the advice of some of the ethnic Chinese eG members on this.

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From what I understand, each Chinese restaurants has a different system when it comes to tips, but most of the time the tip is divided evenly to all staff, so each server gets the same amount regardless of his/her service.

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So what we need is a definitive Chinese restaurant tipping protocol for Vancouver. A couple questions need to be answered. Is tipping not the norm for asians in North America? What about second generation asian/canadians? Do they change the habits of their parents and begin tipping as a custom?

Do chinese restaurants expect caucasians to tip and have no such expectations of asian customers? Are asian tips the loose change as in asia variety, or the rigourously calculated 15% variety?

Enquiring minds want to know.

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I have to admit that I rarely tip more than 10% at Chinese restaurants purely because I rarely receive what I would call "service." Invariably, the servers are surly at best and the dishes are usually flung at me. True, the kitchens are usually hyper efficient but the niceties of service are rarely present. I'm not referring to many high-end restaurants like the Kirin where I would pay at least the standard 15%.

I once had an argument with a friend about why I have to sacrifice decor and service when I go to most "authentic" Chinese restaurants. He claimed that "it's all part of the experience" and that's what he expects and enjoys at Chinese restaurants. Interesting...

"There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea."

~ Henry James, The Portrait of a Lady

Tara Lee

Literary and Culinary Rambles

http://literaryculinaryrambles.blogspot.com

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But then it's a catch 22, if the clientele doesn't tip, why not fling dishes? And for what it's worth, perhaps due to my appearance, no scratch that, reality of being a clueless caucasian, I always almost universally receive helpful service. Yeah the waiteresses at Hon's can be brusque, but I always figured that was part of the schtick.

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For lunch / dim sum, I have witnessed some fairly stingy (stin-jee not sting-ee) tipping practices by Chinese people, including relatives, including relatives involved in the industry. I've always wondered why, but have never gotten a good answer. Tarteausucre, 10% is pretty normal.

I think it is just a generational thing, which may be have been due to the fact that you always used to pay at the till at the front - and therefore you'd leave a rounded-off-to-the-closest-denomination tip at the table. So if lunch was say $20, you'd probably end up leaving $2 bill. (Nowadays it would be a toonie of course.) Just a theory.

Again, this is not my tipping practice, but I have certainly witnessed this before. And it has gotten better in recent years - but still definitely not up to 20%, which would cause astonishment, whooping, gasping, flying hands, etc amongst the older gen. $4 on a $20 lunch? Waaah! $5 on a $20 lunch? Absolute straight jacket insanity.

I feel fairly safe in saying that we as in born-here kids have adopted the N.American tipping standard. Personally, because I think of cash as the monetary system used by cavemen and generally use plastic everywhere, tipping is a hybrid of the rounded-off and loose-change practices: a simple mental calc and a signature.

As for where the tips end up, at my mother's restaurant I believe the tips are pooled and split between all FOH. If the same system was in place at Ducky's restaurant, the waitron would have handed the lump sum to the hostess, who would then (presumably) make and drop the change (ie actual tip) into a jar for dividing up later.

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The tipping issue is definitely a generational thing. My mother has even gone as far as saying to me - 'Don't tip so much - they won't appreciate it - in fact, they will laugh at you and think that you are stupid'

Well - I still tip as though I am in a non-Chinese restaurant and ingore my mother's advice. That being said - the tip is not the lever for getting good service in a Chinese restaurant. At a top notch restaurant - it should be a given that you will recieve good service and the entire restaurant staff is thought of as one team. The cost of good service and nice decor should be built into the price of the food.

For example - my mother and her siblings went to Fisherman's Terrace in Richmond yesterday and the crappy service left them (almost) speechless. The way to deal with it though would not be to tip less - but to either speak directly (and harshly) to the server or the manager.

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On the topic of tipping, I must have to say I have been victim of "circular logic" so to speak from waiters before at many surprising restaurants. Perhaps it's in their profession but waiters will undoubtedly approximate the tip customers giev before they even begin offering services, everything from what the customer is wearing to ethnicity to age to accents and to pulling out the unexpected coupon.

What is the take on this in general, when the servers expect a low tip so poor service is given and voila - a poor tip is given! And as human beings with the mindset of always believing one is completely correct, this reinforces their stereotypes in terms of tipping and continues the circle even more.

So for as my solution, if I notice unequal service or am experiencing bad service, I tend to complain to the maitre'd or manager and try to break out of the tipping stereotype to get my point across.

But this really all goes 180 with Chinese restaurants because many of them pool tips completely. Or if they don't pool tips, they must experience poor tipping from many customers who believe so. This has an advantage because then service with then undoubtedly be indifferent, but then there is no way customers can "reward" good service with tipping - as it all goes in the same tip pool. And since the pool is so big, a large tip will only cancel out a bad tip. Waiters also lack an incentive to then give "good service."

But if the Chinese restaurants DO give waiters the tip, then no doubt will they experience better tipping from caucasian customers as opposed to their misinformed asian counterparts. And thus, there will be service irregularities.. and another need to break out of a circle logic soforth.

Who would realized there was so much discrimination in the waiter's world... but kudos to all the honest waiters out there.

One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.

Virginia Woolf

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I feel fairly safe in saying that we as in born-here kids have adopted the N.American tipping standard. Personally, because I think of cash as the monetary system used by cavemen and generally use plastic everywhere, tipping is a hybrid of the rounded-off and loose-change practices: a simple mental calc and a signature.

As for where the tips end up, at my mother's restaurant I believe the tips are pooled and split between all FOH. If the same system was in place at Ducky's restaurant, the waitron would have handed the lump sum to the hostess, who would then (presumably) make and drop the change (ie actual tip) into a jar for dividing up later.

I find that it seems so many Asian (Chinese) restaurants have signs posted "Cash only". I'm guessing that most wouldn't consider them high end establishments such as the Kirin or Sun Sui Wah type, but more so the average dinner or dim sum place. Makes it difficult for someone who rarely carries cash. Usually when I tip, I include it on the credit card receipt, probably that makes it more difficult to dole out though? :unsure:

"If cookin' with tabasco makes me white trash, I don't wanna be recycled."

courtesy of jsolomon

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A lot of Chinese places do have that annoying Cash Only thing, because 1. they don't want to pay Visa / Interac fees, 2. perhaps they fear they won't be in business long enough to justify said fees, or 3. there is some sort of "funny" accounting going on. These reasons are not endearing to me, any of them.

However, I will still eat at a Cash Only if the food is good enough. I will just make a side trip to an ATM - which in and of itself will tell you how much it is worth it to me.

PS: there is another thread around about tipping and tipping on credit cards. There is an extra step involved to get the dough into the waitrons' pockets, but my view is hey that's life (no disrespect to Andrew et al).

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I'd say that three quarters of my meals are eaten in cash only establishments. And right or wrong (probably wrong) I've always assumed it was a sign of "alternate tax accounting" practices at work, plus an inability to get Visa merchant status. FWIW the cash drawer usaully is left open in these places.

Totally off topic and not even vaguely related to anything food, but as we've had an endless procession of home repair people through the casa lately, it's shocking that without exception ALL have offered to accept cash in return for eliminating the GST. It's amazing how brazen these people are. The underground economy is huge. I must not give off a Revenue Canada auditor vibe.

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I'm not Chinese myself, but regardless of what type of food a restaurant serves, I will tip well for good service. Even if the workers pool the tips and then divide them evenly, wouldn't you still rather reward them that little extra bit of money for good service instead of making their overall earnings that they take home lower?

Believe me, I tied my shoes once, and it was an overrated experience - King Jaffe Joffer, ruler of Zamunda

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At Vietnamese/Chinese restaurants, my dad always asks the waiter whether or not the tips go the the staff or the owner. If it goes to the owner, which is usually the case, he just puts 1 or 2 dollars on the table because you are just filling the owner's pockets.

Edited by savvysearch (log)
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I know that most of my relatives are not used to tipping in Hong Kong but they try to tip 15% at restaurant in Canada. In Hong Kong, most restaurants do not expect tips but some nicer restaurants do charge a 10% service charge. I don't think that Hong Kong waiter or waitress is doing a bad job but maybe this is just because I am used to the Chinese standard of service. :hmmm: We usually don't like people coming around the table asking as about the quality of food and service, and certainly don't want to know about the waitstaff unless we are regular customers.

Although tips might be pooled but it is also common for Chinese customers to secretly put money into their favourite waitstaff's pocket. Wait staff would also have their yearly bonus(well, you have to be good to get it) through new year money from the customers. I know that some popular waiters/waitresses can earn 1-3 months of salary from new year pocket money.

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I think for those who grew up in HK a 10% tip is customary as they add this to as a service charge, hence it was ingrained in many of us that a 10% tip is "standard" in a Chinese restaurant. The custom in HK is just to round up oh so slightly.... i.e. $192 you leave the $8 worth of coins behind on the tray. BTW, waiters in HK stand there and wait for you to collect your change, they don't just leave it discretely on your table.

Having said that, after moving to North America, I've noticed HK people tipping more than 10% only at restaurants where they are regulars and get "special treatment" i.e. expedited waiting times for a table, free tea etc. (Haha, I'm reminded of that Seinfeld Chinese restaurant episode......) This, of course, pertains only to my circle of social interactions, hence may or may not be representative of the entire chinese population. But I think many would agree this is the case.

I used to tip 10% only as well, and did not feel that I was cheap, until I read that gwellos consider 15% as a cheap tip, and 20% is standard.

Now I tip according to the situation, 10-15% standard in a chinese restaurant, 10% if I get below average service, a little more if service is good. For western restaurants, I go by gwello's standards.

Knowing several people in the chinese restaurant industry, I have come to the conclusion that many of the waiters expect gwellos to be a lot more generous than chinese people, but they don't really hold anything against the stingy chinese tippers unless its below 10%. I've read on some boards that gwello waiters get really mad if they get only 10%, as if someone had jilted them.

btw, I'm chinese.

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At Vietnamese/Chinese restaurants, my dad always asks the waiter whether or not the tips go the the staff or the owner. If it goes to the owner, which is usually the case, he just puts 1 or 2 dollars on the table because you are just filling the owner's pockets.

Seems to me to be a sensible approach.

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Well, except if it's our favorite Chinese restaurant, at which the owners, waitstaff, chefs, and cleaning crew are all part of the same extended family. In that case, why not tip 20% and contribute to the entire enterprise, with the hope and/or understanding that it goes to the entire clan?

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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  • 3 months later...
I think for those who grew up in HK a 10% tip is customary as they add this to as a service charge, hence it was ingrained in many of us that a 10% tip is "standard" in a Chinese restaurant.  The custom in HK is just to round up oh so slightly.... i.e. $192 you leave the $8 worth of coins behind on the tray.  BTW, waiters in HK stand there and wait for you to collect your change, they don't just leave it discretely on your table.

Sorry I came to this little digression topic late. I just read it.

I agree that most eateries in Hong Kong charges an automatic 10% gratuity. And this practice, I think, is following the Brits (most likely) or Europeans in general. In Mainland China it's a different story.

I used to work as a waiter 20+ years ago in about 10 different Chinese restaurants in San Diego, CA. Of all restaurants that I worked at, never one would the tip go to the owner. Sometimes you may see as if the tip tray goes to the owner's counter in the front. But usually it goes into a jar, which shortly before the restaurant closes, would be tallied up.

There were 2 schools of systems: the communists (tips divided equally among all) and the capitalists (tips kept by individual waiters, not shared). It's up to the restaurant owner which system to adopt. There are avantages and disadvantages of each. The bigger the restaurant, the more likely that they are dividing the tips because it's virtually impossible for one person to wait on several tables and maintain the level of service required. Remember in Chinese restaurants the owners demand the waiter to bring the food, once cooked, immediately from the kitchen to the table - unlike those American restaurants where they leave the food under the flood light to keep warm and wait for every dish at the same table to be ready before bringing them out at once.

In a more sophiscated (large) Chinese restaurants where there are higher/lower ranking staff above/below waiters, i.e. captains and managers; bus boys and ladies whose sole job it is to bring cooked dishes from the kitchen to the table, they divide up the tips according to job grades. It goes something like: waiters get 1 share, bus boys get 1/2 share, dish ladies get 1/4 share (maybe), captains get 1 1/2 shares (or more) and managers get 2 shares (or more).

Many Chinese waiters do depend on the tips as a good part of their income. Why? Because the owners almost never pay them even minimum wage. The owners have already factored in the tips as a compensation! In some really busy eateries, the waiters may even forgo the wage all together for the chance of working for tips alone.

W.K. Leung ("Ah Leung") aka "hzrt8w"
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