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Tipping Outside of Restaurants

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I once worked for an upscale catering service that always added an 18% charge to every customer bill and labeled it as "service charge".    Most cusotmers would and did assume that it was a gratuity to be disbursed among the staff but none of us ever saw a nickel of that money - it went to "service related expenses". 

That said...  the business owner paid us more than the prevailing service wage (about $7 - $10 per hour back in the early to mid 1990's) and if a cusotmer tipped over and above the service charge we all recieved an appriorate portion of that money.

I just returned from a trip to France.  The nature of table service is very different there but we generally tipped about 10% on all of our meals, despite the fact that the service charge was already built into the price. We received good service from seasoned professionals and I felt that they earned the extra money.

A service charge that the owners pocket? Uh oh. We can play word games here. But the fact is in California it is illegal for owners to pocket tips. It goes into the tip pool and is divided amongst the FOH staff at the end of the shift. I don't know what the laws are though in other parts of the country.


I can be reached via email chefzadi AT gmail DOT com

Dean of Culinary Arts

Ecole de Cuisine: Culinary School Los Angeles

http://ecolecuisine.com

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In the UK it's common to see larger tables (sometimes 6+, sometimes 8+) having a service charge automatically added to their bill (usually 12.5%, sometimes, 10%, sometimes 15%).

Quite a few restaurants (mine included) operate a service charge across the board, but in this case almost always 10%. In our case, this gets split equally between front of house and back of house, as do any cash tips.


Allan Brown

"If you're a chef on a salary, there's usually a very good reason. Never, ever, work out your hourly rate."

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P.S. on owners pocketing tips whether it's legal or not.

TACKY!!!!!! So, so tacky. Give it to your staff.


I can be reached via email chefzadi AT gmail DOT com

Dean of Culinary Arts

Ecole de Cuisine: Culinary School Los Angeles

http://ecolecuisine.com

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P.S. on owners pocketing tips whether it's legal or not.

TACKY!!!!!! So, so tacky. Give it to your staff.

Tacky or not, it's also very tempting. Making an extra 15% gross on every table can easily double your profit margin.


Allan Brown

"If you're a chef on a salary, there's usually a very good reason. Never, ever, work out your hourly rate."

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In many places in the UK leaving a tip is seen as low class, and the US tip culture is  alien, strange and demeaning.

It means the staff is not being paid properly, and reduced to begging.

A reward for good service, or a complaint about bad service should be a written  letter to the establishment. It is a management function to ensure the guests get good service, and motivate the staff, not the guest's duty.  If they need to charge more for the meal in order to do this, then they should, rather than publish fake prices, where the "normal" price is 15% more...

Besides a gentleperson would not carry the requisite cash;  the cost of their meal would be charged to their account and settled quarterly.

I can see your tongue residing in your cheek from here. :)

Hats off to such an establishment that puts their prices up by 15% and advertises the fact that the difference goes to the waiting staff as wages. Hats off to the next company to occupy the building after the first company has gone under in short order.

cb, you are joking, surely?. isnt 'service charge'=tipping?

i find this mandatory 'tipping' more convinient than the optional tipping in the states.

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of course it's tipping... provided the service charge goes to the staff in the same way that an optional tip would.

I think we've anecdotally established that the likelihood of the staff seeing the money at the end of the day is higher if it's an 'optional' tip rather than a service charge.

When fairly distributed, service charges result in higher staff income compared to optional tips.

My question is : Does the automatic imposition of tips in the form of a service charge restrict, in an unspoken way, the choice of someone to express their appreciation or otherwise at the lack of service?

Legally, of course, you can refrain from paying the service charge in the same way as you can refrain from leaving a tip; the management are likely to get bolshy over it, though.


Edited by culinary bear (log)

Allan Brown

"If you're a chef on a salary, there's usually a very good reason. Never, ever, work out your hourly rate."

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One of the most frustrating things too is when the waitstaff is blamed for something that is not their fault or completely out of their control, like if there is a screwup in the kitchen, which sometimes isn't even the kitchens fault, but things happen, and the meal is delayed, and then the servers tip is docked.

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My question is : Does the automatic imposition of tips in the form of a service charge restrict, in an unspoken way, the choice of someone to express their appreciation or otherwise at the lack of service?

No. If I go to a mechanic to have work done on my car, I don't have a choice as to whether I just pay for the parts and not for the labor done, so why should it be different in another industry? Now, if the mechanic was rude to me, made me wait all day when he said it would be ready in an hour, or if I have some other legitimate complaint, I can speak to a manager and voice my concerns. If they're smart, they'll give me a discount, or a voucher for free service in the future. But if I just say I didn't like the way the mechanic looked or his manner of dress, any reasonable manager should know that I'm just being difficult.

It is only because we are accustomed to deciding how much we want to tip that we think of it as our right to use it as a method of commenting on the service. But in reality, the proper message never really gets through to the server. I've seen way too many people who had good service and smiled as they handed over a 10% tip to really take it seriously in my own work as a server. I can only assume that the couple who gave me $5 on $64 Monday night, since they lingered afterwards, said nothing to management and smiled and thanked me, were happy with their service and just don't know that less than 10% is an insultingly poor tip.

I'd really recommend that if you want to make a statement, talk to a manager instead, or combine your reduced tip with a talk to management. Otherwise, the server will not get the message.


Edited by TheFoodTutor (log)

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I've seen a number of tip-related discussions on eGullet and I'm of the opinion that people who get income form tips prefer the system as it is. If they went to a fixed service charge or higher price to the patron, and a fixed salary to the waiter, they'd make less money. So they prefer the unpredictable nature of tipping, but continue to complain to get everyone to tip more.

In reality this is not that different from other occupations. Sales people at my company get base + commissions, with bulk of their compensation coming from the latter.

From customer perspective there are not many remedies for mediocre service. Complaining to the manager takes effort and would be considered a confrontational situation by most people. There's a reasonably high barrier to overcome before I would consider talking to the manager. Docking the tip makes the customer feel better. Maybe if you're a regular, and the waiters know that you usually leave 20%, then leaving less may send a message. I doubt that waiters stop to think why someone left small tip - they assume you're a bad tipper.

Edited for spelling


Edited by elion_84 (log)

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All this talk about service charges is making me nervous. I'm going to The French Laundry next month, and their website says they add a 19% "service charge" to the check. Does this constitute a tip or not? 19% on a $175 meal (plus wine) is quite a bit. Am I expected to add another 20% on top of that?

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I've seen a number of tip-related discussions on eGullet and I'm of the opinion that people who get income form tips prefer the system as it is. If they went to a fixed service charge or higher price to the patron, and a fixed salary to the waiter, they'd make less money. So they prefer the unpredictable nature of tipping, but continue to complain to get everyone to tip more.

In reality this is not that different from other occupations. Sales people at my company get base + commissions, with bulk of their compensation coming from the latter. 

From customer perspective there are not many remedies for mediocre service. Complaining to the manager takes effort and would be considered a confrontational situation by most people. There's a reasonably high barrier to overcome before I would consider talking to the manager. Docking the tip makes the customer feel better. Maybe if you're a regular, and the waiters know that you usually leave 20%, then leaving less may send a message. I doubt that waiters stop to think why someone left small tip - they assume you're a bad tipper.

Edited for spelling

Whether or not the waiters get the message, there's still no point in tipping well for poor service. Screw 'em. If the service is bad enough that I'm tipping poorly -- a rare occurance, btw -- it's not likely I'll be back anytime soon; I don't much care what the server thinks.

And I think waiters are a little more perceptive than that. Decent ones, anyway. I waited tables for a while and there are any number of signs that people are just lousy tippers as opposed to being angry at you. Tourists, foreigners, people who clearly don't eat out much, tables that divide up the check with a calculator all tend to skew low. People who praise you effusively for no apparent reason, or find tiny flaws in your service and make a big deal of them are almost inevitably bad tippers. Blowhards trying to impress their dates have a bifurcated distribution: overtipping to look like a big spender, or undertipping because they tried to impress their date by going to a restaurant they can't afford. Watch out for oldsters who remember when 10% was standard and a martini was $1.25.

When I got a bad tip, I usually asked myself why, and not irregularly was able to pinpoint where I fucked up. Implying that waiters just write off bad tippers as cheapskates is, I think, a little condescending.


I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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Just curious, do waiters actually register the percentage tip they have received? I know that I for one would be unable to do the math to figure out what I just got, so short of egregiously low or high tips, will a waiter notice the difference between a 12 and an 18 % tip?

Simon

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In many places in the UK leaving a tip is seen as low class, and the US tip culture is  alien, strange and demeaning.

It means the staff is not being paid properly, and reduced to begging.

A reward for good service, or a complaint about bad service should be a written  letter to the establishment. It is a management function to ensure the guests get good service, and motivate the staff, not the guest's duty.  If they need to charge more for the meal in order to do this, then they should, rather than publish fake prices, where the "normal" price is 15% more...

Besides a gentleperson would not carry the requisite cash;  the cost of their meal would be charged to their account and settled quarterly.

I can see your tongue residing in your cheek from here. :)

Hats off to such an establishment that puts their prices up by 15% and advertises the fact that the difference goes to the waiting staff as wages. Hats off to the next company to occupy the building after the first company has gone under in short order.

I am only aware of one fine dining restaurant in the US that is currently doing this -- and it is located right here in Cincinnati. At Jean-Robert at Pigall's, the 3 course prix fixe is $75 and the 5 course is $110 (I think) -- gratuity included. All beverage pricing, including the wine list also reflects this pricing. When you pay by credit card, they have stamped in red across the tip line "Service compris."

My impression is that most guests appreciate the pricing decision.

Edited to include link to web site.


Edited by MichaelB (log)

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Just curious, do waiters actually register the percentage tip they have received? I know that I for one would be unable to do the math to figure out what I just got, so short of egregiously low or high tips, will a waiter notice the difference between a 12 and an 18 % tip?

Perhaps not to the exact percentage. But if you wait tables for any length of time, you get a rough feel for 15%, and you learn what 15% is for the $10 increments (i.e. 15% of $10 is $1.50, 15% of $20 is $3.00, 15% of $30 is $4.50, and so on). So it's pretty easy to look at a tip and make a ballpark estimate of how the tip compares to the 15% standard.


* AB drinks one of those "Guiness Pub Draught" beers, with the nitrogen cannister in the bottom of the can.

* AB wonders what Budweiser would taste like with one of those...

<AB> . o O (Like shit, still, I should think.)

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When I got a bad tip, I usually asked myself why, and not irregularly was able to pinpoint where I fucked up.  Implying that waiters just write off bad tippers as cheapskates is, I think, a little condescending.

I don't think all waiters do it. But I do think a significant portion -- perhaps even "most" -- have that attitude.

Of course, almost all of my table-waiting experience comes from working in chain restaurants like Bennigan's, the Olive Garden, and so on. So my sample set may be skewed in one direction or another.


* AB drinks one of those "Guiness Pub Draught" beers, with the nitrogen cannister in the bottom of the can.

* AB wonders what Budweiser would taste like with one of those...

<AB> . o O (Like shit, still, I should think.)

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I like the tipping set-up just the way it is. It is an incentive for waitstaff to perform their job well. Without it, one could slack on the job without fear of losing money out of one's pocket, and I think service in general would be all the poorer for it. The system in Europe seems to work for Europe, but they have had that system forever. Over time it might raise the professionalism of waitstaff in the US, but there would be a dark decade or so before that happened.

I do agree than leaving a very small tip registers the point home more than no tip. If you leave no tip, the waiter might simply think you forgot or someone swiped it. If you leave .82 cents, he pretty much has to get the point. Only once have I ever done this, when out at Denny's with some friends several years ago. We were one of three occupied tables in the entire place, and we saw our waiter maybe three times the whole night, when he took our order, when he brought our food, and when he brought the check. No drink refills, the orders took over an hour to arrive, and arrived cold. On top of that, when giving my friend his dinner he dropped one of my friend's chicken fingers on the floor. When this fact was pointed out to him he said 'Yeah, you probably shouldn't eat that one' and walked away. Our feelings on this whole encounter were expressed in the form of around .82 cents worth of spare change being embedded in aforementioned chicken finger like fins. Had the place had a mandatory service charge, and had I been forced to pay this slacker for his 'services' I would have never returned. You should get paid for doing your job well, not simply for being there.

Actually, with the examples of labor charges with mechanics and etc, I think it would be better if they worked on a tipping system as well. An oil change at Wal-Mart costs the same whether the technician manages to befoul the interior of my car with oil from his suit, takes two hours to complete the operation, and forgets to refill my windshield washer fluid as it does if the whole ordeal is over in half an hour, fluids filled, and interior left pristine. I would gladly pay more for prompt and professional service there, but feel ripped off when I get second-rate service. I used to work in commissioned sales, and was payed entirely based on my job performance. If I didn't serve my customers well enough to find the right product for them, and if I didn't make the financing, delivery, etc work, I didn't make money, and that is the way it should have been. It encouraged me to work hard, to not take as many breaks, and gave me motivation to actually work while at work.

Culinary Bear is also probably spot on with regards to the tax issue. The vast majority of waiters don't report anywhere near the amount of tips they get. Suddenly having to report everything would likely lead to a net drop off in usable cash from work, I'm sure the taxes would more than offset the boost from the tables that undertip.

Also, a system like this might encourage a restaurant to invoke a practice I really hate: tip-sharing. I want the tip I leave to go to the waiter who served me, not split amongst all of the waitstaff, the bar, the bussers, and whoever else wants a hand in it. There is no reason I should be paying for someone who is serving others, and may not even be doing a very good job of it, and even more so, if I recieved excellent service, the person who gave it to me should be entitled to 100% of what I felt was appropriate pay for that service.


He don't mix meat and dairy,

He don't eat humble pie,

So sing a miserere

And hang the bastard high!

- Richard Wilbur and John LaTouche from Candide

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Its a crazy, demeaning system. It doesn't reward the people (like the chefs) who did a lot of the work, and makes the payment depend on factors outside the control of the person being paid, like the quality of the food and efficiency of the kitchen. As has been said above, as a medium for sending a message to the staff and management its not very effective...If its primarily a tax evasion scheme, then it doesn't work well, since the taxman is quite capable of estimating average earnings

Personally, being a tourist or on a business trip, I am never likely to go to the same restaurant twice, still less get the same wait staff, I see no reason, other than charity, to leave any money at all. I can put my charitable donations to better use, and get a tax rebate.

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All this talk about service charges is making me nervous.  I'm going to The French Laundry next month, and their website says they add a 19% "service charge" to the check.  Does this constitute a tip or not?  19% on a $175 meal (plus wine) is quite a bit.  Am I expected to add another 20% on top of that?

When I read that the gratuity was included, I took them at their word and didn't feel that I had to tip on top of it.

However, this is the French Laundry.

The level of service you are about to endure, is so incredible, I think you'll still want to give them more money. As expensive as it is, it feels like you are getting a deal... seriously. As I was leaving I felt like giving them something... like my first new-born or a molar... just because the service was so absolutely impeccable.

A lot has been said about Thomas Keller’s food, and rightly so the man is a genius, but what I found most striking as a diner at the French Laundry was the service. I really lack the vocabulary to describe the way Laura Cunningham’s staff moves around that restaurant. But I am pretty sure you'll be impressed.

While I don’t think you should feel obligated to tip on top of the 19% already added to your tip, I wouldn’t be surprised if you do it anyway.

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Its a crazy, demeaning system. It doesn't reward the people (like the chefs) who did a lot of the work, and makes the payment depend on factors outside the control of the person being paid, like the quality of the food and efficiency of the kitchen. As has been said above, as a medium for sending a message to the staff and management its not very effective...

That is an interesting point. Is it common in most dining establishments that the waitstaff ends up making more money than the chefs? That doesn't really seem fair, and chefs should almost certainly get paid more if that is the case, but then again, lots of professions don't make what they earn. A way for chefs to get paid in tips would be cool, but it could get complicated, having to leave tips of the waitstaff on the green square, and tips for the chef on the red, or something like that, and would of course require a reduction in prices of entrees to facilitate the extra money being handed out by the diner. So, less overhead, less profit margin for the management, but more for the chefs, while it would be right, I can't imagine the owners going for it.


He don't mix meat and dairy,

He don't eat humble pie,

So sing a miserere

And hang the bastard high!

- Richard Wilbur and John LaTouche from Candide

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Also, a system like this might encourage a restaurant to invoke a practice I really hate: tip-sharing.  I want the tip I leave to go to the waiter who served me, not split amongst all of the waitstaff, the bar, the bussers, and whoever else wants a hand in it.  There is no reason I should be paying for someone who is serving others, and may not even be doing a very good job of it, and even more so, if I recieved excellent service, the person who gave it to me should be entitled to 100% of what I felt was appropriate pay for that service.

This may come as a shock, but even in the small sorts of places I've served in, you tip out your busboys. My roommate in college hostessed and got a percentage of the floor's tips. The server is not the only person who is serving you, and your largesse is almost certainly spread around, since the waiter would not be able to provide the service they have provided without all those other people doing their part.

The kitchen staff, I'm not so sure about. I'm sure someone will enlighten us.


Agenda-free since 1966.

Foodblog: Power, Convection and Lies

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This may come as a shock, but even in the small sorts of places I've served in, you tip out your busboys. My roommate in college hostessed and got a percentage of the floor's tips. The server is not the only person who is serving you, and your largesse is almost certainly spread around, since the waiter would not be able to provide the service they have provided without all those other people doing their part.

The kitchen staff, I'm not so sure about. I'm sure someone will enlighten us.

Well, when you put it that way, it makes sense, and I don't mean to disrespect the bus people, as they do have a job that needs to be done, and they certainly deserve to earn a decent wage for it. It just seems like it would make more since if only those who had a direct connection to the customer (waiter who serves, and cook who prepares the food) were paid via tips, and those with indirect jobs there, like the bartender who is mixing drinks at the bar, but not serving up or mixing drinks for your table who isn't drinking, busboys, and hostesses, were all paid via just a decent hourly wage.


He don't mix meat and dairy,

He don't eat humble pie,

So sing a miserere

And hang the bastard high!

- Richard Wilbur and John LaTouche from Candide

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Where I work, all tips are pooled - waiting staff, runners, bar servers, chefs, porters all get their share, distributed through their paycheck.

In other places I've worked, even if the kitchen is excluded from the tips and it's entirely front-of-house, it was almost always the case that he tips were pooled. In my experience, it's rare in the UK in any sort of quality establishment (well, above a cafe) for the tips to be pocketed by the person who happens to be handed the tip at the end of the meal.


Allan Brown

"If you're a chef on a salary, there's usually a very good reason. Never, ever, work out your hourly rate."

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if you can't afford the tip, you can't afford the meal, and you should go home and see what leftovers may lurk in the fridge. 

That reminds of a time when I was in college, and a few friends and I went a nice Italian restaurant in Albany, nothing fancy but a place we liked. We had not much money in those days, and when the bill came, we literally just emptied our pockets onto the table. I think the amount we left for the tip came to about 8%. The waitress ran out of the restaurant as we were leaving, thinking she had done somthing terrible. We assured her that everything was fine--we had given her every penny we had.

There was also a little pub in town where we were on good terms with one of the owners, and more than once after a night of eating and drinking, the check would come and it would be for about $3. The waiter got to keep what would amount to a 3500% tip. Sadly, that guy was forced out by his partner, and the beef stew was never as good after that.


"I think it's a matter of principle that one should always try to avoid eating one's friends."--Doctor Dolittle

blog: The Institute for Impure Science

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If its primarily a tax evasion scheme, then it doesn't work well, since the taxman is quite capable of estimating average earnings.

In the US, the government expects that you make 8% of your total sales in tips. That is, if you sell $100 worth of food in a shift, the government will expect you to declare a minimum of $8 worth of tips as income.

I used to declare 10% because the math was easier, and still made out like a bandit.


* AB drinks one of those "Guiness Pub Draught" beers, with the nitrogen cannister in the bottom of the can.

* AB wonders what Budweiser would taste like with one of those...

<AB> . o O (Like shit, still, I should think.)

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It just seems like it would make more since if only those who had a direct connection to the customer (waiter who serves, and cook who prepares the food) were paid via tips, and those with indirect jobs there, like the bartender who is mixing drinks at the bar, but not serving up or mixing drinks for your table who isn't drinking, busboys, and hostesses, were all paid via just a decent hourly wage.

It makes a lot of sense for the company that runs the restaurant to have their waitstaff do tip-sharing. This is because the minimum wage laws in this country allow for different minimum wages for tipped vs. non-tipped employees.

Most places I worked at required the waiter to give a percentage of his/her tips to the busboy in charge of bussing his/her tables, as well as to the bartender(s).

The bartenders in this case weren't going to be getting non-tipped minimum wage, but the busboys might have...except that, thanks to tip-sharing, they're technically considered tipped employees and, therefore, the company can pay them the minimum wage for tipped employees.

So forcing the wait staff to share their tips with other members of the staff allows the company to lower their overhead.


* AB drinks one of those "Guiness Pub Draught" beers, with the nitrogen cannister in the bottom of the can.

* AB wonders what Budweiser would taste like with one of those...

<AB> . o O (Like shit, still, I should think.)

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