Monday, October 22, 2007


An anonymous commenter on the Watts Grocery post mentions how messed up compensation for waiters and waitresses is. That got me to thinking about tips.

I cannot think of a single time when I haven't left a tip. The waiter would have to slap me, cuss me out, AND call my momma a whore for me not to leave a tip. I'd probably also leave him w/ a black eye.

For the record, in America these days 20% is standard for restaurants, hair cuts, massages, whatever. Yes, tip your hairdresser. If you think 15% is standard, or (gasp!) 10%, then you are cheap. Do you really want people to think you are cheap? No, I thought not.

I leave a tip of 15% if the service has been really poor. In spite of being cranky from time to time about getting silverware and drinks in a timely fashion, I usually don't even knock it down to 15% for those minor infractions. Generally it takes a slew of mistakes: no silver or dirty silver, plus slow service, plus the wrong order, plus surly attitude.

A very long time ago I worked as a waitress. I found that waiting tables is far more stressful than a desk job, even the management job I have now. And customers can be a real pain. My biggest pet peeve is when I dine out with people who treat the wait staff as if they are servants. This is just wrong. In France, people respect their waiters and waitresses as founts of knowledge about the wine and the cuisine. Somehow we should recapture that.

So the next time you don't leave a 20% tip, or 15% if it is bad service, just remember that you are showing your own ass. And that is not a pretty sight!

I'm sure y'all will have opinions on this, but I stand firm in my own belief of what is correct and what is cheap and tacky, so beware.


Anonymous said...

Yes, the going rate is 20%. If my somewhat messy kids are handled with aplomb, your tip is even higher.

I have to admit, though, when I attend a group lunch, and the establishment puts the automatic 15% tip on my bill, I am reluctant to fill out the "additional tip" line. I justify it by convincing myself that my coworkers and I are easy to feed.

How do you handle the "gratuity added" deal?

--Lisa S.

Andrea said...

When I waited tables several years ago, I was paid $2.33/hr plus whatever tips I earned. In addition to taking orders and serving food my employer expected me to clean bathrooms, wash dishes, and perform a long list of other chores, all for $2.33/hr, and I expect many restaurants operate similarly. I think it is a shame restaurants in North Carolina are not required to pay servers minimum wage. I don't like our system because severs must beg for every dollar they earn and hope that any small mistake does not result in a dock of pay. Docking pay for mistakes is a violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Anonymous said...

I heard a waitress for a Brightleaf District restaurant last night brag about how she refused to serve regular customers of the establishment because "they never tip [her}". She went on to say that in NC you have the right to refuse service to anyone, and that is just what she did. She said that NC is great because it is a right-to-work state and a right-to-refuse-service state.

In my opinion, had she been an employee of mine and had refused to serve any customer that came in without my permission and unless they were verbally abusive or worse, I would fire her immediately.

Anonymous said...

In response to andrea. I agree that the manner in which waiters are subject to random pay is a bad system. I also don't agree with the practice of making waiters do a ton of sidework not specifically related to their job. However, don't think for a second that waiters would do any better if the system was changed.

Assuming a restaurant is even somewhat popular, waiters and bartenders make more per hour than any other employee of the place, often more than managers. Through my career, I've known of dozens of times when a top waiter turned down the chance to be promoted because it would have meant a significant dock in pay.

Thus, I think that, as long as this system exists, tipped employees should be paid sub-minimum because, once tips are figured in, they often make at least $15/hour and a times much more than that. Considering that it is a transitional job for the vast majority of those who do it, that's some pretty nice scratch.

If tipping was done away with, either through automatic gratuity or simply charging more for the menu items, people currently living off tips would see a decrease in take-home. Gone would be the magical nights when a waiter gets those few high rollers and walks with $200+. That money would be in the hands of the house to be distributed fairly. Kitchen employees would likely see a much needed raise, waiters would get a fair wage but no longer make more per hour than every other employee in the restaurant, etc. Like any other business, restaurants who skimped on paying waiters would attract crappy servers, those who took care of thieirs would get good ones, but, as a whole, waiters would make less. Of this you can be sure.

Those who cry about the plight of the waiter fixate on the times they get stiffed but rarely point out that, in the long run, the tips work themselves out and they end up making pretty good money. They also like to point to the greedy restaurant owner. Well, if it's not a corporate establishment, that greedy owner might be making barely more than his top waiters despite working 2-3 times as many hours per week. If there's an extra dollar, who should get it? The college kid making $20 hour or the person who's butt is on the line making $50K a year for an 80 hour/week job?

andrea said...

You make some excellent points, and I agree that if the system were altered to do away with tipping that servers might make less money. However, it seems (to me) that the entire system might be more fair to everyone if the menu prices reflected the actual cost of doing business and playing employees. Of course, it is unlikely that the tipping custom is going anywhere anytime soon. I think it makes for some interesting discourse, though.

Anonymous said...

To Lisa S. regarding the gratuity added deal.

You might be interested to learn that many times waiters will actually grapple with the notion of actually adding it or not. If the table seems really cool and everyone really had a good time, they realize that they might be selling themselves short with a minimum tip as opposed to the possibility of perhaps getting 20+.

Like you said, even those who tend to tip well, might not bother to specifically over-tip in this situation.

Of course, there are two major problems with this. One, maybe everyone had a great time but the person paying the bill could be a cheapsake, the other is that they have to make a point of saying they didn't add it which might seem like fishing for a better tip.

None the less, yet another needless complication with both dining out and depending on the randomness of tips for a living.

Dave said...

I agree with the original post- I always leave 20 percent, 15 if the service is poor. I recognize that many of the issues that make a meal disappointing are not directly in the hands of the servers (slow food, cold food, etc.) Don't kill the messenger. Its all about the attitude. If a server gives attitude, 15% is my cap.

Anonymous said...

A tip, or gratuity, is a small amount of money given voluntarily as a token of appreciation for a service rendered. We tip our servers as a way of thanking them for good service. Therefore, if the server did not give me good service, I voluntarily do not leave a token of my appreciation. I have also been know to leave a letter explaining why.

Kelly said...

Unfort, a tip is not simply a small token of appreciation. It is the person's salary which is why it is important not to be cheapskate. To dock a server's salary because the chef is incompetent with fish would be like docking someone's pay in widget marketing because the widget manufacturing plant made something defective. Such a practice is incoherent, and that is what people are trying to point out. It's not just a nicety that you do for a service rendered in a restaurant. It's docking someone's pay.

Kelly said...

And, leaving a letter is high maintenance, FYI.

Phil said...

My standard tip is 20%, but the folks at Forbes say 15% is still the standard in the US.