Please Tip Your Waiter!

tipping"If you can't afford to tip, then don't eat out!" someone tweeted to me when I asked for thoughts on tipping, being tipped, and the general world of customer-service jobs in America.

And, while most people I spoke to -- on both sides of the table -- agree with this, it's a sad fact that in many states, people who work in industries where they may get tipped are not required to be paid the Federal minimum wage. For many waiters, tips are not simply an extra show of gratitude for a job well done or a nice little bonus in addition to their usual wage, but a necessity in supplementing that low wage.

In the Feb. 26 New York Times CityBlog, writer David Sax goes on a rampage against tipping, comparing tipping wait staff and taxi drivers with tipping the pilot of an airplane:

Sure, you're in the service industry. But doesn't that mean that my gratuity should be a reward for better service, or at least an incentive? It sure wasn't to the taxi driver the other night, who sped through two red lights, hopped a cement divider (nearly toppling his SUV) and then strongly "suggested" that I elect the 25 percent tip option on the credit card payment system. Maybe if I had paid up, his next passenger would have had a smoother ride.

Oh, sure, I'm cheap. But not as cheap as your boss, apparently, who figures he can pay you the minimum wage of $4.65 for servers, and the customer will just pick up the rest of your living expenses.

Imagine if everyone did that. As you file out of the airplane, there's the pilot, standing with his palm outstretched like a doorman who just let you into the hotel: "Hope you enjoyed your flight. Ahem, bit of a rough landing there, ahem. Not too easy to pull off, you know. Oh, why thank you, sir. You shouldn't have."

Joe, 33, who works at a restaurant in NYC's posh Soho neighborhood, says, "I'm a waiter. I live off of tips. It is a stupid system, and service people too often expect 20 percent or more. But an editorial like this is not a beginning to positive discourse or even a worthwhile attempt at investigating a solution to a problem. It was created purely to inflame people in the service industry, and crotchety penny-pinchers like the author ..."

(Mr. Sax's article did indeed get quite a bit of feedback, from both those who agree and those who disagree.)

I spoke with people who have taken tip-oriented jobs for a variety of reasons -- including people who lost more stable, salaried jobs due to the economic downturn.

K, who asked that her name not be used, says, "I recently picked up a restaurant gig, and I'm astonished at how some people are poor tippers. My personal opinion is that all customers should tip at least 20 percent. I know that's high, but this is how we earn a living. Most servers do not receive house pay; we work solely on tips. We're going back and forth, bringing you drinks, making sure your water glass is full, keeping your table neat, making sure your courses to get your table on time, speaking with you (sometimes at length) about the ingredients in the dish, making your coffee/cappuccino/latte/tea, you name it! Believe it or not, even after exceptional service, some folks will only tip a measly 10 percent."

Sasha, 28, a waitress in Manhattan, reminds us that "many restaurants are tip-pooling establishments. Which means most employees have their hands on a portion of that 20 percent gratuity -- not just the server or bartender you think you are leaving the tip for." So your 15 percent to 20 percent goes not only to the person who took your order and brought your beer, but to the busboys, dishwashers, table runners, barbacks, and bartenders, and often to the host/hostess as well.

Jennifer, a hairstylist in her late 30s, says, "I always appreciate a tip but understand not everyone can afford to be generous. My tips range greatly from person to person, as I'm sure they do for waitress/waiters. But I don't get paid minimum wage so its not as bad if someone isn't that appreciative. I do think that when the person loves what you did to make them look better, they should tip appropriately."

Eric, 34, who spent some time waiting tables in Waltham, MA, during college says, "I never felt entitled to tremendous tips, and seldom became embittered if someone gave 15 percent instead of 20 percent. The demeanor of the customer made all the difference; unpleasant and rude diners who are poor tippers are going to be aggravating."

Wallace, who has spent time tending bar and waiting tables in New York and Pennsylvania, says, "I honestly almost never count the tips that a table leaves me. I just have fun working and if a bad tip will make me mad, why would I want to get mad?"

Greg, 33, in Boston, Mass., asks, "Is it just me or did 15 percent use to be standard and you'd bump it up a few more if service was really good? Now it seems like the standard is 18-20 percent. Why is that? (It can't be inflation because the rise in food prices have that covered.)" But he still tips above average even when he receives poor service: "When I have [poor] service I'm like, 'Oh. I'll teach her. She's only getting 17 percent!'"

Marie, who's in her mid-60s, from Durham, N.H., says, "I do think there is the expectation that you will leave at least a 15 percent tip. I think when I was younger 10 percent was pretty typical." Though Marie never worked as a waitress or bartender, two of her children work, at least part-time, in the service industry, and she says, "Of course now that I have had a waitress daughter and a bartender daughter, I think of 20 percent as the normal gratuity. And will give more sometimes for service/attention above expectation."

Greg, in Boston, has never worked a customer service job "except one holiday season when I sold Christmas trees for some extra money. I was being paid $10 an hour (under the table), and I didn't expect people to tip me for tying the tree to their roof -- that was my job. But a buck or two was appreciated every now and then." He explains, "I treat most jobs that don't depend on tips like that -- like when my gas is filled up on a cold night. I appreciate the effort and I throw a buck his way."

After being laid off from a design job a few years ago, John, 36, took a job as a bartender. He views the whole situation in a more idealistic manner:

I don't know if tipping encourages good service, or if good service is demanding of a tip. I feel like I come across both attitudes. Often, the concept gets downgraded to merely service demanding a tip. Something about that feels unfortunate. I realize how much tips mean to someone in that service industry, so as a patron, I tend to tip very well. Sometimes it's out of the understanding that this is how these people support themselves. If it's a slow night at the bar for someone I may tip generously because I remember all the dead nights I tended and went home light. Or, if it's busy I may tip generously in the hopes that the tender will remember me on my next round and I may not have to wait as much or will get a decent pour. In either case I tend to tip well, unless the service is glaringly lacking. Even then, however, it's difficult for me to tip poorly.

A good experience leads to tipping, and tipping leads to a good experience.

Many people I spoke with do tip based on service and personality. Marie in Durham mentioned that her husband tips mostly on personality, not on service. And K, that new-to-waitressing girl, related this story, from the other side of the table:

Last night my roommate and I went out to have dinner at a French restaurant. I had steak frites, she had fish bouillabaisse. I had wine with dinner, she had a cocktail. We ate at the bar. The bartender was a Frenchman who was not only extremely pleasant to look at, but very nice and easy to talk to. He even gave us a small sample of a licorice absinthe because we were curious as to what it was. He didn't seem bothered at all but in fact, quite pleased that we were there asking questions, etc... I had a calvados after dinner then kindly asked for the check. The bill was $75.

We tipped him $18, a little over 20%. Why? Because I felt it was the right thing to do. He was very personable, we felt comfortable, he even showed us pics of his newborn from his iPhone -- but most of all, he was knowledgeable of the food and drinks he served. He was a professional.

And that's the point, isn't it? The people who are taking your order, serving your drinks, and removing your dirty dishes are all professionals. They have good days and they have bad days, but, at the end of the day it's their job to give you the best experience they are able to.

While I don't disagree with Mr Sax's view that a high tip being expected seems to go against the point of a tip being a gratuity, I know that people need to make a living wage -- to pay their bills, feed their family, buy health insurance -- and the current way employers pay their waitstaff in the majority of the country just isn't doing it.

Next: Five Unusual Jobs Working With Food and Drink >>

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October 11 2011 at 5:56 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Nina Giardinelli

the survey of how much pp tip is BS in my opinion because no one is going to declare themselves a non tipper but in only 3 months of working in the service industry I have had a number of people leave no tip on a $60 bill and a few people even try to walk out on their bill. You could try to blame the non tipping on bad service but I make it a point to ask people if they enjoyed their meal and service while they are on there way out and they always praise it highly so I don't believe that is the case. The economy is shity and everyone is broke so if you can't afford at least a 15% tip than stay home and make your wife cook ur dinner. Another thing is that after a few months of working in the industry you start to figure out which kind of people tip and which kind don't...I've found that is is alway the people who are like "can you separate the carrots from the green beans and put the mashed potatos on a separate plate from the grave and oh go easy on the salt" that end up being shitty tippers even if you do somehow manage to convey to the cook the long list of do's and don't and go easy's and extra this and that...even if their order does turn out just how they had request there is still a bad tip at the end of the night.

July 08 2011 at 4:36 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The problem is, restaurants can't seem to keep their hands off their worker's tips. The more employers force their servers to share tips among the staff, the more their servers expect in tips. Of course now that we are tipping 15-20 percent and many servers are suggesting 20-25 percent of the check should be the norm, tipping has created disparity among worker's incomes. A current complaint among restaurant owners is that their waiters are making too much income in comparison to the rest of their staff, however, if they wouldn't have started forcing their servers to tip out other support staff, and had they not lobbied our government for a law which allows businesses to pay tipped employees sub-minimum wages, servers wouldn't have had to campaign for a higher tip percentage.

Do you remember when an expected tip was 10-15 percent. Back then the servers weren't having their hourly wages reduced as much and they didn't have to tip out all the workers they currently are required to tip out. If we could just get back to the days when a tip was not as expected as it is today, there wouldn't be the anger and frustrations now associated with tipping.

The problem isn't that waiters are now expecting too much, the problem is, employers shouldn't be telling workers what to do with their tips. The problem istn't that tipping is getting out of hand, the problem is, we shouldn't have laws that say it's legal to pay a lower hourly wage to someone who makes tips. You see the only way employees can get back the money that we take from them with lowered houry wages is to demand more tips to make up for the lowered hourly wages.

The tip credit must be repealed and tipped workers hourly wages must be restored to the normal minimum wage. Federal laws must be enforced to where employers cannot require workers to share or tip out part of their tips to other workers. Restaurants must get the news out that servers no longer require 20-25 percent tips and must let the public know that tipping is strictly voluntary and not required.

If the public were bact to the original formula of tipping a small voluntary amount to the servers, and if servers and other tipped employees where earning minimum wage plus their tips, tipping would not be overly expected like it currently is and many of the current problems associated with tipping would not exist. The key to straightening this mess out is, eliminate the tip credit and prohibit employer required tip pooling. These are the two business practices which are creating all the problems.

December 11 2010 at 1:44 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Kris Monhollen

I was a waitress for many years, and even today, the amount I tip is dependent upon the service. If the service is lousy, I leave a penny, face down. If the service is good, I will leave a good tip - up to 25%. I don't go into a restaurant to buy a chair, I go in to eat. Ashley, Ashley, sounds to me like you need some gratitude.

May 24 2010 at 5:05 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

if thats the best come back and advice you can come up with I would wager to say that you probably been a waitress for me in the past and I hurt your feelings for doing a sub par job. I have no ego problem I just know good service is rewarded and bad service is punished...its an educated answer.

March 28 2010 at 4:31 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I usually tip 20%. It's a standard for me. There was only one time that I didn't want to and the group I was with actually didn't want to leave a tip at all. Our waiter was rude and didn't come back to our table once after the food was served. In fact, he had our check in his hands when he asked if we wanted coffee. It wasn't crowded, he had maybe 5 other table, which he took care of BUT because we were a table of 4 women he decided we were not worth coming back to. Instead of no tip, I decided that I would not give him the last word. I knew if we left him nothing he would have itin his mind that he "was right not to waste his time on those women." So I left him 10% of the check and a note on the back of the check telling him and the management of the hotel that although I always leave at least a 20% tip, the service at the restaraunt didn't warrant it but I didn't want to stiff the young man that filled our water glasses all night long. I'm sure my message got across.

March 22 2010 at 3:53 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
costa piperakis

I tip for services rendered,but cant stand the tip jar on the coffe counters.but wheren i hang out at a verterns coffe house the people behind the counter are all part time(less than minimum)so i give what is left of my coffee money.

March 22 2010 at 3:26 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I've been accused many times of being a little too considerate, but during the years I learned to wait tables and work in kitchens I learned that waitstaff deserve tremendous respect and the best tip I can possibly give them. Typically, I prefer to tip at least 20%, with extra if the bill is split or if the waiter has been fantastic--I know it's covering someone's bills. However, occasionally I end up in a real muddle. When I get impressively poor service (which has been very rare), I still feel responsible to tip. How does one tip appropriately in this circumstance? I don't want to just leave a penny, but to tip well can look like an "A" grade when a "D" is deserved.

March 22 2010 at 1:54 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I always tip as much as I can, usually at least 15%. That system sucks though. The fact that some people have to rely on tipping is horrendous, it allows the fat cat pigs that own the business to screw them with below minimum wage. This should be illegal. Pay people at least the minimum wage and do away with tipping. Tipping is just legal begging.

March 21 2010 at 9:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Eddie Newton

I always tip at 20% or little more depending on service. Use to wait tables so I know what they go through and do.

March 20 2010 at 1:59 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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