Tipping has become almost a science these days. According to one study, informing customers of the exact dollar value of 15 percent and 20 percent of their bill actually encourages their generosity. According to another, people tip more if their waitresses stand closer, while another study found that squatting worked a charm. In one study last year, 50 percent more men tipped when their female server was wearing make-up, and if the waitress drew a smiley face on the back of the check, she hit the jackpot.
But the most surefire way to get a gracious gratuity is to serve someone who's been a server.
Even though most waiters and waitresses say that they receive the standard 15 to 20 percent, they give, on average, substantially more.
Bekkah Jerde, a waitress at Q Consumables in Omaha, Neb., says that she'll give a 30 to 35 percent tip when she goes out to eat.
"I understand what it's like," she said. "I'm not going to overtip the server if they didn't do a good job. But if you blow me away, I'm going to take care of you."
Noah Bush, a favorite mixologist at Doc's Wine & Food in Tulsa, Okla., says that he'll give 25 to 30 percent on average, and sometimes 100 percent -- if the server's a friend.
He also says that he's probably a little kinder to servers, given his own experience. "If they make a mistake, I definitely understand," he said.
Even though Robin Jewell, a waitress at the 306 Restaurant in Rochester, N.H., sometimes gets tips as low as 5 percent ("for some reason Fridays tend not to bring out the best in people," she said), she'll always hand over 25 to 30 percent.
"I know what it's like on the flip side," Jewell remarked. "I've been doing this for 30 plus years."
Apparently food servers don't just tip their fellow food servers higher, but anyone else who works in the service industry.
The owner of Capricio Salon & Spa in Milwaukee, Wis., claimed that waitresses tip more than middle-age moms with two kids.
"They appreciate it more. She lives off tips, so she really knows the value of that."
Waitstaff usually do live off their tips. According to the Fair Labor Standards Act, employers can consider tips a part of wages, so can shirk the $7.25 federal minimum wage. Restaurant managers are only required to pay their waitstaff a meager $2.13 an hour, although this varies somewhat by state.
It makes sense that people who understand the precious value of a good tip and the challenges of the service trade would pay forward the joys of a generous gratuity.
Things are different, however, if a tip pool is involved, a system in which servers all combine their tips, and then divide them equally, severing the traditional tie between individual good service and high reward, while reinforcing the team mentality of the entire waitstaff.
Eric, who waits tables at Wise Acre Eatery in Minneapolis and pools his tips, says that even he might tip less if he knew that his own server would be sharing his gratuity with the whole waitstaff.
Although many servers overtip their own servers, because they understand the stress and strain of the job, some don't think that anything higher than America's already steep 15 to 20 percent custom is necessary.
Sean Ross, a waiter at Drago's Seafood Restaurant in New Orleans, La., said that he gives an average of 18 to 20 percent, the same as he receives.
"I've always thought it was just common courtesy," he said.
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