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May 13, 2007

Heavier Tipping

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Last year I wrote about tip jars at Starbucks. Today I'm onto bigger game: restaurant tipping.

This post is being written near the Daytona Beach, Florida shore as we wend our way north from Florida's Gold Coast where tipping was, uh, different from what I'm used to, Seattle-based hick that I am.

It seems that restaurants here are starting to put suggested tip amounts on the bill.

I suppose this is old news to many of you, so go ahead and mouse through some links on one of Michael's ever-interesting Elsewhere posts while the rest of the readership gasps in astonishment at what I'm about to reveal.

It started at an Argentine steakhouse in Hialeah the evening we arrived in Florida. Near the bottom of the bill were three suggested tip amounts calculated from the sum of the prices of what we ordered. The first amount was based on a 15 percent tip, the second on 18 percent and the last was for [gasp!] 20 percent.

The following night in Key West the bill's suggested tip was 18 percent. But it was noted that one might pay whatever seemed appropriate.

Finally was the restaurant in Miami Beach (South Beach, actually) where the menu stated that an 18 percent tip would be assessed on the bill.

I don't know about you, but I hope these kinds of tipping policies don't spread nationwide.



posted by Donald at May 13, 2007


It's possible that Florida restaurants show suggested tip amounts because Florida gets a large number of foreign tourists. Many of the tourists, based on standard practices in their home countries, otherwise would think that prices already include service charges. Though on second thought, I've never seen tip suggestions on menus in New York, which also attracts many foreign tourists.

Posted by: Peter on May 13, 2007 6:04 PM

I don't mind the first two so much. But tacking on 18% smacks of a tourist trap to me. I'd never set foot in a place like that.

Am I totally cheap because my usual tip is 15%? If service is lousy, I do 10%, which is probably about 25% of the time.

For excellent service, which I only get maybe 10% of the time I go 20% or 25% if I have the money.

I guess I've become partial to take out, saving myself the surcharge.


Posted by: Holzbachian on May 13, 2007 6:37 PM

I seem to tip on auto-pilot anywhere from 13 percent to 20 percent. The more I think of it, the crazier it seems. Should waiters be making 30 to 60 bucks an hour at good places? Just for walking by my table a few times? Sometimes, it is a social conscience thing. Today, I skipped the trendy hipster places near my home for lunch and went to a burger/bar place. The total bill (with tax) was under 25; I tipped the girl 5 dollars. I was fine with that. At a recent dinner, I felt stupid after leaving 24 bucks for the bored hipster waiter.

I hope to disconnect my auto-pilot tipping and start giving these people what I think they deserve. I do believe, however, I will still have my charity chip intact which spurs me to give extra to someone who strikes me for some reason as a hardworker, or someone struggling, or some who has other heartstring pulling traits.

Posted by: sN on May 13, 2007 7:40 PM

I tip only for above and beyond. I do not tip for doing the job required. Then again up here service industry workers get at least minimum wage unlike many other locals. I can not stand the guilt trip of tipping. If it's not a livable wage then fight for one, not let employers off the hook with tipping. I will not go near a place that has a mandatory surcharge for tipping.

Posted by: T.W on May 13, 2007 10:34 PM

Out here in Eugene, Oregon, it seems like I've been handed quite a few of those bills with the tip percentages figured out. I thought they were meant to help customers who forgot their calculators or to help relieve the customer of tip anxiety. Just for the record, I'm kind of sappy when it comes to tipping and always leave more of a tip than a reasonable person would.

Posted by: raymond pert on May 13, 2007 11:51 PM

Should waiters be making 30 to 60 bucks an hour at good places?

Two points. One, often the waiters are expected to share their tips with the non-tipped staff, and for a high-end restaurant, there may be 3 such staff for every waiter (bus-boys, sommeliers, etc.)

Two, being a staff-member at a high-end restaurant is a high-skill job, permanent job. Is it wrong that if you are among the elite in your profession you earn enough to support a family reasonably well?

(My wife and I go to a high-end restaurant once every 1-2 years. It *is* a different experience, and to be honest, it's nice to be recognized by the staff, even if we make it there less than annually.)

Posted by: Tom West on May 14, 2007 5:49 AM

On a recent trip to Mohonk Lake, New York, I was told the whole hotel bill will include 15 % "gratuity"; that included 3 meals daily all usual hotel services. Spa treatments were at 18% rate - also pre-set. Still, every time my massage would end, the therapist was obviously waiting for...something?
Which I refused to understand.

Posted by: Tat on May 14, 2007 7:22 AM

I haven't seen that many bills where the tip is calculated for you, but I do think 15%-20% has become "standard"---not the 10% I remember my dad tipping when I was growing up.

I agree with Tatyana---the worst is in hotels, where a gratuity or service charge is already tacked on, and then on top of that there is an expectation of "more." A lot of people are business travellers and I think they let their expense accounts absorb it, which is how hotels started to get away with it. I do let it go by myself sometimes when travelling for business. But I do feel extorted.

Posted by: annette on May 14, 2007 9:24 AM

One of my favorite websites is

They've gone timid in recent times. They used to have a "shittytipper database" as well as a celebrity section (Jennifer Lopez was the all-time nastiest toward wait-people). And they had great "war stories" as well. It's all toned down now but still entertaining.

Posted by: Richard S. Wheeler on May 14, 2007 9:53 AM

As someone who is awful at math, I appreciate the suggested tips on the receipt. It doesn't mean you have to match it, so I don't know why anyone would get upset over it.

As for what waitstaff earn, I believe they are WAY down the line on people who make too much. In other words, they don't make too much. That 60 bucks an is on the very high end, and also, is not for 8 hours a day. Usually the 4 prime hours at dinner. And yeah, they almost always have to tip out, meaning share with the kitchen staff, which makes sense.

I tip 15-20% and never feel bad about.

Posted by: the patriarch on May 14, 2007 10:30 AM

I tend to tip 20% generally and work from there -- a little less for mediocre service, a little more for excellent. I could be wrong, but I get the impression this is common practice in NYC, at least Manhattan. I think I've only seen suggested tips on bills at ultra-high-end restaurants, but I go to so few (like Chris, maybe once or twice a year, at least ever since I changed jobs and no longer have an expense account) that I could be mis-remembering. I didn't realize that tipping practices varied much around the country, though I did know that people in some places tip more and people in others tip less. The people who make me laugh are the ones who eat cheap (for a few bucks at a diner, for instance) and then skimp on the tip.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on May 14, 2007 10:52 AM

Sounds like tourist inflation to me. Guests from countries where tipping does not occur or is included in the bill need to be reminded of the existance of an extra tip, and since they won't know that 15% is customary elsewhere, why not hit them up for more?

Posted by: Nanani on May 14, 2007 1:33 PM

I guess I'm a dinosaur, Having had as my first several jobs (starting at age 14) as a busboy than as a waiter, I expect the service to be stellar before I consider tipping. I used to break my bacjk as awaiter for tips and the only reason I made more than my coworker was that I worked harder than they did.

If the waiter is just showing up and offers NO value other than taking my order and bringing my food, 5%. If they're crappy, nothing, and if they're great up to 20% of the meal WITHOUT THE TAX.

Posted by: Matt on May 14, 2007 3:44 PM

What's the incentive to give good service if the tip is assessed on the bill?

Posted by: ricpic on May 14, 2007 4:55 PM

Mandatory tips will simply drive business away. Diners who take good service seriously will not stand for it.

Posted by: Bob Grier on May 15, 2007 12:14 PM

*ricpic: exactly. In the hotel I talked about above, I happened to return to my room between the outdoor hikes, to change, and found a maid cleaning the bath tub. Not only she didn't exited the room immediately, she made me wait outside till she finished!
I wouldn't tip her at all if the desk wouldn't add 15% to my entire bill automatically.

Posted by: Tatyana on May 15, 2007 12:18 PM

Wow, some stingy pricks read this blog.

Posted by: Evan on May 15, 2007 1:07 PM

I remember James Fallows writing about tipping and non-tipping cultures in the Atlantic many years ago. His claim (based on his travels in East Asia) was that non-tipping cultures usually provided better service than tipping cultures.

Posted by: Intellectual Pariah on May 15, 2007 2:13 PM

I start out with a 20% base tip, based on the total bill before taxes. Of course, this is at places where the gratuity isn's already tacked on (Not sure who already wrote about this, but I agree with the point made that a pre-set rate is counter-intuitive for great service). Then, depending on the service and the attitude of the wait staff, the base changes up or down. A friend of mine starts his meal off with this little speech. It seems to work most times.

"Hi, (insert waitress/Waiter's name here). I came to this restaurant because I love the food. You, however, are the one who will make this meal memorable. I promise to leave you a 25% tip on the entire bill if you leave me(us) with happy memories. If the memories are not pleasant, I will be speaking to the restaurant's owner and discuss the tip with him/her."

Direct and cruel? I don't think so. Eating out is a business transaction; it's good to set your side of the proposal out at the very beginning.

Any thoughts on this?

Also, if a restaurant has a preset gratuity policy for parties of 4 or less, I tend to do an abrupt tuen and head back out the door.
As far as the pre-calculated 15%-18%-20% tips on the bill goes, I see no problem with that at all. If the individual plates ordered have prices, why not provide a service to the customer with three tip suggestions. After all, they are simply suggestions and IMHO folks' elementary math skills, especially math, are atrocious. Why should an excellent waitperson's tip be shorted due to the weak math skills of a diner?

Posted by: DarkoV on May 15, 2007 3:26 PM

Any thoughts on this?

Yes, I have. For example:

(1) Is this guy borderline autistic?

(2) Having a member of my dining party make that speech would absolutely kill my ability to have a happy memory, and even hearing it from the guy at the next table would imperil my happiness somewhat.

(3) What kind of classlessly blunt stuff does he do around you, his friend? Does he show up at a party and say: "I want to let you know beforehand that, although I expect to enjoy the company of those present, my enjoyment will not be enough to overcome listening to New Country. If you could keep this in mind while selecting CDs, I think you will find that I am otherwise flexible in my tastes, a neat eater and a decent dancer."

(4) Is he really unaware that at least a couple of times he's caught someone with the wrong combination of mood and personality type, and ended up with, um, doctored food?

Posted by: J. Goard on May 15, 2007 8:57 PM

Mr. J. Goard,
I'm not a licensed physician so I can't provide you any input on your first point.
I've only gone to a few restaurants with this guy and did feel, as you suggested, somewhat uncomfortable with his proclamation the first time through. However, the end results justified the means, as the meals and the experiences were quite excellent. At one place, the waiter actually voiced his appreciation to him, saying something to the effect that he knows the reward will be there if he did his usual great job.

As to point# 3, I can understand where you came up with this behavioral tangent. I can only say that he's mainly sane at any gatherings of the non-restaurant type that I've been with him.

Point #4 has never happened to him, well, at least not that he's let on to me.

Now, I've never carried out his restaurant methodology, but it was tempting to think of, especially when the service leaves much to be desired. And there are certainly certain places that one should never think of doing this; even my friend acknowledges that.

Posted by: DarkoV on May 16, 2007 12:11 PM

Some (admittedly less than scientifically rigorous) studies have suggested that friendly, helpful, wait staff get lower tips than curt but competent ones. The underlying mechanism seems to be the latter is pointing out that they are, in fact, not having a good time, but are working and that tips are part of their compensation. Perhaps the answer is to pay the wait staff a living wage and do away with tips. Of course, that means the prices at a good restaurant would go up. The question becomes; would a $40 tab plus tip ($47.50 - $50 total) become $47.50, $50, or $55 or ...?

Posted by: Chris White on May 18, 2007 3:16 PM

I waited tables in college and few waiters are getting rich in this occupation. The variation in tipping practice has much to do with the cost of living in a particular location. In places like Key West and Miami Beach few service employees can even afford to live in those communities.

Posted by: mr. closets on May 19, 2007 11:24 AM

Since all of the incidents referred to occured in So. Florida let me agree with the commentor who pointed out that So Fla. has a large number of foreign visitors who have a tendency to play dumb about tipping in the US despite the fact that their tourist guide books invariably explain American tipping (and the fact that it is a large part of the waiters income). Additionally, it should be remembered that a lot of Canadians vacation in Fla and they never seem to tip for anything. It hasn't been that long ago that I remember seeing signs outside of motels on US 1 suggesting that Canadians pass this place by, presumably because the owners were tired of hearing their staff complain.

Posted by: Michael Slater on May 20, 2007 12:41 AM

Waiters/waitresses deserve the tips they get. They do more than just walk by the table a few times and get soda refills. They have to be able to deal with every type of customer you can think of and that alone is very stressful. Not only that, they have to take care of 3+ tables at the same time-usually. A person has to work at a very fast pace to be able to keep up serving 3+ tables at a time. Serving is all about timing and if a person's timing get's messed up that's when people get bad service. Usually (I've worked in 5 corporate restaurants) the standard is getting drinks out in 2 min, apps out in 8, entrees out in 15-20 and desserts 5 min.
Yes it is very easy to wait on one table at a time, but when you have to do all of that stuff together with multiple tables, you have to be able to multi-task. One table might want their check they're ready to go, your other table's food is ready to go out to them, and you have to bring drinks out to another one of your tables.
You also have to remember, just because they lucked out and got a good table one night and made a $60 tip for that hour, they don't get tables like that all the time. Sometimes they don't get any table in the beginning or ending hour and they just get their base pay rate which is generally lower than minimum wage. Generally as a server in Iowa, I would have some nights where I would walk away with $150-$200. Then there were those nights where I made like $15. Averaging it all out I made about $10 an hour in tips and $3.09 an hour in wages. My paychecks after taxes for two weeks were around $50-$100 because they take out taxes off the tips I collected during that pay period.
Waiters-waitresses work hard for their $$ and deserve 15-20%. Just cuz they got a $30 tip from you when you were there, doesn't mean they're making that on every table.

Eric Riedesel
Restaraunt Manager

Posted by: Eric Riedesel on May 23, 2007 6:09 PM

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