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Burnett's Urban Etiquette

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

To tip or not to tip - that is still the question

So not so long ago I wrote this post about an article we ran in the Miami Herald about more and more restaurants turning to mandatory tip policies.

I hate those policies. I understand why some places call for them: cheapskates who don't tip or tip too little. But I hate those policies 'cause of that waiter or waitress who does nothing and gives attitude while doing it, all 'cause they know they're getting tipped regardless.

So I thought it was pretty cool when we ate lunch on Hollywood Beach the other day at a sidewalk cafe - sorry, can't remember the name - and when the waitress brought our check it offered options. It basically said under the tab that if we tipped 15% it would amount to such and such dollars, if we tipped 18% it would come to so and so dollars, and if we tipped 20% it would come to yada yada dollars.

That was a very savvy compromise on their part. It wasn't forcing a mandatory tip on us, but it was dropping a gentle hint to us that we had tipping options. And they even did the math on the three options they offered. We ended up going with 15% 'cause in this case the waitress didn't have a whole lot to do for us. Still, if we go back to that place I may opt for the higher tip just 'cause they saved me time by doing the math on different tip amounts.

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  • Cool idea. If nothing else, it should serve to even out the tipping thing in that it takes the guesswork out of the equation. However, some servers may lose out a little from those tippers who intentionally leave 20% because 15% is just too difficult to do in one's head.

    By Anonymous The Sarcasticynic, at 7:04 PM  

  • i like the euro tipping method. but ive noticed a scam around here. some joints will add the tip automatically, euro style. but then not notify the customer, who may not notice and proceed to tip on top of the amt added. ive almost been burned on several occasions, a few on lincoln road. either these joints figure everyone is euro - not a bad assumption, really - or they are out to screw the dumb yankees...its possible.

    By Anonymous dreaming, at 7:33 PM  

  • Yeah, I like it when restaurants give tipping options too. It saves time when eating out with friends and everyone forgot to ask for separate checks so the anal retentive one in the group then has to get out her calculator to not only calculate everyone's share of the tab but their exact tip amounts too while we all sit there rolling our eyes. Anything that reduces my torture in that situation, even by 3 seconds, I am all for.

    By Blogger GrizzBabe, at 8:17 PM  

  • More places should do that.

    By the by, do you calculate your percent tip on the price before tax... or after?

    By Blogger thirdworstpoetinthegalaxy, at 8:46 PM  

  • I'm not gonna recount my Vegas tip story here, but the tip should reflect your level of perceived hospitality and not just the service received.

    Sometimes restaurant service is very efficient and attentive, but still mechanical and impersonal. That gets 12-19% tops. Less than 11% is not as much a tip as it is a message. Sushi service should tip 5-11% depending on freshness and style of chef. Buffet gets a buck per diner unless you clean more than 3 plates or make a Devil's Tower.

    The restaurant experience that approximates a visit to a staffed English country estate complete with anticipatory towels and ice gets 20-30% depending on season and dining frequency.

    Here's a tip for waitpeople--act like a professional. Treat the restaurant you work in as you would your home kitchen and care as much about the output. Don't serve people food that looks bad and make the chef get it right before you put a plate down in front of somebody. Remember regulars by name and drink. Know the menu cold. And fer chrissakes, if you can't remember an order, write it down.

    By Anonymous Big Daddy, at 9:42 PM  

  • As someone who has worked as a server/bartender for the last 16 years or so I found this whole discussion quite interesting to say the least. How to tip, is a question/argument/discussion that will A)never EVER end and B) there is no perfect answer to. I am no longer serving or bartending but my 2 cents is as follows:

    I for one would be against a mandatory tip. It is just another case IMO of giving in to the lowest common denominator. The GOOD servers out there would probably lose money on the deal while the slackers(there ARE PLENTY) would gain. I agree with what one of the commentors somewhere in there said. Focus on the REAL problem which is the unfair wage period end of story. That said, as someone else pointed out. THIS is the system that is in place now. Until it changes(and I think it should for the record), if you don't LIKE working for tips and having to depend on the whims of others to make a living do something about it. STAY your arse in school and get a degree in engineering, nursing or whatever floats your boat. I know there were times that I despised serving for all the reasons you hear about so often..... cheap customers, rude customers etc; but let's face it. EYE chose that path and had to live with my choices. The funniest thing about the whole situation is listening to servers complain constantly about people that tip as little as they can get away with. Watch the end of the night when it comes time for those servers to tip out a busboy for instance, and you will see 98% of them do what? tip as LITTLE as they can get away with tipping.


    By Blogger briliantdonkey, at 12:39 AM  

  • Hi, JB:
    "Tipping" is not the name of a province in China, I say! Having worked in a hotel restaurant in Hawaii on Waikiki beach, where tourists from all over the world visit, I found IN GENERAL:
    Germans/Swiss/Austrians are demanding but fair
    Australians come in way low
    Japanese try to tip well, but back home they don't normally do so, so they must consciously try
    Chinese-they don't tip well (but Hong Kong folks tip GREAT
    Candians--ten or less percent

    By Blogger Heidi on Vashon, at 1:16 AM  

  • I have such mixed feelings about tipping, mostly because I realize how underpaid these waitresses and waiters tend to be and how the majority of them bust their butts.

    I am usually a generous tipper. The only time I am not is if the waiter or waitress do something truly outrageous. I try not to blame the server for a slow kitchen or things of that nature.

    Still, tipping cards are cool reminders of how to gauge what a tip should be. As for mandatory tipping, I'm with you there too. I understand its necessary in some instances, but it just feels wrong. I like giving my money directly to the server.

    By Blogger Stewart Sternberg, at 2:14 AM  

  • 20% tips? They must have been really professional to earn that one!

    In eating places over here, says my husband who knows about such things, all tips are supposed to be put into a general pot & then shared out at the end of the day, & declared for tax purposes! But that's the UK for you!

    & Heidi on vashon, maybe the Canadians tipped less cos they, being naturally polite people, don't realise what an effort it can be for other nationalities! ;)

    By Anonymous bronchitikat, at 7:38 AM  

  • I always overtip. Always. Mom was a housekeeper for so many years and I have a soft spot for those in the service industry.

    By Blogger Fairmaiden327, at 9:26 AM  

  • A someone who has spent a fair amount of time filling out expense accounts, I got in the habit, years ago, of calculating approximately 15% and rounding up to the nearest dollar. Makes filling out expense reports a ton easier.

    By Anonymous og, at 9:31 AM  

  • And, bigdaddy, if you're tipping a Sushi chef 11%, i hope you never go back to the same place twice. My rule of thumb (for the five sushi chefs that all know me very well) is 20%, and I ALWAYS get the best and freshest fish, and always done with an extraordianry flair. Can't fool around with Sushi.

    By Anonymous og, at 9:35 AM  

  • being a waitress is one of these more painstaking jobs i have ever had. i know for a fact those people work their asses off.

    well... most of them.

    forcing tips is wrong and stupid and just half assed. i say we light their restaurants on fire.

    and was that suggestion thing pre printed or written? im curious because thats pretty damned smart.

    By Blogger Yasamin, at 11:08 AM  

  • sorry. my brain has been in GODFATHER MAD MAX mode all freaking week.

    By Blogger Yasamin, at 11:09 AM  

  • One restaurant I went to on Miami Beach is also calculating percentages on the bottom of the check. I wish it were more widespread.

    I went to dinner with a friend not long ago on Lincoln Road (Spris) and he paid with his card. There wasn't an option to change the tip on the signing slip, even if he would've wanted to leave more (which he usually does and plus, the service was actually good). So the waiter got screwed out of additional tip by the restaurant's card processing system!

    By Blogger Manola Blablablanik, at 11:24 AM  

  • I always leave 20 percent because I know all to well what it's like not to be able to make ends meet. I've also seen plenty of waitresses get stiffed by very demanding people (I don't pay any attention to waiters so I wouldn't know or care what happens to them).

    If I continue on any further with my rant, I'll start to sound like a bleeding heart liberal, and we don't want any of that, do we?

    By Blogger captain corky, at 11:57 AM  

  • tipping debates like this are always ridiculous. inevitably, the former waiters etc chime in about the necessity of helping to pay these people. but really, anyone making min wage is in the same boat. do you tip at barnes and noble, mcdonalds, burger king, starbucks, publix, the gas station? no one working there is getting rich. why not give the gas clerk 20 percent of your nxt $35 fill-up?
    in the real world, no one is owed anything, and we all choose whether and where to work or not. why should waiters be subsidized, but the mailman not? why dont we tip james burnett? he's not getting rich either. let's send him 15 percent every time he makes a blog post....anyone?

    By Anonymous dreaming, at 12:11 PM  

  • Sarc, I agree. The coolest thing about this set-up to me was I didn't have to do the math.

    Dreaming, it's probably a little of both.

    Grizz, we'll mark your vote in the affirmative.

    ThirdWorst, I calculate tip after tax. Good question though. Now that I think about it, why should the restaurant make extra off of my tax? Maybe I'll start calculating pre-tax.

    BD, good advice. But I'm gonna skip ahead a little and agree with Og: if you're only tipping like 11% at a Sushi bar you'd better not eat there twice.

    Briliant, the scenario you describe really is funny. Human nature: none of us really believes in "what's good for the goose..."

    Hey Heidi, that's interesting feedback from around the globe. I'm gonna have to start paying closer attention. I have several Canadian neighbors who spend winters in South Florida. No doubt I'll bump into 'em at some point at a 'hood eatery. I'll be watching their tipping habits now, out of curiosity.

    Stewart I have a hard time discerning when a server with 'tude is that way 'cause they're being a brat or 'cause they're just having a rough night or if the kitchen's slow and making them look bad. I've actually asked before if the kitchen was slow or if they were just having a bad night. If they answered yes to either then I went ahead and gave a decent tip. But if they were jerks just for the sake of it, then I gave my minimum - around 15%.

    BK, when I bagged groceries as a kid we put the tips in a community pot and split them at the end of the day.

    Fairmaiden, I believe in karma, so generally I'm with you. I'll go a little over to be safe, unless the server's a jerk and hardly ever around. I got that from my dad. My mom always tips minimum.

    Og, rounding up is reasonable. And, like I said above, I agree with you on the warning to BD. An 11% tip at a sushi bar has got to be a sure way to catch salmonella.

    Yas, the tip suggestions were printed at the bottom of the receipt and apparently calculated based on the total (tax included) of our check.

    MB, that is strange. Most of the time, even those places that force the tip leave a line to add more. Their loss.

    Captain, you're gonna make us all weepy. Kidding. Your generosity is admirable.

    Dreaming, you are my new favorite person, whoever you are. I agree. Send me tips. Paper money only. Paper money featuring only certain presidents. And none of that big face stuff. I want old money. And if you're tipping by the post I'll be doing a dozen a day from now on.

    By Blogger James Burnett, at 1:23 PM  

  • James Burnett, do you take checks?

    As a former bartendress, among many other non-tipping jobs, I do tend to over tip regardless of the quality of service.

    I guess I always remember what it's like to be on your feet for 8 to 12 hours and carry heavy trays.

    Is it logical? No, but I believe whole-heartedly in karma. I think the tipping suggestions are a good idea, too.

    By Anonymous 123Valerie, at 2:48 PM  

  • I spent years waiting tables and I think a mandatory tipping policy is pretty bogus. If you want a larger tip, working your butt off increases your chances tenfold. Even so, some people won't tip regardless of how hard you work. That's the peril of the industry. Don't like it? Find a new job.

    That being said... when I was cocktailing in college I had a regular customer with whom I had developed a friendly rapport. During the Christmas season one year he left me a tip in the amount of one month's rent. Yippee!

    By Blogger QofD, at 3:51 PM  

  • 123Valerie, I take cash, checks, and money orders. No credit cards.
    Too hard to process.

    Queen, that's a good tip - one month's rent? Makes me wanna work the tables.

    By Blogger James Burnett, at 6:16 PM  

  • And what the hell is so difficult about tipping 15%? I'm nearly a retard and I can figure that in my head. If the bill is $36.82, ten percent of that is $3.68 and half of $3.68 is $1.84, so 3.68 + 1.84 = $5.48, 5.48+36.82=$42.30, and I always round up to $43. WHo can't do that in their head?

    By Anonymous og, at 7:20 PM  

  • I usually tip pretty well, but hate the idea that it's expected of me. And the new thing where they put a tip jar at the checkout so you can tip the cashier... What the hell do I need to tip the cashier for? All so the boss doesn't have to raise the price of the food, or take home a few grand less himself, and pay their people a living wage. Next we'll be tipping the Wal Mart greeters as we leave. Wake Up People, it's called pan handling!

    By Blogger Fathairybastard, at 8:31 PM  

  • i always tip 20% for dinner unless service was less than acceptable. breakfast & lunch 15%. i waitressed for a short spell and it was hard work!!

    By Blogger acaligurl, at 11:16 PM  

  • Okay James, that was pretty pathetic signing on as "dreaming said" and then suggesting everyone tip James B.

    I admire the smarminess, but I think you could have used more finesse. The comment should have read: "Hell, why not just tip James Burnett. The poor man can't afford his mortgage, his family is breaking up over money problems...and you people worry about a bunch of waitresses who don't really care??? Well BURNETT CARES...and all he gets for his worry are a bunch of stupid comments about what percentage to tip???!!!!"

    You see James? It's all about the pathos and the rhythm. Also, instead of calling yourself dreaming said, I would choose a genderly confused name like: "Francis Speaking", or "Kim from San Francisco." Keep them guessing. Give them the razzle dazzle.

    By Blogger Stewart Sternberg, at 12:48 AM  

  • I have mixed feelings about this since I've worked in restaurants a lot! I can understand a restaurant adding the tip because of people that come from countries where their servers actually get paid a decent wage and don't understand or believe that servers here don't have the same. But, it should clearly be stated. I've been at restaurants that have added the tip and you have to really look for it. And they routinely add 18%, not 15%. If the service was lousy, you have absolutely no recourse. That bites.

    By Blogger Claudia, at 8:41 AM  

  • Oops. I'm not sure if my last comment took. But I was saying that it's always nice when I find the credit card slip already has the numbers calculated out for us. I use numbers for a living, but it's still a pain in the neck having to calculate it for myself.

    Some great comments on this issue, particularly BrilliantDonkey.

    See you at the roll call today!

    By Blogger The Dummy, at 11:24 AM  

  • Tipping cards don't always work, particularly when you have an international crowd. They assume tip is included, as it is in many of their countries.

    I'm not sure - calculating 15% never seemed that hard to me, but I generally tip 20% unless the service is really bad.

    I waited tables before, and I think it's hard for people to understand how difficult the work is unless they've done it. It sucks to work your buns off for a poor tip!

    By Blogger bc, at 12:49 PM  

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