I don't get it
June 20, 2006 4:46 PM   Subscribe

I was recently in London, and was really happy to be paying only 12% in tips. And then I began to wonder...

Why do tipping rates keep rising? My customary is 20% here in the states. And that's because I used to be a waitress. But, then I thought, why do we need to tip more than 10%? Why has it risen? The price of food has risen according to all other goods and services and the rate of inflation. I mean, a good meal for 6 bucks at a sit down restaurant in 1970 is virtually non-existent. Even some fast food restaurants are hard to get out of for less than $6 a person. So, shouldn't it always be 10%? The increase in the income from a tip comes from the increase in the price of the meal. The more I thought about this, the angrier I got, because when does it stop? Will we be paying 30%, 40%, 50% in tips? This seems ridiculous and greedy to me. I mean, I've had an agent for 15 years and he still only takes 10%. My income has risen, and so, his 10% nets him more income as well. It seems like we have just accepted this continual rise in the percentage a tip should be and I'm wondering why? Am I missing something here?
posted by joaniemcchicken to Society & Culture (76 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Am I missing something here?

Being an Aussie, I'm probably unqualified to comment upon tipping, but how are real wages doing for waitstaff in the US? I'd always presumed that US tipping customs were the result of low wages in the sector.
posted by pompomtom at 4:52 PM on June 20, 2006


joaniemcchicken "It seems like we have just accepted this continual rise in the percentage a tip should be and I'm wondering why?"

I don't know why it's risen, but regarding why you accept the rise, I would suspect for the same reason that you have accepted the concept of tipping itself: societal pressure. Tipping is not a universal behaviour performed in all cultures.
posted by Bugbread at 4:53 PM on June 20, 2006


I wonder the same thing, and am told "don't be so cheap" when I want to tip roughly 15 percent at a low-key restaurant. All of the sudden the norm here is 20 percent... did service really get 33 percent better?

I don't have a good answer, except to say, all tips are voluntary...
posted by sdrawkcab at 4:54 PM on June 20, 2006


I don't have a good answer, except to say, all tips are voluntary...

If waiters/waitresses were paid minimum wage or higher, I'd agree. But because they aren't, your statement is completely untrue and downright criminal in some circumstances. (Not you, personally, but people in general who subscribe to that philosophy of tipping being voluntary)
posted by SeizeTheDay at 5:02 PM on June 20, 2006


As pompomtom mentioned, different places have different minimum wages for bartending / serving staff. Here in Manitoba, they make the same minimum wage or higher as anyone else.

In some states (New York), they only get paid a few dollars an hour and rely on tips to make the rest.

According to the linked pdf, the regular minimum wage for restaurant employees is $6.75 but only $2.40 for serving staff.

In my experience, the people who tip higher all the time, tend to be from the states where the minimum wage is really low for serving staff. This is purely anecdotal, of course. Maybe some mefites from around the US can comment?
posted by utsutsu at 5:10 PM on June 20, 2006


The whole point of tipping is that it's voluntary. If it wasn't supposed to be voluntary it'd be called a wage.
Don't hate the player, hate the game.

That said, I usually tip %15 + $1.
posted by Richard Daly at 5:11 PM on June 20, 2006


your statement is completely untrue and downright criminal in some circumstances.

Assuming, of course, alternate-universe meanings of the words "voluntary" and "criminal." (or is there a place where it's a criminal offense not to tip?)

Why do tipping rates keep rising? Because customers are getting used to paying more for everything, and the disparity between the relatively rich, who can afford to eat at a sit-down restaurant, and the relatively poor, who cannot, is growing.

But, then I thought, why do we need to tip more than 10%? We don't really need to in any strict sense.

So, shouldn't it always be 10%?
I always thought it was 15%

when does it stop? Pretty soon, I suspect. As gas gets more expensive, most of us will pinch pennies a bit more.

Am I missing something here? I think the only thing you're missing is that by tipping at a standard 20%, you're part of the problem.
posted by JekPorkins at 5:12 PM on June 20, 2006


Um, because waiters and waitresses are paid minimum waiting wage ($3/hour in Maryland, less in other states), a minimum wage that has not risen in accordance with inflation. Therefore they must rely on tips and the goodwill of non-asshole customers who take into account their precarious position to make up the difference.

You don't want to tip 50% waaay in the future? Then demand that the minimum wage be raised to a living wage, or ask that service staff be paid normally like everyone else so tipping really is based on good service and not on the unspoken plea from the waiter that you help him pay for his own meals.
posted by schroedinger at 5:12 PM on June 20, 2006


Why do restaurants get away with ridiculous wages for wait staff?

Because customers are guilt-tripped into tipping more, that's why.

Tip inflation is part of the problem, not part of the solution.
posted by unSane at 5:12 PM on June 20, 2006


Er, make that 15% + $1. And I live in CT, where, as far as I know, waitstaff is exempt from most of minimum wage.
posted by Richard Daly at 5:12 PM on June 20, 2006


Some stats on tipping. 28% of people tip under 10%.

Why is there inflation in tipping? Perhaps because when people discuss how much they tip, they lie. If you're cheap and tip 10%, you probably don't tell people that. So the perception of the average is higher than the reality, and it affects future behavior by some. Repeat for 50 years, and you get a few percent increase.
posted by smackfu at 5:14 PM on June 20, 2006


I forgot to say, I usually tip around 15%. I add up the provincial and federal tax, 14%, and round up. I add on a few dollars if the service was outstanding and I round down a few if it sucked.
posted by utsutsu at 5:15 PM on June 20, 2006


Oh, and please read some of the previous threads for information on why tipping is so necessary--though I'm guessing you're familiar with most of the arguments having worked as a server yourself.
posted by schroedinger at 5:15 PM on June 20, 2006


Incidentally, I have a guidebook here for London from 2000 that says to not tip more than 10% for a sit-down meal. Inflation everywhere!
posted by smackfu at 5:17 PM on June 20, 2006


Why do restaurants get away with ridiculous wages for wait staff?

Because customers are guilt-tripped into tipping more, that's why.

Tip inflation is part of the problem, not part of the solution.


Jesus! Do you really think that? That's like saying if we took away food stamps and other welfare benefits factories would pay their workers more!

You change minimum wage, you change the amount you'll have to tip. Restaurants are like any company--they'll pay their staff the least they have to. You change the laws, they'll pay more. And please, let's not get into the argument that the server should just get a better job. Some people don't have any other options except the crappily-paying one.
posted by schroedinger at 5:18 PM on June 20, 2006


For many, many reasons.

1: While the cost of just about everything (food, as you mention, and rent and utilities etc.) has risen about the same, the minimum wage has not risen as quickly. As such waitrons, who get paid below minimum wage, need to make more in tips as a percentage of their income in order to maintain a living wage.

2: Again, as the lower end of incomes has not risen as quickly as the cost of living, "tipping out" - paying a percentage of one's tips to busboys, runners, barbacks, cooks, dishwashers, hostesses, and other sundry staff - is increasingly common, as they all need to make more in tips as a percentage of their income in order to maintain a living wage.

3: As the American economy has dramatically re-organized itself from an industrial to a service economy, the percentage of people who rely on tips for income has increased. There are many families, particularly among immigrants, where the whole family relies on tips to eat, in one form or another. Where once factory workers could be pretty well assured of a paycheck at the end of the week, now their 00's analogues in the service economy are beholden to the vicisitudes of curmudgeonly misers like most MeFites appear to be in order to feed themselves. Tipping a bit extra is expected now, therefore, as slow spells, closings, firings, going days and weeks and months without making a dime is much more common.

The price those in the upper income brackets pay for giving themselves massive tax breaks and eliminating many social welfare programs is that when they are forced to pay the poor now, it tends to be a bit more than it was. Think of it this way: either that tip comes out of your taxes in the form of Medicare, Medicaid, Section 8 housing assistance, food stamps, welfare, etc, or it comes out of your wallet in the form of a tip. This decision has been made for you, now just accept reality and deal with it.

Sure, some waiters make a fuckton of money. That 30-something mother of three at the "low key" dining establishment whom you are so indignant at having to fork over $6 instead of $5 to is not one of them, friend. If your budget really only allows for generous tipping in one type of establishment, do it in the Applebee's, not the Balthazar's.

4: Its just the right thing to do. Tip your fucking waiter. If you can't afford a decent tip, then don't eat out.

(P.S. As I'm sure you're aware, you have no right to bitch about tipping until you have worked in a resturaunt. The fact that you apparently have is the only reason you deserve and, I hope got, a serious answer.)
posted by ChasFile at 5:20 PM on June 20, 2006 [1 favorite]


You change minimum wage, you change the amount you'll have to tip

But this isn't really the case. A lot of people have no idea that waitstaff make less than minimum wage. And I really doubt that changing the law so the waitstaff make minimum wage, like they do in some places, decreases the tipping rate back to 10%.
posted by smackfu at 5:24 PM on June 20, 2006


I like the answer chasfile gave.
posted by stavx at 5:25 PM on June 20, 2006


I'm in CA, where I believe servers are paid less than minimum wage. On Sunday, my sister and I took my daddy to dinner. We got lousy service, definitely not deserving of a good tip. So, I "stiffed" her by leaving 10%. I generally leave between 15%-20%. I agree that it's silly that tip percentage keeps rising along with the cost of food.
posted by clh at 5:26 PM on June 20, 2006


My point about tipping out is that since even those who make minimum wage in a resturaunt - cooks, bussers, etc. - are finding the cost of living increase faster than their wages, increasingly portions of tips go to them. I've worked in resturaunts where waitrons keep less than 50% of their tips (this was hippy-dippy Ithaca, NY, but still). So that 20% you're tipping really only works out sometimes to 10-12% that's actually going to the server.

And with that I'm done, as these threads always end well.
posted by ChasFile at 5:28 PM on June 20, 2006


I agree that it's silly that tip percentage keeps rising along with the cost of food.

But cost of living is rising for everyone, including those who are paid the least (waitstaff). And when the cost of living rises, those who are hurt the most are those who get paid the least. Simple economics here. Same reason why a flat tax is regressive.
posted by SeizeTheDay at 5:30 PM on June 20, 2006


If you can't afford a decent tip, then don't eat out.

But what is a "decent tip?" The relative decency of a tip can't be calculated as a percentage of the bill -- it would have to be calculated based on the cost of living in the city where the waiter lives, the amount of time that the party occupied one of the waiter's tables, and the amount of work that was necessary in order to wait on that table. In order for it to be really a "fair" or "decent" tip, it would have to have no relationship at all to the amount that the meal itself cost, right? I mean, if the meal took 10 minutes and the bill was $1200, a 10% tip would be more than decent, while a 50% tip on a $6 bill where the table was occupied for 2 hours and the diners kept asking for more chips, dip, and drink refills, is certainly not decent.

The percentage method for calculating a waiter's tip is inherently flawed, and cannot lead to "decent" tipping regardless of the percentage used.
posted by JekPorkins at 5:31 PM on June 20, 2006


The more interesting question is how exactly the societal tip percentage increases. I wonder if it can be traced to a single influential article or something.
posted by smackfu at 5:31 PM on June 20, 2006


But cost of living is rising for everyone...

Yes, and because I am paying more for my dinner, I am also tipping more even at 10% or 15%. I am not a rich person. Plenty of servers probably make more money than I do. Why is it my responsibility to raise my servers' standard of living just because I choose spend some of my piddly but hard-earned wages on a dinner out?
posted by clh at 5:42 PM on June 20, 2006


There's a definite rise in the occurence of tipping in Australia, it's now getting towards customary across most of the restaurant sector, while it used to be something that you would do only in the priciest restaurants or for exceptional service.

There are a couple of reasons possible for this:
i) my anecdotal experience isn't valid - I earn a lot more and eat much further upscale these days
ii) people feel more affluent and can afford it
iii) some other mysterious social trend is driving this.
posted by wilful at 5:43 PM on June 20, 2006


Plenty of servers probably make more money than I do.

Ok, fine, new rule: if you make less than $14,000 a year you are allowed to leave a shitty tip.
posted by ChasFile at 5:57 PM on June 20, 2006


ChasFile: Is that $14,000 figure before or after tips? The "Salary" label suggests that it's before.
posted by aneel at 6:06 PM on June 20, 2006


Ok, fine, new rule: if you make less than $14,000 a year you are allowed to leave a shitty tip.

Well, that sounds like a good cutoff to me, but I don't think you can claim much accuracy for those statistics — I'm not sure what PayScale bases its salary info on, but whether it's tax records, employer payroll records, or employee self-reporting, I think it's a pretty good guess that cash tips are being underreported.

And if you look at the breakdown by employer, the average for non-franchise waitstaff is significantly higher (though these statistics, unlike the first set, seem to be based on a ridiculously small sample size).
posted by IshmaelGraves at 6:07 PM on June 20, 2006


Why is it my responsibility to raise my servers' standard of living

Because the government isn't doing it for them. Again, see the minimum wage exemption for waitstaff as a reason for why tipping is necessary.
posted by SeizeTheDay at 6:09 PM on June 20, 2006


You tip 15-20% because you're an asshole if you don't. Notice bartending tipping doesn't get mentioned here. Everybody knows you have to tip the bartender 'cause otherwise you don't get drunk, but they rely on the tips as much as waiters do. The difference is that they have more control over their situation. Everyone is clamoring to get served by the bartender, so he or she can decide who to serve. A waiter has to serve whatever jag-off gets plopped in their section. So, if you don't tip properly you are, basically, stealing from your server by taking up real-estate that could be used to actually generate income for them. How would you like it if someone came to your work and had you do projects for them, and paid you less than your normal wage for the trouble? And the percentage is going up because, like has been mentioned, the high cost of living bites the poor in the ass harder. The trick there is to get the minimum wage increased so that tip percentages don't have to pick up the slack. That's the only non-callous solution I can think of.
posted by Doublewhiskeycokenoice at 6:10 PM on June 20, 2006


ChasFile, the numbers cited on that website don't make sense: It says that the median for New York State is $14,650, but that the median for New York City is $37,500. Furthermore, it doesn't indicate whether or not tips are included in the (inconsistent) numbers.
posted by JekPorkins at 6:10 PM on June 20, 2006


ChasFile, the numbers cited on that website don't make sense: It says that the median for New York State is $14,650, but that the median for New York City is $37,500.

What's inconsistent about that?
posted by IshmaelGraves at 6:12 PM on June 20, 2006


I frigging love living in a country where you do not tip, and the service is beyond fantastic.
posted by lundman at 6:21 PM on June 20, 2006


As I'm sure you're aware, you have no right to bitch about tipping until you have worked in a resturaunt.

What a silly response.

Anyway, I've always heard that it's supposed to be 15% for acceptable service, and 20%+ for great service. The waitstaff at a restaurant has an income that is instantly increased when the restaurant's prices go up. Most people don't get that in their jobs.

The purported increase in acceptable tip amounts (it hasn't changed, really, because percentages adjust nicely with inflation), along with the tip jars in non-sit-down places where the staff is paid minimum wage or more, is just a grab for more money. I tip generously—the guide I go by hasn't changed, and neither has the fact that it's acceptable.
posted by oaf at 6:23 PM on June 20, 2006


Chasfile, I'll assume the nasty tone is aimed at non-tippers in general, and not at me. As I clearly stated I tip 20%, I waitressed. I was asking a question to see if others had these thoughts, and to get reasonable discussion about the pros/cons. You make some good points. But NOT EATING OUT is not really a fair argument. Tipping is voluntary. You have every right to eat out and only tip ten percent if that's all you can afford.

I have fought for fair wages for servers, and I fiercely believe that they are getting fucked by cheap ass owners who have powerful lobbyists. I think people are right when they point to the unlivable wage paid to servers. But, I don't think it's necessarily right to ask me to subsidize the income of people who only earn 2 something an hour. Just as you argue, "don't eat out" I could argue if you want to make a fair wage: "don't be a waiter."

But, I don't argue that, because it's simplistic. It doesn't provide any new insight or information into the problem. I feel for waiters and waitresses. I actually have a "no tip below five dollars" policy, no matter where I eat. If I get a 2.99 breakfast at Denny's - Five bucks. So, I'm not trying to scrooge my way out of something, and I'm not insensitive to the plight of wait staff. But, still, I don't believe it should be my responsibility to make up for crappy wages. To me, that really is perpetuating the problem. We need to fix the wage laws - that seems to be the point that has hit home with me the most. I agree with that wholeheartedly.
posted by joaniemcchicken at 6:30 PM on June 20, 2006


I find it strange that on the Bitter Waitress database, some celebrity (can't remember who and can't find it) tipped like $60, and since it was still less than 10% of the bill, the waitress complained and listed the celeb on Bitter Waitress.

Question: How much should you tip at an AYCE buffet where the waiters/waitresses only serve drinks?
posted by IndigoRain at 6:41 PM on June 20, 2006


I mean, if the meal took 10 minutes and the bill was $1200, a 10% tip would be more than decent, while a 50% tip on a $6 bill where the table was occupied for 2 hours and the diners kept asking for more chips, dip, and drink refills, is certainly not decent.

Except your $1200 bill is at a presumably higher-scale restaurant than your $6 bill one, so your waitstaff will be better trained. I have a friend who worked at a waiter at Ruby Tuesday's and currently works as a waiter at a high-end seafood chain (at least $40-50/head at dinner). Ruby's, the training to be a waiter didn't take him any time at all. At the high-end place, despite his experience at Ruby's he still had to work at a non-waitstaff job (hosting) for a period of months before they'd even let him start the training, and the training itself took him two weeks. At the end of it he was given three or four tests covering the history of the restaurant chains, information about seafood and the food the place serves, knowledge about wines and drinks and what works best with what food, and that stuff. Before each shift he and the rest of the waitstaff sit in on a talk one of the chefs gives about the seafood being served that day and what kind of appetizers and wines work best with it, and he's expected to continue expanding his knowledge of wines and food to improve his service and recommendations to the patrons. That doesn't even get into the higher standards of uniform and appearance he's expected to meet (tie, shined shoes, Oxford-cut shirt, etc etc).

So yeah, he's making a lot more on his 15% tip at M&S than he is at Ruby's, but he's doing a helluva lot more work as well.

That said, if someone could explain to me how tipping someone enough to give them a living wage contributes to the problem of shitty service for waiters, I'd love to hear it. I mean, because all the politicians I've heard of would be so sympathetic to the waitstaff at a Denny's suddenly being unable to live because of their 5% tips. And I'm sure that waitstaff's decreased wages and lessened stability would immediately result in the increased political power to effect the change to give them a base living minimum wage.

Because, you know, we all know that the current federal minimum wage is totally a living one, right? Because all those people working those minimum-wage jobs have the clout to bring it down on the politicians if it was changed to something completely ridiculously low and unlivable, like $5.15/hour.
posted by schroedinger at 6:54 PM on June 20, 2006


I'm happy to tip %15-%20 for good service at a restaurant. Never more than 20% and if the wait staff is deliberatly rude (as opposed to say accidental mistakes or some such) I have no quailms about leaving nothing at all.
posted by Riemann at 6:57 PM on June 20, 2006


I am also tipping more even at 10% or 15%. I am not a rich person. Plenty of servers probably make more money than I do.

If you are not a rich person, you are probably not eating at the places where the waiters make more money per hour than you do.
posted by schroedinger at 6:58 PM on June 20, 2006


Me:
Tip inflation is part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Schroedinger:
Jesus! Do you really think that? That's like saying if we took away food stamps and other welfare benefits factories would pay their workers more!


No, it's like saying if that tip inflation enables restauranteurs to pay shitty wages. Don't try to change the subject.

If everybody decided to tip a standard 10%, the average server wage would initially fall. Decent servers would migrate to marginally higher paying jobs. Restaurants who did not change their prices would have lower quality service and lose customers. Restaurants who raised their wages would attract better quality servers. It's not fucking rocket science.

What is really, really irrational and unfair is that we tip servers in restaurants, cab drivers and valet parking guys, but we don't tip (as a rule) cooks, bus drivers, bank tellers, checkout clerks and the thousand and one other people we interact with economically every day.

Go to a country where tips are not accepted sometime.

By your argument, if restauranteurs decided to stop paying their wait staff, and charge them $5 an hour for working, we would be morally obliged to tip 150%, just because.
posted by unSane at 7:12 PM on June 20, 2006


One point I haven't seen here:

In the U.S., the IRS assumes waiters make X percentage of their sales in tips (it used to be 8 percent; I don't know what it is now). Their income taxes are figured based on this presumed tip percentage. If you stiff a waiter, not only does the waiter suffer an opportunity cost, but he/she also suffers a real cost -- a tax on income they have failed to collect in the first place.

If this IRS figure has gone up, then it stands to reason that the expected tipping percentage will also go up.

Important safety tip for waiters: Never report to the IRS any tips you receive in cash above this X percent figure. If you take in X percent or more of your sales in tips via traceable credit card slips, then you report zero dollars in additional tips that are not on credit card slips. Pay Ceasar what is due Ceasar. But not any more than he asks for. ;-)
posted by frogan at 8:09 PM on June 20, 2006


The IRS only makes that assumption because most waiters would cheat on their taxes otherwise.
posted by smackfu at 9:13 PM on June 20, 2006


The IRS only makes that assumption because most waiters would cheat on their taxes otherwise.

And frogan is encouraging them to do so on top of that.
posted by oaf at 9:37 PM on June 20, 2006


Where I live, waitstaff make about $7.60/hr plus tips. They are taxed on what they declare on income tax.

I know that some democracies are less inclusive than others, but geez folks you have a right to ask the government some serious questions if you can't make a living by working.
posted by Deep Dish at 9:41 PM on June 20, 2006


And frogan is encouraging them to do so on top of that.

I thought this was AskMeta, not AskMoral...?
posted by frogan at 9:53 PM on June 20, 2006


Also, some of us tip out on our sales, not on our tips. If you stiff me on a $130 check, I'm out about $5-6 between the amount I have to tip back to the house and the amount I'm going to pay in taxes on tip income assumed (and required to declare as income) but not gotten.
posted by Cricket at 10:50 PM on June 20, 2006


I come from a country where tipping isn't practiced, and have a simple question to ask, 'midst all these percentage figures being tossed around:

Do you use mental arithmetic to calculate 15% of the bill?

I understand how it would be trivial to calculate what 10% or 20% of the bill is (divide by 10 or 5 respectively)... but 15%? Is that what the paper napkins are for?
posted by nihraguk at 2:46 AM on June 21, 2006


Unless the IRS has some reason to audit a restaurant, then they're not (or weren't 20 years ago when I waited tables) checking to see if a waitperson is reporting a certain percentage of their sales as tips. But if and when they decide to scrutinize a waitperson or a restaurant, then they will use a local surveyed standard tipping amount as the minimum they will require a waitperson to report. Note that what he/she actually made in tips is at this point irrelevant. It must be at least the local median or they'll say you're underreporting.

The relevance of this here is that unless you can convince a majority of people in your community to tip less than the, say, 18% the IRS assumes they are, then when you tip your server less than that, he/she is still responsible for taxes on the income they never got. Of course, this is also the case with shitty servers who are being undertipped because they suck.

Another externality forced into this equation is what others have mentioned, and that's that many servers are also forced to tip a percentage portion of their sales to various other staff in the restaurant, usually bussers, bartenders, and hosts. Sometimes kitchen staff. In these cases, too, the server will have to part with a set portion of their tips at the end of the night, based upon sales and not upon what they've been tipped.

As for those salary incomes listed above, sure it's been twenty years, but twenty years ago no one I knew who waited tables were being paid more than about $200 a month in wages. I find it easy to believe that those 14K numbers are including tips, and it makes even more sense that the NYC number is three times higher. Those numbers are after tips. Not before.

And it should give you guys some ideas of what real wages, even after tips, are for most servers across the US. It's what ChasFile says: a few servers are making more than you. Those are at the nice resaurants. At the chains and diners and whatever...those people are among the lowest paid people in the US. They have no benefits. They're often single mothers. They have little education. Give them the damn 20%.

I worked mostly in fine-dining and I worked at one place that probably would have preferred to hire only male waitpeople if they could have gotten away with it. But most of the rest of the fine-dining restaurants I worked at had women servers, and of those about one-half were college students and one-half were drop-outs and single with children. That's at the nicer restaurants, folks. Give them the damn 20%. They're paying a babysitter $25 just to take care of their kid(s) while they're serving your your meal.

It should be noted that there's a slight inconsistency in some of the arguments above about low wages not keeping up with inflation and servers being at the bottom of the pile. The problem is, of course, that being paid in tips means that this group of people are, all other things being equal, keeping up with inflation when the others, like retail workers, are not. Even so, the simple truth of the economy for the last 30, excepting the small countertrend in the late-90s, is that the lowest paid workers, and especially service workers, in the US are not keeping up with inflation and certainly not keeping up with gains in wages made by the middle or, guffaw, the upper classes. In general, it has gotten tougher for these groups to make ends meet and we should be more generous to them, not less.

Finally, I think that the common practice of college students working as waitpeople really distorts the discussions people have about restaurant tipping. There's a sense, true or false or fair or unfair, that college students are privileged in some sense and have a wide variety of jobs available to them...thus the "work somewhere else" rebuke. But, really, while a significant minority, those college students are nevertheless a minority and its not fair to the majority of servers to "judge" them according to some stereotypes about college students. If you want a stereotype that's more accurate, go with my single mother with no other skills stereotype. It's closer to the truth.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 3:05 AM on June 21, 2006


"I understand how it would be trivial to calculate what 10% or 20% of the bill is (divide by 10 or 5 respectively)... but 15%? Is that what the paper napkins are for?"

You have trouble figuring what half of the 10% amount is? 10% is the easiest mental calculation there is. Adding half again to that isn't much harder.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 3:07 AM on June 21, 2006


All of these absolute statements on tipping are ridiculous. Metafilter is an international website - tipping is different depending on what country you are in. There is no absolute answers to tipping.

Tipping is only 10% in London because tipping is lower in Britain. I don't know if servers wages are higher, but tipping custom is only about 10% (I've even seen it written on menus); tipping also seems to be a bit of a new custom, but I may be wrong on that. You also do NOT tip bartenders or taxi drivers; I've seen both just be confused by being offered a tip. (Though if the taxi driver helps you more than duty, I don't think they would object to keeping the change).

In Canada, tipping is generally 10%-15%. When I moved to the US, which at least in CT seems to be about 15-20%, I was confused and annoyed/embarressed by how I was being pressured by the people I was eating with to leave larger tips than I was used to.

As for tips moving up - have tips gone up in the US over time? You can't compare across geography, just across time.

But there definitely is a mechanism for making tips increase: social pressure, as you can see in this list right here. When you are out to dinner, if one person has the habit of tipping 20%, they will pressure everyone else to. This happens often enough, and 20% is just "decent" and anything less is immoral.

Of course, maybe bilking more and more out of people who work just as hard at their jobs is immoral. I worked in a medium good restaurant, and the wait staff made more money than I did as a cook (300 CND/week, not quite fulltime); the bartenders were being paid something like $10/hour, and claiming tips on top. (Tips for drinks in bars in North America is usurious).

As for the "if you can't afford to go out" argument, would it be better for the wait staff if they have no customers at all? People have a right to complain if this percentage has been increasing. We should just put servers on the same minimum wage as everyone else, and let tips stand for good service. Waiters I've talked to under 30 years didn't like that, but the ones I've talked to over 40 (the ones who have served their whole lives, especially in cheap restaurants) say they would like a more regular income.

Frankly, I tip 25-30% on bills in sitdown diners less than $4, and I tip 10-15% tops in expensive places. The person in the cheap restaurant does just as much work to serve, usually more (having more tables to deal with), and will always get less than the person working $20 a plate places. Why should they get pennies just because where they work offers good value?

-------------------------------------------------

And as a former cook and donut shop worker, I'd like to point out that the following occupations in Canada receive minimum wage or much higher (in the case of bartenders) and so any moral pressure to tip is ridiculous: counter staff in coffee and/or donut shops, cooks (in a medium good restaurant anywhere from $7.50 CND to $20/hour), bartenders ($10 CND/hour at the restaurant I worked at), anyone working in a hotel, hairdressing etc.

If you think those people should be tipped, why are you tipping your grocery store attendants? Shopclerks? Janitors? Fastfood staff? General labour temps? (The last get paid well less than minimum wage, once you figure in waiting around for work, and bringing their own boots) There are a million jobs around that get paid minimum/terrible wages that aren't recognised.

If you really care, increase the minimum wage. Make Employment insurance benefits available to part-time workers. Support child benefit payments for low income families. Bring back welfare in the states, so that children aren't homeless and on the streets after 5 years of benefits (which is happening). Support high quality subsidized housing. Do all those crazy socialist things which have been shown to better the whole of society.
posted by jb at 3:22 AM on June 21, 2006


I understand how it would be trivial to calculate what 10% or 20% of the bill is (divide by 10 or 5 respectively)... but 15%? Is that what the paper napkins are for?

In Ontario, at least back when I lived there, provincial tax + federal tax = 15%. Things got a bit dicey if you threw alcohol into the mix (if I recall), but for the most part, it was "tip the tax". Easy peasy lemon squeezy!
posted by antifuse at 3:28 AM on June 21, 2006


Just to clarify, I didn't mind when someone would leave a quarter or a dime as tip when I worked in a donut shop. I thought they were a bit crazy/generous, but whatever. But I was getting $7/hour (when minimum wage was $6.85 CND - boss was either generous or couldn't be bothered with the math) and there was certainly no obligation to. Frankly, I find tip jars at coffee shops to be tacky.
posted by jb at 3:28 AM on June 21, 2006


We should just put servers on the same minimum wage as everyone else, and let tips stand for good service

The problem is, then the IRS will still rape them on tips whether or not they actually get them. It's a vicious circle, really.
posted by antifuse at 3:30 AM on June 21, 2006


I think the irony is that the law just assumes waitstaff will "make up" in tips the balance of what they should earn (if they earned min. wage or higher). As if it were a given that those tips will just appear.

On the flip side, customers assume good service or they won't tip. So the law essentially is saying that if you choose to work as a server/waitperson, you MUST perform well at all times to ensure that you will receive enough tips to make a living wage. Never mind that the concept of "good service" can be very subjective.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 3:37 AM on June 21, 2006


I tip 10-15% in Canada depending on the quality of service, because servers there make at least minimum wage and usually a bit higher. In Tennessee, where I live now, I tip 20% unless the service is outright bad, because servers make less than $3/hour.

If restaurants need customers to subsidize their expenses then they should charge more for food. As it stands, they have put the burden of their salary expenses on their customers, who are under no actual obligation to follow through in paying for them, and their staff get caught in the middle. I would like to see servers get the same minimum wage everybody else gets, and tipping go back to being 10% for good service.
posted by joannemerriam at 5:16 AM on June 21, 2006


whoever said you don't tip cab drivers in London is wrong
posted by unSane at 5:44 AM on June 21, 2006


I would just like to say that there is always this debate, but in practice most customers at most places are good at tipping. I average about 25% most nights. I then tip out 4%, leaving me walking with 20%. I am glad that most customers seem to have no problem with being generous to the wait staff.

BTW, I live in Atlanta and it ranked highest in tip percentage in the nation coming in at 17%. I have found that in middle ground nice places and bars people tip best. Low end and upper end places tip less percentage wise.
posted by stormygrey at 6:14 AM on June 21, 2006


And tipping barstaff in London is pretty common now, too. In the nicer places, at least.
posted by blag at 6:14 AM on June 21, 2006


jb : "All of these absolute statements on tipping are ridiculous. Metafilter is an international website - tipping is different depending on what country you are in. There is no absolute answers to tipping."

I just wanted to requote this for emphasis. Discussing what people could/should do in the city in which you live = good. Discussing what people should tip anywhere, and getting upset at people living in different places than you for not tipping the way you do = bad.

I mean, I tip exactly 0% everywhere I go, and I certainly would hope y'all aren't going to get upset at me, because there is no tipping in the country in which I live.
posted by Bugbread at 6:19 AM on June 21, 2006


I think the irony is that the law just assumes waitstaff will "make up" in tips the balance of what they should earn (if they earned min. wage or higher). As if it were a given that those tips will just appear.

If you do not make the minimum wage, then the law says your employer is required to make up the difference. I know that may not happen in practice, but that's what the law says.
posted by grouse at 6:49 AM on June 21, 2006


supporting reference
posted by grouse at 6:50 AM on June 21, 2006


So many people in this thread have come up with so many convoluted justifications for their own stinginess. If you're American, and you think it's OK to tip waitstaff in a restaurant or bar less than 15%, two other things are also true. The first is that you're cheap. And the second is that you don't understand how a restaurant works. (For instance, yes, $60 is an AWFUL tip for a $600+ dinner. Do you know how much work goes into serving that kind of dinner? A hell of a lot more work than I have to do to make $60 in my cushy office job. And I don't have to tip anyone out. AND I'm entry level).

I think it's true that the cultural accepted standard in the US has gone up. And I think there are a lot of reasons that have worked together to make this happen. Those who see this as a "problem" are making the assumption that it was ever fair and right to tip less than 15%, first off. But beyond that: Some people like to tip a lot. Some people like to be able to brag that they tip a lot. Some people recognize they'll get better service next time if they tip a lot now (and continue to get better and better service the longer it goes on), so they make that investment. Others have mentioned the (less than) minimum wage for waitstaff hasn't increased as rapidly as the cost-o-livin'. Also, eating out over the past few decades has become more and more trendy as a thing "to do" as opposed to just a way to get food. So people expect to pay a little more, both for the service and the food, to get that "experience" they're looking for. Put this all together, with a bunch of people at almost every single table in America going "what should I tip? what should I tip? Well, I tip this much or that much" and there's pressure to give the highest number. So the customary standard gradually goes up. And yes, it's different in different parts of the country.

People don't think about this, though: in the highly unlikely event that tipping in the US just stops, then restaurant owners will have to pay almost every single member of their staff 3-5 times as much per hour. Fancy restaurants may have to pay their waitstaff and bartenders 8-10 times as much to get the level of experience and skill they need. How much do you think their prices will go up then? It will be a lot more than 10%. It will be more than 20%. And however much they actually NEED to raise the price to pay their staff, they'll raise it a little more, just to take that opportunity to make a little more profit. And you'll pay it, too.
posted by lampoil at 7:50 AM on June 21, 2006


lampoil : "in the highly unlikely event that tipping in the US just stops, then restaurant owners will have to pay almost every single member of their staff 3-5 times as much per hour. Fancy restaurants may have to pay their waitstaff and bartenders 8-10 times as much to get the level of experience and skill they need. How much do you think their prices will go up then? It will be a lot more than 10%. It will be more than 20%."

I agree with everything you wrote, but I don't understand this part. If the average tip is, say 17%, then wouldn't the price be raised 17% and that 17% added to the waitstaff's salary? Why would you have to raise your prices greater than 17% in order to secure the extra money needed to compensate for the 17% salary income your waitstaff would have?
posted by Bugbread at 8:06 AM on June 21, 2006


So many people in this thread have come up with so many convoluted justifications for their own stinginess. If you're American, and you think it's OK to tip waitstaff in a restaurant or bar less than 15%, two other things are also true. The first is that you're cheap. And the second is that you don't understand how a restaurant works.

Eh, this is bullshit. Tipping is an interesting case of market failure. It would make sense to simply make the restaurant owners pay their serving staff a decent wage. In fact, I know some people who refuse to tip on this very principle.

How much do you think their prices will go up then? It will be a lot more than 10%. It will be more than 20%. And however much they actually NEED to raise the price to pay their staff, they'll raise it a little more, just to take that opportunity to make a little more profit. And you'll pay it, too.

Again, this is wrong. If tipping were to stop tommorow then the most likely result would be for restaurants to simply fire most, if not all, of their wait staff. They could try increasing their prices but restaurants, being essentially a luxury product, this would just lead to customers heading for the hills.

As for the original question, the price trends up for one reason: people will charge whatever the market will pay. NYC started the whole 20% thing (and I know of some places/people will 25% is now becoming the new standard) because there was this whole idea that restaurants (and really the entire city) was going through a renaissance and service and food quality was a lot better and more customer-focused. This was true to an extent, but the real reason was that in the 90's there was a lot of money floating around and so people realized that customers would be willing to pay a 20% additional tax. It's now commonly accepted since people in Manhattan are very much used to paying too much for everything. It's quite likely that, as Jek said, as the price of gas pushes everything up people will start tipping a lot less.
posted by nixerman at 8:34 AM on June 21, 2006


Also, some of us tip out on our sales, not on our tips.

But if your actual earnings, including tips, are less than minimum wage, your employer is required to pay you the difference.

many servers are also forced to tip a percentage portion of their sales to various other staff in the restaurant

But since it's not the server's income, they don't have to pay taxes on it. If you get audited, you should have documentation to prove it (6/21/06: Today I got $x.xx in tips... etc.).
posted by oaf at 8:57 AM on June 21, 2006


Also, eating out over the past few decades has become more and more trendy as a thing "to do" as opposed to just a way to get food.

Really? Because I've read articles decrying poor restaurant behavior that claim that eating out has become more common as an 'extension of the home dining room'. I'd think that it was the feeling that eating at home is the same as eating out that's hurting patron manners and waitstaff tips.

After an AskMe about becoming a regular at a new bar that I asked awhile back, I've been paying keen attention to my tips. It is frustrating now when I am stuck between "I should tip well to ensure future service is good" and "but the service I just received really, really sucked". I'll actually avoid entering one of my favorite bars if I see a certain bartender on duty because I know she is slower than molasses but will gossip about patrons with other staff (as I've heard her do previously).
posted by robocop is bleeding at 9:15 AM on June 21, 2006


If the average tip is, say 17%, then wouldn't the price be raised 17% and that 17% added to the waitstaff's salary? Why would you have to raise your prices greater than 17% in order to secure the extra money needed to compensate for the 17% salary income your waitstaff would have?

In theory that would be the ideal, but do you think that's what would really happen? One, it's not really quite that simple and two, they'll just raise the price more than they have to. When I worked at a restaurant, they'd just raise the price on things sometimes even when the costs didn't go up. The reason is: to get more money. Sure, there's a limit to how far you can go with that before people stop coming, but I think if prices raised about 25%, but tipping stopped, nothing much would really change as far as restaurant attendance.

I really doubt most restaurants would just fire most of their staff--they may keep a slightly smaller staff, but to say they'd fire most, or everyone would stop eating out, is ridiculous. If people objected so much to paying hugely inflated prices for food, we wouldn't eat out now. And we do. A lot.

Anyway this is all speculative, and I'm no economist, of course. But one thing I'm sure of: If there wasn't tipping, patrons would pay more and waitstaff would make less. No restaurant is going to risk taking a loss by shooting for breaking even. They're going to shoot for extra profit to make sure they at least break even. And even if it's just by a little bit, that adds up.

Eh, this is bullshit. Tipping is an interesting case of market failure. It would make sense to simply make the restaurant owners pay their serving staff a decent wage. In fact, I know some people who refuse to tip on this very principle.

I don't really see how this makes what I said bullshit. This has nothing to do with what I said. People who don't tip at all, ever, on principle, because they disagree with tipping economically, are a little different than the "I don't see why I should tip X% when all they do grumble grumble" crowd. Doesn't mean they're not cheap, though.

Really? Because I've read articles decrying poor restaurant behavior that claim that eating out has become more common as an 'extension of the home dining room'. I'd think that it was the feeling that eating at home is the same as eating out that's hurting patron manners and waitstaff tips.

Yeah, and I think that's the naturnal turning point of it. It's become SUCH a common thing as a thing "to do", and people do it SO much (especially in places like New York), that they feel extra comfortable. But I think it hurts the patron manners more than the waitstaff tips, in general.
posted by lampoil at 10:09 AM on June 21, 2006


People who don't tip at all, ever, on principle, because they disagree with tipping economically, are a little different than the "I don't see why I should tip X% when all they do grumble grumble" crowd. Doesn't mean they're not cheap, though.

If I were a server, and I worked my ass off to get you your food on time and your drinks and give good recommendations and make sure you had a pleasant dining experience and you stiffed me or left me a $1 on a $100, I guarantee you I would not shrug my shoulders and say "Boy, I better go ask my boss to write an letter to my Congressman about the unfairness of my wages!" I would fucking chase you down and give you that dollar back, then point you out to all the other servers so if you came back you'd get shitty service. Because you think they're going to work their ass getting food for a guy who doesn't care if they can get their food?

You people who don't tip? The restaurant doesn't need your business. No, really. It doesn't. And most managers, even the corporate ones, especially the ones of the higher-end places, will tacitly approve of servers who get indignant because the customers are cheap assholes--even if they have a fancy economic-justice reason for being cheap assholes.
posted by schroedinger at 10:53 AM on June 21, 2006


Why has the percentage risen? Good question, I've been wondering that myself in London! (Food 10% to 12.5%, bar tipping starting, although mainly in a 'keep the change' way - at the moment)

Social pressure is obviously a factor as everyone's said, but it might also be affected by the fact that people nowdays travel more:

If you go somewhere where tipping is not standard, or lower, and you pay the rate you pay at home, you're creating expectations in that culture for the future, so tipping in those cultures starts to change, slowly.

If you're not sure how to tip, you err on the side of caution and tip more than you otherwise would have, which again ups the ante.

In the States, which surely has the highest expected %, maybe it's because over the last few years, due to the exchange rate, more tourists have been going to America (esp NYC), and finding everything much cheaper than they were expecting, so along with the uncertainty of how much to tip, it doesn't cost them as much to tip more. Plus being on holiday puts you in a good mood, so you're more likely to be generous?
posted by bella.bellona at 10:57 AM on June 21, 2006


I usually tip around 15%, 20% if the service is particularly good, 10% if particularly bad. I think I've completely stiffed someone maybe once or twice, but those occassions were impossibily horrible. I do, however, always try to leave tips in cash. I dunno if waitstaff appreciates that or not, but I know I did when I waited tables.
posted by electroboy at 11:47 AM on June 21, 2006


whoever said you don't tip cab drivers in London is wrong
posted by unSane at 5:44 AM PST on June 21 [+fave] [!]


And tipping barstaff in London is pretty common now, too. In the nicer places, at least.
posted by blag at 6:14 AM PST on June 21 [+fave] [!]


(Food 10% to 12.5%, bar tipping starting, although mainly in a 'keep the change' way - at the moment)

Yep, things are changing. When I first came to Britain, I tipped the cab driver quite well, as I was taught to do in Canada, only to have him look surprised and slightly offended. I've asked around, and people tell me that "you can tip cab drivers if they are extra nice, but it's not expected". I also just worked as bar staff the other night, and did not receive one tip (didn't expect any, and still served with a smile). I haven't seen any tipping in bars at all in Cambridge, but then I don't go to fancy places or clubs, just to pubs.

It may be the travel, more North Americans coming and more British visiting there. And then social pressure works in - it's interesting that you say 10-12.5%, which is already shifting the 10% up again (which I saw printed on menus in London - they were quite specific).
posted by jb at 12:56 PM on June 21, 2006


Just a note about what Schroedinger wrote: in my years of waiting tables, I never once expressed any sort of disatisfaction with a tip and I never worked anywhere where a manager would think to do so was appropriate. It's unprofessional. And I would never "punish" bad tippers on subsequent visits. At most, I just wouldn't worry about trying hard to figure out how to make them happy. I'd do the job the way I usually did and deal with it. It evens out in the end. But this sort of not-holding-grudges or being stressed out about waiting tables is a temperment/skill that I have that I think is perhaps necessary for waiting tables, though certainly not universal. The people that find the whole experience of dealing with people to be frustrating and angering don't last that long. Certainly not more than a year or so. Although I'd work with such people and wonder why in the hell they were doing that job and how they can stand it.

A certain portion of all people are just jerks. I think they're the minority and the best thing to do is to just accept it and shrug it off. There are bad tippers. There are customers that are sadistic in a way—I think that says very bad things about their personalities, but I usually felt more pity toward them than anger. Anyway, as is the case in most customer service professions, yes, it's common for some workers to bitch and moan about the customers and make nasty jokes and whatnot. But that certainly doesn't characterise everyone that works in such jobs. Generally, both when I waited tables and then when I did IT support, I couldn't tolerate work environments where the customers were considered the enemy and I'd quit and find something more to my liking.

About the microeconomics of tipping...I'm sure this is a very well studied sibject and we'd do well to quit speculating and actually look up some authoritative information. Nevertheless, I'm lazy at the moment and I'll speculate, too.

I'm nearly certain that eliminating that 17% tip wouldn't directly translate to a simple increase of 17% in prices that would be distributed to the workers so that everything comes out the same. Far from it, I suspect. First of all, in contrast to what I think are some of the assumptions made by those who dislike tipping, I strongly suspect—both from experience and intellectual investigation—that tipping is relatively more efficient economically than wages are. It's not a market failure, quite the opposite. For this alone, there's reasons to think that redirecting that economic exhange into set prices and back into wages and everything is likely to have notable economic friction and thus that 17% would need to be noticably more than a 17% increase in prices for it to work out the same for wages. But then there's also all the other reasons hinted at by other commenters: the more indirect the economic transaction is, the more interested parties (i.e. owners) can take advantage of the indirectness to divert income into their own pockets. And they will. So add some more to the prices. Even if they get some benefit from this, they don't choose to do it voluntarily because, in the end, they're quite aware that everything relies upon the restaurant continuing to be competitive with others with regard to prices. No one wants to raise prices.

Ultimately I am sympathetic to those who oppose this US status-quo and think that in many ways it's exploitative. But I don't have any illusions as to how much systemic change would have undesirable consequences. In particular, I'm certain that a wage system would drive away the higher-end, highest skilled servers who do make a good amount of money. And I believe completely, natch, that those people are high-skilled and are worth what they make, the grumblings of kitchen staff and some customers notwithstanding. High-end serving is a combination of very good people skills—something not that common, very complicated, and worth a great deal—and technical skills of both the intricacies of fine dining (how to serve, understanding of the menu, etc.) and those of on-the-fly organization and crisis management. I do think that executive chefs and some sous chefs are similarly high-skilled (and thus definitely agree they are underpaid), but the average line cook...not really. Most of them are still not being paid what their skills are worth, but they're not grossly underpaid.

Eliminating the tipping system would raise prices that would have an effect on the total amount of restaurant-going because the higher prices right there on paper have a much stronger negative psychological impact than does the more ambiguous, unwritten, and voluntary tipping amount. It would mean less exceptionally good service and a strong move to mediocrity (think the kind of service you see in chain mid-line restaurants—not bad, but not that great, either). It would mean fewer restaurants, with mostly the independent and local restaurants taking the hit. The chains have already marginalized the local mid-line restaurants, and switching from a tipping system would complete the process. Yes, this big-business homogenization is not seen in, say, European countries where tipping is not the norm, but that is an invalid comparison. There are social and systemic reasons why the US is in general very national-chain business friendly in a way that Europeans are not.

One big reason why this would eliminate the locally owned restaurants (and why this shouldn't bother me with my pro-market leanings but why it should bother the mefi crowd who is dominated by anti-market leanings) is because, frankly, the restaurant industry is notoriously badly managed and its the locally owned restaurants which are by far the worst of the lot. These people are very poor businesspeople. One of the reasons I quite the industry if because I finally couldn't stand the incompetency. You go into any chain restaurant and you can be sure that both the individual restaurant and the chain as a whole carefully track their food costs and waste. Your local restaurant—maybe, maybe not, and if so then usually half-heartedly. Any of the restaurants that are older than 4 years will have pretty good management (unless they were profoundly lucky for other reasons) and will be highly aware of these sorts of things. But most restaurants don't make it to the 4-year mark. Most fail.

All that is to say that tipping and many other things are ways in which this industry cuts corners, so to speak, and being such a badly managed industry, they rely on these things. Eliminating them will wipe out the most marginal operators, which will overwhelmingly be the local operators. From an economics standpoint, maybe that's a good thing. From a diners standpoint, who loves a plethora of choices for good, quirky food and service, it's probably not a good thing.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 3:33 PM on June 21, 2006


As far as tipping 20%, or tipping any amount- I have this to say:

You should only tip if you feel there is a legitimate reason to do so. I feel if your server/waitress/waiter made you feel welcome and was generally kind, accomodating and human; then they should receive a decent tip, according to the service you received.

Also, being a college student, I find eating out in big groups (larger than 5+) is a tipping hazard. People leave early and either don't pay their bill, don't pay it completely, or don't tip enough. And then the good people are left with a huge (socially induced) tipping problem. Yuck.

I'm in Calgary, where the minimum wage is (I think) the lowest in Canada @ $5.90 an hour. I've checked the classifieds and restaurant wages for a server/waitress/waiter with a fair amount of experience, and the ads advertise a wage about $5 less than the average-seeming job ad in the paper. My cousin, with less than 6 months of restaurant experience made $80-120 on weekend nights at a Boston Pizza plus her regular wages (probably $7-10 an hour). I think she's doing just fine.

(Whenever I am with a lady, I have been taught to always tip 20%) :)
posted by mattydavy at 10:57 PM on June 21, 2006


Also, being a college student, I find eating out in big groups (larger than 5+) is a tipping hazard.

That's why many places automatically include a gratuity on the bill for large parties. Although I *hate* this practice, because it can lead to really, REALLY bad service.
posted by antifuse at 1:17 AM on June 22, 2006


"Although I *hate* this practice, because it can lead to really, REALLY bad service."

I suppose that there may be some truth to your assumption about a causal relationship. But I think it's also possible that you're just seeing bad service for large parties because, frankly, it is very, very difficult to provide good service to large parties. The kinds of things servers do, and the kinds of things that customers do and expect, scale badly. Basically the only thing a single server can do when serving a table of more than six people is to deal with it very differently just to manage adequate service. You can't really attend to individual people's needs because doing so puts a monkey wrench into all the necessary timing and organization and everything falls apart. The reason that a table of eight people is not the equivalent of two tables of four (which any waiter should service easily) is because by handling two tables of four individually, the waiter can control the pacing and optimize efficiency. The chief tool a waiter has to handle this particular organization problem is to control when he/she is at the table. This is critical because, once present at the table, the waiter cannot control what is asked of them. The more people at a table, the more likliehood that someone there, at each visit, will ask for some individual thing you aren't expecting and thus throw off your timing and toss planned efficiencies out the window.

So, honestly, in my opinion the biggest reason there is a fixed, mandatory, and precalculated tip added to the bills of large parties is because otherwise the servers will be inevitably undertipped because of the (correct!) perception that the customer isn't getting the same level of service they are accustomed to. And it's not just that the waiter serving a large party would otherwise make less money, it's also the case that they will inevitably work much harder than normal in the process.

This is less the case as you move down the quality of service heirarchy because there's less the server is doing in any event. But for mid level and fine dining, large parties—even when served by more than one waitperson—are almost always hard and unrewarding work that is frustrating. Without a mandatory service charge, the waitpeople would find they'd normally get 10% tips from unhappy customers and then, as a result, they'd a) resist being asked to serve large parties and/or b) just blow off trying to give good service entirely.

Honestly, this solution is not perfect. What would be better would be to have a systematic way of dealing with larger tables combined with educating patrons to expect a different (but not worse!) experience when being served as part of a large party. And, in fact, a talented and skilled waitperson can sort of accomplish this on their own by employing high-level customer relation skills and being sly about it.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 4:49 AM on June 22, 2006


It seems to me that the higher the percentage the tip is supposed to be, the more likely it is a third world country that you are giving it in, as an indication of very differing incomes between poor and rich.

A general symptom of third world countries is that it is a necessity for survival that you earn more than you are paid by your employee.

Sad that the US has become this way too.
posted by KimG at 4:34 PM on June 22, 2006


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