Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Here’s Your Tip!

In today’s New York Times, Steven A. Shaw writes that restaurants should move away from tipping and towards a system that provides an automatic “service charge” as they do in Europe.

According to one web-site, “A recent web survey shows that Americans most frequently tip 15%, followed by 20%”

As someone who serves at a restaurant part-time (full-time over the summers), I thought I would weigh in. Before I give my opinion though, I would like to post a few generalizations that I have observed in the serving world (at least in my particular taste of it):

  1. Tipping is, by my observation, culturally and ethnically slanted. That is to say, without going into any details, certain ethnic and demographic groups tip at a significantly lower rate than others (with the very old and the very young typically leaving a fixed dollar amount regardless of the bill).
  2. Most experiences servers are pretty good at pre-judging whether or not a guest will tip well or not. This practice is never 100% accurate (I have had more than one pleasant surprise waiting for me on a table) and is always discouraged by management, but it is in many ways unavoidable.
  3. Almost all of the servers that I have come into contact with will serve consistently regardless of how they pre-judge a table. Bad servers will be bad whether the guest is a wealthy businessman or a couple of elderly women ordering soup and good servers will be good regardless. This is more a function of their individual personalities than of how much they are expecting for a tip. I, for example, consider myself a pretty amiable waiter, and will smile, joke, and otherwise treat guests respectfully even if I am certain to be under-tipped.
  4. Far more frustrating WHILE serving (though not in the long-run) than bad tips, or at least as frustrating, are guests who are rude, run you around, and ungrateful for your service.

So, is automatic gratuity the answer to the problem of poor-tippers? I am certainly open to the possibility. Where I work, parties over a certain number are automatically charges a gratuity and most people LOVE the relief of a guaranteed amount. I am certain that an automatic tip would NOT hamper service as some people suspect. However, I do not believe that such a measure is necessary.

It is my observation that tipping has for more to do with the guest than the server. Many people come from backgrounds and environments that simply do not tip well, while other people believe that servers make a decent hourly wage and anything extra is just a “bonus.” My recommended solution: the back of every menu should have a small section dedicating to listing the appropriate amount of gratuity given the quality of service. This would at least inform people as to what is actually a good tip since most poor tips are more the result of background rather than malice.


greg said...

I might be able to get on board with an automatic gratuity however, there needs to be a method of recourse for the consumer. I've bartended and waited for some years and I know how to tip and I certainly know when someone deserves little or no tip. Taking away my ability to do so would be a little tough for me to handle.

More importantly I would like to see a constitutional amendment outlawing astro-turf and the designated hitter and also tip cups. If you have to put a tip cup out, I'm not tipping you. I tip servers and cab drivers (and valets if I can ever afford one) not coffee makers, burrito wrappers, pizza-place cashiers, McDonald's employees, gas station attendants, flower arrangers, or anyone else that has to put a cup on the front counter in order to make some extra cash. If you want a tip, go get a job bussing tables. If you want people to put money in your cup, buy some shitty clothes and stand at an intersection and tell me you fought in a war and that you need a little help.

Cram said...

I would imagine that the only recourse for the consumer if the grat were added would be the same recourse consumers face if they deal with a rude department store associate or an inconsiderate hotel clerk: either complain to a manager and/or decline to frequent that location again. After all, most people who experience rude service, or even bad food (or slow food) will ask to speak to a manager, who will then comp their meal. I have had guests get their entire check taken care of by a manager, yet left me a tip anyway, understanding that the problem was not fault of mine.

As for the “tip cup,” I agree. All it does is make me feel guilty or uncomfortable for not paying someone extra to do a job their work pays them to do, often requiring little individual variation (after all, how good a job could someone scoop ice-cream out of a bowl and put it in a cup for me to consider the effort vastly superior to how someone else might do it?).