Last week, I took my kids to the ice cream place to celebrate an awesome achievement for one of them on her math test. When it was time to pay, the tip jar was glaring at me, with big yellow letters that seemed to scream “THANK YOU!”
Ice cream for the three of us cost about $8. I gave the guy a $10 bill and asked him to keep the change.
On Saturday night, my husband and I met two other couples for dinner at a nice restaurant. The evening was great – interesting conversation, and amazing food. When the bill arrived, we realized that a service charge of 18% was automatically added to our bill, since we were a group of six. When signing the credit card receipt, I added enough to make it a 20% tip.
Years ago, when I was a law school student and worked part time as a waitress, there was this one terrible night where the kitchen was understaffed. No matter how efficient I was, my customers had to wait for their food FOREVER. I got very bad tips that night, even though the delay in serving the food was completely out of my control.
Tipping. We all have stories about tipping, and most of us feel pretty strongly about the subject. Today, I’d like to share a few stories, make a few observations, and hear what you have to say about this seemingly delicate subject.
Tipping Generously = Being Financially Irresponsible?
I remember a very funny Two and a Half Men episode, where it turned out that Charlie Sheen’s character was in financial mess, despite his good earnings, because he was spending too much. There was this hilarious scene where he explains to the pizza delivery guy that he can’t tip him $50 anymore, and the guy just says, “Well, I guess we had a good run.”
Me? Just like any other person who ever worked as a waiter, I will never ever treat wait staff badly or under-tip. But sometimes I wonder about over-tipping. I have this attitude of, “I’m obviously doing better financially than they are at the moment. I feel bad for them because I know how hard they must be working, so I’m going to be generous” – see the ice cream story above. But wasn’t I being wasteful when I left such a large tip in a situation when I didn’t even get that much service, and where tips are obviously NOT calculated as part of the employee’s salary?
The Painful Topic of Tip Jars
We are expected to tip in so many places these days. Many of us are annoyed by those little (or big!) jars in places where you get very little service – but facing the person behind the counter, it’s difficult to ignore those jars and NOT tip, even though it’s perfectly alright to do so. Perhaps they don’t carry your food to the table for you, but they do make you a cup of coffee, or a cone of ice cream, and (hopefully) serve it with a smile.
Of course, in this context I can’t help but mention a very funny Seinfeld episode, where George was annoyed that no one seemed to notice he was tipping into a jar, until when it happened – again! – he reached his hand into the jar in an attempt to take the tip back, and got caught by the employee behind the counter.
Feeling Pressured To Tip
Feeling pressured to tip does not feel good, and the amounts do add up, especially since what’s considered “normal” for tipping keeps climbing. I still remember when 15% used to be the norm and 20% was considered generous – something you leave if service was really good. This is not the case anymore – 20% is pretty much the standard tip these days, especially in major cities.
Tips are Important
Regardless of how we feel about tips, it’s important to realize that in most cases in the US, waiters do not earn living wages. The employer underpays them and the assumption is that the tips will bring their pay to a level that enables them to actually survive. Perhaps the law should be changed. But then we will pay more for our meals – would that be a better arrangement?
David’s Note: I vote for charging more. The bottom line is that a customer really has no idea how, or even if the tips are actually being distributed to the staff. I was once in a restaurant where our waiter told me not to tip at all because he’s upset the owner keeps EVERYTHING. Also, there is no standard whatsoever, which makes showing your appreciation impossible unless you really don’t care much about your money (in other words, you give a tip so big the whole restaurant will line up at the door to thank you). What I mean is, you probably paid 12% to show your appreciation back in the day when the norm for tipping was 10%. But these days, you probably will get the evil look if you pay a 12% tip. It’s really very confusing for the customer when different types of restaurants, cities and places all have different standards and expectations. Restaurant owners should just pay everyone a better salary and charge us more!
What if Service was Bad?
As my own experience as a waitress illustrates, in many cases, even if service was bad, the right thing to do is to tip, although 15% would be more than enough in such a case. It’s not just that it might not be the waiter’s fault – but in many cases tips are shared, so if you don’t leave a tip, you’ll be punishing people who do not deserve the punishment. Your best course of action, if you had a bad experience at a restaurant, is to tip – and go talk with the restaurant manager, or wait until you get home and write a letter of complaint.
How do you feel about tipping? What about tipping jars? Do you leave a tip when service was bad?