How much do you tip in a restaurant? Me, I tend to toe the line right around 20 percent. Some people might find that excessive, others right on the mark for acceptable service. I consider it standard for an industry that gets away with paying its employees barely over $2 an hour.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful to overhaul the tipping system in this country? That was the subject of a recent column by New York Times restaurant reviewer Pete Wells that got people talking. The impetus for the story was a decision made by Midtown Manhattan restaurant Sushi Yasuda to do away with gratuities. The management decided to follow the Japanese custom and put all of its employees on salary, raising prices to pay for the difference.
As Wells noted, several other restaurants around the country have stopped accepting tips, mostly all restaurants that serve elaborate and expensive fixed-price menus. But the practice remains just about nonexistent among eateries that serve their dishes a la carte. Few are willing to raise their prices to accommodate salaried waiters. A restaurant that prices an entree at $24 would be loathe to charge $29, even though the final tally remains the same.
I’ve looked around Atlanta for tip-free restaurants and come up pretty short. Caffe Gio, the new sandwich and gelato shop from Antico Pizza Napoletana’s Giovanni di Palma, doesn’t have a tip line on its credit card receipts, even though the food you order at the counter is hand delivered. Then again, there’s a tip jar next to the cash register, into which I dutifully shoved some dollar bills.
While I don’t think tips are going anywhere soon, it might be time to revisit — and perhaps argue over — my guidelines for tipping:
Does someone greet you at the door, escort you to your table, then toss the ball to a waiter or waitress who manages your well being from there? Then you’re in a full service restaurant, and the standard for good service is 20percent of the total bill before tax. If the server goes above and beyond, then you should consider rounding up to a nice even number above that. A hard-working and ever-cheerful breakfast waitress gets a 10- spot for that $7.28 meal. Preferably a nice, crisp one.
If you have serious problems with the service, you might go as low as 10 percent, but you should keep in mind that a waiter has no control over a slow kitchen. If you have such a bad experience you are thinking of stiffing the waiter, then you should talk to a manager first.
The fast-casual service model has become ubiquitous. You line up to order at the counter, pay and twiddle your cutlery at the table until a food runner brings your meal from the kitchen. At some of these restaurants, waiters may circulate with water and iced tea, or they may take alcoholic drink orders. What do you tip?
I generally go with 10 percent to 15 percent, depending on the restaurant and the demands customers place on the floor staff. These guys still count on tips for part of their wages; they should get them.
There’s a reliably mediocre Thai restaurant where I get carryout every month or so. The owner always offers me a nice seat and a beverage — either ice water or hot tea. For him, it’s basic hospitality. For me, it’s the reason I like to order from this place rather than the half dozen other mediocre Thai places in near proximity. To me, this is worth $1 per entree in the bag. If it’s just a quick, pleasant transaction at the counter, then $1 for the order.
This one is tricky. If I’m getting a cup of coffee to go, then I see no reason to tip for counter service. If I’m going to sit down and enjoy the coffee from a ceramic mug, then I think it’s worth a buck. If I’m going to crack open a laptop and hang out for hours, then it’s a buck for each drink, each refill and each food item I consume.
I think $2 is now customary but I sometimes go up to $5 if the staff is working hard and making every effort to return your car to you as quickly as possible.
- by John Kessler for the Food & More blog