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The Tipping Point

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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:

Full service

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.

Quick service

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.

Carryout

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.

Coffee shops

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.

Valet parkers

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

56 comments Add your comment

rebelliousrose

October 29th, 2013
8:53 am

Just by way of comment, waiters are taxed on the POST-TAX check amount, not the pre-tax. So the bill pre-tax is lower, but the server’s tipout to other employees and the govt are calculated on the total, tax-included bill.

rebelliousrose

October 29th, 2013
9:02 am

Also, AZcat, most full-service restaurants require waiters to surrender a share of their tips to other employees- commonly the bar, service assistants and food runners, generally up to 35% a night. Depending on the restaurant, the waiter may also tip the sommelier, the kitchen, and the hosts. putting in perspective- table X has a 100.00 dinner tab, including tax. They leave 20%, a relatively standard amount. After the tipout of the other staff, (I used 4.5% because that’s a fairly standard amount) the waiter is left with 15.50. They are taxed on the full amount, however.

K10

October 29th, 2013
11:16 am

Back to valet – obviously, we tip the valet when it’s complimentary, usually $2, and $5 if it’s a nasty night. What about when it’s not complimentary?

Baltisraul......

October 29th, 2013
1:11 pm

K10…..well the food is not complimentary and you tip, so I guess you tip valet service either way.

Praveen

October 29th, 2013
5:04 pm

It is not true that tipping ensures better service. If that were the case , why does the service level remain the same when you have a flat mandaory service charge for bigger groups? I have not notices the waiter working less hard despite being guaranteed a flat service charge(Of course, the party is free to tip extra, but a lot dont). Take a look at Chik Fil A. The service at most Chik Fil A’s is great. If the order is slightly delayed, they bring it to your table despite no tips. What is the incentive for the Chik Fil A employee to smile and bring your order in such a pleasant manner? ITR DPEENDS ON THE MANAGEMENT. This is why paying a better salary to the waiters would be better instead of tipping. I dont mind tipping to return back to ta time when it was meant for special service.

If your shift manager is good, then your waiters will provide good service even if all they are paid is a guaranteed salary. A restaurant can always provide bonuses per shift based on revenue brought in. In these computerized days, it is easy to get customer feedback about service on the receipt itself and then for software to tally what kind of optional items were pushed to the customer. This way, a staff member has incentive to push sales, but there is no fakeness or cutthroatness to the job.

Praveen

October 29th, 2013
5:07 pm

As far as takeout, I tip, but very reluctantly because I know the waiters get paid crap. However, I belive the restaurant should TIP OUT from the receipt to the waiters packin the order instead of relying on us. We dont get restaurant service, but the waiter is still doing work, but getting paid less than min. If the owner is the one packing the takeout, I dont tip.