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Tipping Point

Richard Quinn

ON MY FIRST VISIT to Europe, I discovered a different approach to tipping—don’t. I left a euro for a bartender in Ireland and was gently admonished by our guide. I left it anyway. Just couldn’t help myself.

On the Italian island of Capri, to tip or not resulted in a confrontation with a waiter. We were told not to tip. In addition, the bill had a service charge. Was it for the waiter? Apparently not, as the waiter went on a mini-tirade looking for more, at least that’s what the interpreter said. We complained and the tour guide talked to the owner, who said he fired the waiter. I doubt it, and I hope not.

In Morocco, I checked off a bucket list item by riding a camel. When I got off—on an almost involuntary basis thanks to an ornery animal—the handler had his hand out for an additional tip. Having no idea what he was saying and faced with a rather scary face, I just reached into my pocket and gave him all the coins I had from different countries.

They do tip in some European countries, but it’s much less than in the U.S. When deciding whether or not to tip, keep an eye out for service charges either built into the prices or already added to the bill.

Back in the U.S., tipping is controversial. Some people think servers earn only a $2.13 minimum hourly wage. But federal law requires that, unless tips make up the difference, the server must be paid the standard federal minimum of $7.25. In addition, many states have a significantly higher minimum wage for tipped workers than that required by federal law.

No matter how you slice it, most servers don’t make much money. On the other hand, the IRS estimates that 40% of tip income goes unreported. Before new tracking systems were put in place, it was estimated to be 84%.

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I’ve asked several servers who are the worst tippers. The most common answer is, I regret to say, seniors. A CreditCards.com study, however, says it’s younger generations—those ages 18 to 40—who are the worst tippers.

The income of the diner seems to make a difference, too. Only 77% of middle-income households, those with an annual income between $40,000 to $80,000, were found to tip. Hey, if you can afford to eat out, you can afford to tip.

I go out to eat with a small group of friends once a month. We just divide the bill equally, but there’s always a debate about the tip. I try to add 20%, but others object. I often have to argue just to get up to 15% to 18%. These are seniors with incomes well above average. Go figure. I’m embarrassed, so—when I can—I slip a few extra bucks into the collective cash paying the bill.

In the past two years or so, I’ve upped my tip, often to 25% and, on occasion, to 30%. Statistically, I know I’m in a much better financial place than those taking my order, helping with repairs, delivering my food and so on. I just think it’s fair to share.

What matters when deciding how much to tip? I often hear it’s the server’s attitude and efficiency. That’s fair. What I don’t think is fair is penalizing servers for what may be beyond their control, like the quality of food or a delay in receiving it. Blame the kitchen for those miscues.

I always tip in cash rather than adding it to the credit card, out of concern that the server may not receive it. I also try to hand the tip to the server to avoid light-fingered Louies helping themselves from the table.

Do you have any tips on tipping? What’s your tipping philosophy?

Richard Quinn blogs at QuinnsCommentary.net. Before retiring in 2010, Dick was a compensation and benefits executive. Follow him on Twitter @QuinnsComments and check out his earlier articles.

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Harper Adams
Harper Adams
4 months ago

My problem with tipping now is that servers expect a 20% tip regardless of the horrible service. Because of this crappy service, I rarely go out to eat anymore. And yes I AGREE that if you can’t afford to tip at restaurants, you shouldn’t be eating at them and I agree that seniors are the worst tippers and are usually better off than everyone else out there.

CJ
CJ
4 months ago

Many of my loved ones waited tables for years – and what they put up with was absolutely galling. Working with the public is often a miserable experience, especially as most restaurant owners/mgrs back in the 80s/90s wouldn’t support their employees. There was also no minimum gratuity for large parties like now.

It was usually the customers who were highest maintenance, had the brattiest kids, or who left the worst mess that tipped little to nothing.

You could bust your rear end for 2+ hrs getting ordered around by a demanding group of 12 or 15 people and get NOTHING other than $2/hr.

Servers dreaded international tourists: many liked to play dumb – claiming no one tips in their country so they don’t believe in it. It was heartbreaking.

I agree 100% with a previous poster: if I dined with anyone who stiffed or left a low ball tip for decent service, that would be the last meal I shared in public with them and I’d happily tell them why.

Last edited 4 months ago by CJ
Jim Young
Jim Young
4 months ago

I carry $2 bills for my cash tips. That started when discussing tips with a friend. He said he had a $2 minimum. This was back in the 90’s when a meal in a greasy spoon, my preferred eatery, could be had for under $10. So even if I was only getting a coffee and donut, the tip was $2. Of late I typically do 20% on the cc with a few $2 bills left at the table.
When I think about how I am having a pretty good year, the tip can approach 100%.
Once just on a lark, I tipped each of the people working in a Popeyes $20 from the drive thru.

OBX9397
OBX9397
4 months ago

Richard, thank you for raising a great topic.
 
I agree with 20 – 25% or more at low to middle priced restaurants. I like to joke (half seriously) about all the servers’ kids that I have helped put through college. (We eat out a lot.) But I have a real problem leaving the same percentage tips at high priced restaurants. Leaving large dollar amount tips at those places makes me feel like I am belittling and unappreciative of the efforts of workers in less pricy establishments. I usually leave only 15%, and often with gritted teeth.
 
Confession: I really wish I could leave tips in cash, but 99% of the time, I put them on a card. I rarely carry cash. When I put cash in my wallet in hopes of using it for tips, the cash seems to always be gone when I reach for it. I am ashamed.

Newsboy
Newsboy
4 months ago

After spending close to 7 years as a waiter and bartender during my youth, I lean towards heavy tipping (25% for full-service restaurants – and a 50%-100% tip for haircuts every 6 weeks or so). I also have a heightened level of service expectations (at least, according to my kids) for what restaurant table service should include. Friendliness is a plus, with regular check-backs / communication from the table server being paramount (yes, that means even if they burned my entree in the kitchen). Sadly, restaurants have had to increase the size of server stations by 20-30% in our area due to post-COVID labor shortages. The ability to juggle 7-8 tables (with one table a party of 8 or 10) makes the job of a table server almost impossible today in high volume establishments.

Like others, my major issue on tipping of late involves the prevalence of the mandatory-entry “add a tip” screens at takeout-only food establishments (Pizza, coffee shops, bagel places, etc). It is extortion of the worst kind. During the early months of COVID, I guess it was somewhat understandable, as many folks working the takeout counters were former table servers dependent on tip income. That was then….

Now? I cannot help seeing this trend as a covert “cost-shift” by business owners – transferring the obligation to pay a fair wage from the business onto it’s loyal paying customers. My advice? Pay your employees a decent hourly wage and factor this metric into your end-cost of product for everyone. In this “new model” for takeout purchases, tipping customers end up subsidizing “non-tipper” purchasers (via a stealth “tip” surcharge) to secure the exact same product. Worth noting again that these are takeout items, which historically did not have the expectation of a tip as part of the purchase transaction during the pre-COVID era.

Not being permitted to pay and exit unless you manually add a tip or decline to do so, (in most cases, you must choose an option, which then appears real-time on BOTH sides of the register screen) is terribly manipulative – and a very bad look for the small business owner, IMO. It leaves a sour taste in my mouth towards their business, and it’s the last impression I’ll take with me before leaving.

One local business owner just shrugged, telling me bluntly that it’s the “new” cost of acquiring their product. Fair enough – so we now have a new bagel shop…Costco!

Last edited 4 months ago by Newsboy
mdh2959
mdh2959
4 months ago
Reply to  Newsboy

Excellent. With regard to I-pad tipping: Where is the line drawn? Gas stations? Any self service? Movie theatre ticket taker?
Curious as to how others view the new “Health and Benefits service charge” of 18-20% in some restaurants. I feel this is an onset approach to convert the variability of tipping to a definable benefit to the server. Many places illustrate the breakdown of where the $ goes. IN these instances I rarely add a tip on top of the 20% of the meal cost. What do others do?

Chazooo
Chazooo
4 months ago
Reply to  Newsboy

Agree, Newsboy. Nothing is more annoying to me than a tip jar or a no-option percentage add-on for a self serve situation. Maybe I should get a discount for lining up to order some food, drawing my own beverage, and finding my own condiments and napkins?? In normal circumstances I happily tip well for good service, but have always been perplexed that folks serving in expensive steakhouses get outsized money for relatively less work than the hustling, friendly, overworked coffee shop or diner waitperson, just because of the amount of the bill.
Leave a dollar tip for a two dollar coffee with free refills? Probably should, or maybe even more.

Rob Thompson
Rob Thompson
4 months ago

My better half and I have always said that everyone’s first job should be low-paying and labor intensive. Paper routes(are these a thing anymore?), lawn mowing, busing tables, waitpersons, short order cooks. You have to walk in someone else’s shoes to appreciate their efforts. For us, we tip 20% unless you don’t deserve it. And it has to be pretty bad to not get the tip. There is usually more to the story when the service is bad.

Word to the wise…don’t P*off anyone who can spit in your food (Penny to Sheldon-Big Bang Theory–LOL).

Rob Jennings
Rob Jennings
4 months ago

Over the years the standard tip for dining out here in the U.S. seems to have moved from 15 to 20% which I eventually adjusted to. I do tend to make adjustments +/- based on quality of service within 10-25%. Also I tip a significantly higher percentage for lower cost meals like breakfast because really the server is sometimes worked as hard or harder than those who serve expensive dinners. My pet peeves about tipping these days include-automatic service charges, and how virtually everything outside of restaurant service has now has a tip option/request.

excel lent
excel lent
4 months ago

My first wife way back in the early 80’s worked in a donut shop where donuts were 25 cents and 50 cent coffee. This was full service where customers came in and sat down and the waitress/waiter came over and took your order. 10 cent tips were common. She drove 20 miles one way to get to this job which was in a very rural area amid the early 80’s recession.
Needless to say, it was a struggle. Financial distress was the primary culprit in our divorce.
She is doing better now, but I never forgot how hard she worked in that job and other low wage service positions, so 20-30% is a pretty common tip for me. I consider my/their humble work experiences as a blessing to never forget how hard those workers have it for not much financial reward. Makes retirement either out of the question or will be working much longer than the average retiree.

corrupt
corrupt
4 months ago

What I don’t think is fair is penalizing servers for what may be beyond their control, like the quality of food or a delay in receiving it. Blame the kitchen for those miscues.”

Tips are often shared between wait staff and the kitchen and cleaning staff. I usually try to tip in cash. The less the feral government gets, the better.

David Lamb
David Lamb
4 months ago

I’m with you! Good grief, if you really can’t afford to tip then you REALLY cannot afford to eat out (in this country). If you’re not tipping for some reason other than “can’t afford to” then you are an unempathetic (insert favorite unflattering adjective here).

I refuse to dine with others who stiff the servers on their share of the tab; I just don’t want to be associated with people like that.

medhat
medhat
4 months ago

While I strongly suspect the readership of HD leans towards those who can tip with impunity, I do agree with the statistics that younger adults currently tend to be worse tippers. In relative terms, I perceive a weirdly heightened sense of entitlement among folks, younger and otherwise, who “don’t tip well,” and agree with the sentiment that, if one feels unable to tip decently, maybe the initial decision to partake in the activity: food, drink, or otherwise, may have been mistaken.

Michael1
Michael1
4 months ago

In the US, there’s no excuse for habitually not tipping servers. 20% plus is my personal starting point, more if I appreciate a service or something else moves me to give more. With some cash exceptions, I’ll usually just add it to the card charge, and round up to avoid math.

Outside the US, I follow local practice. If in a country that doesn’t usually tip, then I don’t either, or when I do, it’s for the reasons and in the ways I understand they would. That I happen to be an American is not a reason.

Jack Hannam
Jack Hannam
4 months ago

A good server adds to my enjoyment of a meal. I generally start with 20% of the total bill and adjust from there. If the server gives especially good service, if it appears they are understaffed, or just having a bad day, I may double it. I also use a sliding scale, leaving a more generous tip, percentage wise, with a smaller bill. I too generally leave cash. And if my wife and I share a meal with friends, the server normally will divide the bill equally, and then each credit card holder can calculate his own tip. One caveat: many restaurants include a service charge (tip) already, which is usually less than I had intended to give, so I add to it. The problem is that if I’m enjoying conversation and wine, I may forget to check the bill to see if that default tip is included already. As Jonathan once wrote, he prefers to take his risks in the stock market not in the bond market. Likewise, when I calculate a tip, or am on vacation, I don’t concern myself with frugality.

Paula Karabelias
Paula Karabelias
4 months ago

I also tip in cash, at least 20% and often more. I calculate it based on the total bill. I hate it when my friends calculate it on the subtotal ( before meal tax in Massachusetts) to save a few cents. My friends are well off so this is really petty. Most at least will split the bill evenly. One , a former Fortune 500 CEO, will not split a modest lunch bill that did not even have alcohol. And I always need to throw in more cash to leave a decent tip.

polamalu2009
polamalu2009
4 months ago

Agree totally. Just returned from France and Italy. Boy were they ever happy to see American tourists again. Years ago we were thought of as the “Ugly Americans” but now compared to Russian, Chinese and German tourists we are A number one. I would always hand cash totaling about 10% of the tab directly to the server and they looked like they just won the lottery. Taxi drivers were thrilled with a couple of extra euros on top of the fare. Is it necessary to tip in Europe? No, but it sure felt good to make someone happy.

R Quinn
R Quinn
4 months ago
Reply to  polamalu2009

I found the gondoliers in Venice the worst to deal with and the most aggressive in seeking a tip – especially if they sang 🤑

polamalu2009
polamalu2009
4 months ago
Reply to  R Quinn

True that. I speak a little Italian and when I got on a gondola and rocked it the gondolier, under his breath, called me a “fat a—“ in Italian. When I got off he had his hand out. I stiffed him and said “Parlo Italiano” (I speak Italian). He dropped his hand and looked shocked!

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