Tipping in Cow Hampshire

The other day there was a discussion on the radio about tipping in restaurants. The catalyst was a New York restaurant’s decision to do away with tipping, and replace it with a flat “service fee.”

When I eat out, my rule of thumb is simple: I tip 15%, rounded up to the nearest dollar. But I’ve bent that rule a few times.

When the service was exceptional, I’ve wanted to impress the waitress, or impress my companion, I’ve tipped as much as 30% on occasion. And on one memorable occasion, I left a single penny on the table.

I and my then-girlfriend were at a Bickford’s (family restaurant chain, motto “Bickford’s is breakfast any time”), and the guy who was waiting on us apparently misunderstood the concept, because we spent most of our time waiting on him. We waited fifteen minutes from making our selections to placing our order, half an hour for our food, and another fifteen minutes after requesting the check to actually getting it. And no, it wasn’t that busy, the guy was that incompetent. We complained to the manager, who looked suitably appalled and tore up our check. And on future visits, not only was the service back to the previous high standards and promptness, we never saw that guy again. I hope he found a line of work more suitable for his personality — DMV clerk, for example.

The callers raised some interesting points. One pointed out that if there is no incentive for wait staff to perform well, then all service should generally decline. And another said that the wait staff’s pay was directly tied to the price of the order, then they’ll be a lot more pushy on the big-ticket items.

I had the thought that if I ran a restaurant, I’d tell the wait staff that a good portion of their regular evaluations would be based on their reported tips. The theory is that better servers get more tips, and should be recognized as such. This also tends to give incentive to servers to more honestly declare their tips — a chronic condition.

Naturally, all this is based on my vast experience as a patron of restaurants. Well, half-vast. OK, marginal at best.

But that’s the great thing about blogging. You can pontificate at length about matters with which you have no experience, and be guaranteed that a bunch of people who DO know what they’re talking about will be right along to set you straight.

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