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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.

Comments (22)

What's the name of that res... (Below threshold)

What's the name of that restaurant? I'm planning to go to New York next year and wouldn't want to make the mistake of waking into that place.

"I had the thought that if ... (Below threshold)

"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."

Unfair. As a former waitress (and former restuarant manager) I know that very often a customer's satisfaction depends not just on the waitres, but on the kitchen. If the kitchen is slow getting the food out, if the food is cold, overcooked, undercooked, served wrong, etc., the waitress will feel that in her tip. Too many resaurant patrons forget that the waitstaff has no control over the kitchen and leave a lousy tip if they didn't like the food.

Another thing to keep in mind is people who use coupons, discounts, etc. They very often will not tip on the original price, but on the discounted price.

And then there's bad tippers, stingy people, the overall clientele of the restaurant, the income of the area in which you are located, etc. It's very hard to judge a server based on tips.

I agree with michele and I'... (Below threshold)

I agree with michele and I've never waited in my life. The problem is hat there are more nad tippers than there are ad waitstaff, and it is usually the kitchen's fault if food is slow.

Evaluations? A waiter's eva... (Below threshold)

Evaluations? A waiter's evaluation IS the check they bring home. A good waiter doesn't have to push big ticket items, they SELL them. They keep your drinks full.

The first step in becoming a successful wait person (I was one in college), is to get over the cheapskates and coupon clippers. Give exceptional service regardless, and the money from other patrons will make up the difference.
Drag your ass, and yes, you will not make money. (Of course you get to know who the penny-pinchers are, and direct your resources appropriately)

I live in a college town, and the service is usually poor. It seems many kids these days don't want to be at work, don't enjoy their work, and don't give a crap about the restauranteur's business. So when I get exceptional service, 30% is no problem. I also have no problem leaving a meagher 8-10%, sending a clear message.

I have a friend that waits at a high end restaurant for a living. Go out to eat with her and anything less than 20% gets her hairs raised, regardless of the service. I have a problem with that, as I would if it were added to my bill. You ARE paying the waiter's salary, bu tthey still hav eto earn it.

As a semi-retired manager i... (Below threshold)

As a semi-retired manager in food service (35+ years so far) I have a couple of observations.

Southern cafeterias are an environment that grew mainly from a desire on the part of patrons to save money (i.e. cheaper food, no frills, pay only for what you eat) while still "eating out." Any "tips" amounted only to pocket change and the dining room staff were paid minimum wages. Sometime in the eighties real tips started to appear for some reason. (I think a lot of patrons were looking for what is fashionably called comfort food as restaurants became more chic, ethnic and expensive.) Whatever the dynamic, cafeterias found that they could switch from minimum wage to tip wages ($2.13 plus tips). Not in all markets, but in most we saw an immediate improvement in dining room sevice quality and the cost of maintaining a dining room staff. (Nobody thinks about tipping cafeteria line servers, so they have to be paid hourly wages.)

I now work in a retirement community dining room where tipping is strictly forbidden for a very good reason. The food is included in the resident's plan along with rent, security, utilities and whatever other amenities they enjoy. Tipping in the dining room only would amount to overcharging, it would also play havoc with service. If we knew that one resident is very generous and another one is very parsimonious, what would that do to the service? Besides, we are not (like dining room cafeteria workers of old) on tip wages. We are being paid an hourly rate and awarded annual merit increases like any other employees according to a lot more expectations than how well we suck up to those who eat in the dining room. Professional appearance, teamwork and attendance become correspondingly more important...all of which can be really lacking in tipped employees, I can assure you.

Between these two extremes is a big range of variations, but you can put me down in favor of tipping, both as a customer and a manager. I've seen it both ways, from both sides of the table. Situations such as a retirement setting that I described above are the exception.

Incidentally, there is a great blog, Waiter Rant, that is enormously entertaining for those of us who have been in the business. Judging from the comment threads I think everyone who reads his stories finds them really entertaining.

Hoots, that's a good one, b... (Below threshold)

Hoots, that's a good one, but it pales in comparison to the Shitty Tipper Database.

I worked for a few years as... (Below threshold)
cowardly anon:

I worked for a few years as a bartender and for a period of time a bar manager, of sorts. The real manager was always too hungover to come in so I did her job. Anyway. I think the secret to good service is not good tips but good people. People who like their job and understand what it is like to be the customer. When I get around to opening that beer joint on the beach in mexico my servers will be paid salary. That way I do not have to worry about their attitude being killed by cheap bastards with their 5% tips then that same bad attitude making for a unpleasant experience for other diners.

Jay Tea,Your story a... (Below threshold)
Steve L.:

Jay Tea,
Your story about "Bickford's" is amazing.

You had a girlfriend?

These days 15% is actually ... (Below threshold)

These days 15% is actually considered a little low; sort of the floor for tipping if service in the control of the serever was adequate or better.

Here's a fun thought... whe... (Below threshold)

Here's a fun thought... when I was over in England last summer, I talked with the manager of a tea shop about tips. He said that 10% should be the absolute maximum tip that you give. I liked that thought... I personally don't believe in tips at all unless the service was exceptional, and in theory, the waiters are already getting paid for their efforts.

I have had arguments... (Below threshold)

I have had arguments with some buddies over whether the tip should be based on the pre-tax or the total bill (including sales tax). I guess you NH’ers don’t have to worry about this. But in some localities, various state and local taxes can add up to 10-12% or more.

To me, this is a minor issue (I use the total bill as the basis). But some of my more anal friends actually get worked up over this.

Any opinions?

I have to disagree with you... (Below threshold)

I have to disagree with you Michele...at least partially. One of the things I expect from my waiter/waitress is that they get my order delivered correctly. Now I understand that sometimes even if they put it in correctly the kitchen could still mess it up, but the waiter needs to catch that when/before they bring it out. They also need to wait until the party has a chance to try it to see if it is cooked/prepared as ordered, not ask before I even have a chance to cut my meat and see if my 'medium well' is in fact still chilly and bleeding inside. That also means not disappearing after taking the order and a different person brings the food and not reappearing again until it's time for the check (or, if the food is screwed up, after I send another waiter after them). However, I don't necessarily dock the waitstaff for, let's say, undercooked meat. That's not their fault and I don't want them sticking their fingers in my steak to see if it's done enough. But when a waiter smilingly brings me a burger overflowing with shredded lettuce when I have asked for no lettuce, the tip goes down, even if they put in the order correctly. I am paying the restaurant for the food and the service, but for a tip, above and beyond what is minimally required, I want them to actually see if they're bringing me what I ordered. Also, I don't dock for speed, unless I never see them between ordering and receiving food 45 minutes later. All it takes is a "sorry, kitchen's really busy, I'll see how much longer it will be" or "your order should be out shortly" to save their tip. If the restaurant doesn't appear to be busy and the wait seems excessive with no explanation from the wait staff, I dock the tip, they're not providing service, so why do they deserve a tip? It's part of their expected pay? Yes, I agree, so maybe they should do their job so they can get paid. If your table isn't getting their food, I want you to go to the kitchen and find out why.

Here's my two worsts: 1) Seated at a table at a Weathervane (never had any other problems there) and sat there for about 15 minutes while never seeing a waitress, not for a drink, for an order, etc, at least not at our table. Finally went to the front table and asked to be moved to a table with a waitress. Result: apologetic waitress and manager and a free appetizer. Tip not affected. We eat there often. 2) Order taken at a Chilis, no sign of waitress for about 45 minutes. People come, order, eat, and leave as we wait. I think we finally said something, waitress brings order, food is correct but not even vaguely prepared as requested. Something about our order being lost in the kitchen! So she tried to like remember what we ordered or something and brought that instead of just asking us what we had ordered. They brought it back, returned with the order still wrong. Manager summoned. Result: unapologetic waitress, aplogetic manager, dinner free. We didn't eat at any Chilis for probably a year after this incident. Tip: Not a penny.

For the record, I round up from 15% in general, tip 20% for good service, 10% if they screw up something like above...and leave loose change only if absolutely warranted (if there is a visit from the manager involved). And I tip on original price, if we use a buy one-get one coupon I tip on the full price. Oh yeah, not offering refills generally triggers a round down instead of a round up.

The remark about coupon cli... (Below threshold)

The remark about coupon clippers caught my attention. My wife and I do sometimes use coupons, but if we do I always tip based on the pre-discount total.

Considering that I'm resisting the idea that the base tip should now shoot up to 20%, it's the least I can do.

they're not providing se... (Below threshold)

they're not providing service, so why do they deserve a tip? It's part of their expected pay? Yes, I agree, so maybe they should do their job so they can get paid. If your table isn't getting their food, I want you to go to the kitchen and find out why.

Could not agree more. The wait staff is there to wait on you - that includes keeping you in the loop. Too many wait staff think they should be tipped for nothing more than delivering the food and the check.

As a waiter, I provided a d... (Below threshold)

As a waiter, I provided a dearly needed service and outlined tipping, from the waiter's perspective, a long time a go. You can read it here.

Totally randomly clicked on... (Below threshold)

Totally randomly clicked on a page of the S** Tipper Database after reading the first page. I clicked P. 58 and there was the name of the heroic John Kerry! Made my day! Since leaving no tip at the Charthouse predated his trip to Wendy's, perhaps he was practicing not leaving a tip as a prelude to descending to mingle with the peasants.

So waitstaff, help out us c... (Below threshold)

So waitstaff, help out us civilians here. If you pay with a credit card, is it preferable to write in the tip on the credit card slip, or to leave cash on the table for you?

As a former waiter that wor... (Below threshold)

As a former waiter that worked in a house that automatically added a "service charge" or gratuity on the check (in Florida), I have a couple of brief comments:

1) Usually, a waiter will make about half of minimum wage in the way of salary. Once the service charge is added to the check the waiter will probably not make any salary and the service charge will be his only compensation -- which he will probably have to split with support staff (busboys, etc). The point here is that restaurants do not do this to help the waiter, they do it to lower their costs.

2) As far as the waiter wanting to sell items to increase the corresponding service charge, ANY good waiter will want to sell whether there is a service charge on the check or not, as even without such an automatic service charge, he will assume he is getting 15-20 percent of the check total.

By the way, credit card tip... (Below threshold)

By the way, credit card tips are absolutely fine, but if given a choice, a waiter would prefer cash -- for the obvious tax reasons.

I agree that good service s... (Below threshold)

I agree that good service should be rewarded... especially at places you are dining at regularly. I've found that really good tips encourage a LOT of attentiveness from the bartender, wait staff, etc.

I have habitually been a "good tipper" at pizza shops, fine restaurants, Karaoke bars, and POEA's... and find that it DOES pay off in terms of quality of service. (you get what you pay for, after all).

One place I used to eat at weekly (before a current unfortunate loss of regular high income), which had filet mignon that could be cut with a fork (no knife required!), elegant setting, highly varied menu - poached salmon, red snapper, escargot, etc., had a really nice staff... My wife & I would arrive at 8 PM & often stay until 10 or 11.. (past closing, but the owners & staff didn't mind). -- We'd have nice elegant meals, chat with the staff & get to know each other as people, not just diner vs. server...

We'd often schedule our dinners to match the schedules of my favorite bartender & waitresses... And if anything went "wrong" with the order, they'd go out of their way to fix it, but often, if I'd ordered entree "A" and got instead entree "C", my attitude was, "No problem... I planned on steak today, but this granchio scampi is just fine, thanks".

Building a relationship with the staff of a favored dining spot can be just as important to a continuing good experience as tipping!

After eating at one particular spot for several years, it had become normal for us to have a "regular" table... and the owner and head chef would actually come out to greet us & kiss my wife on the cheek every time we showed up for dinner. And the occasional free carafe of Merlot, or gratis dessert never hurt either. It felt like dining with friends/family more than just going out to restaurant "X".

So, while recognizing the value of tipping to help build a good bond between diner/server, never neglect the personal factor.

As an aside, (Just to Jay Tea) have you ever noticed that in many "Places of Adult Entertainment" the waitresses and bartenders are often more attractive & interesting than the performers? And I'm talking about places with GOOD looking performers!?

Well, I'll probably get dog... (Below threshold)

Well, I'll probably get dogged for this, but I disagree immensely. I hate tipping, period.

Here's what I don't get. If I order a $10 meal, you get $1.50. If I decide to upgrade to the $20 9oz filet, you expect more money? Why? The waiter/waitress didn't do shit. And you expect more cash for doing absofugginkutely nothing different? Why is my effort and decision supposed to affect your salary?

How about this? No tipping. No service fees. Nothing. The price of dinner goes up to compensate having to pay workers actual wages, and if your dining experience sucks, regardless of whose fault it is, you don't go back and the free market takes care of the problem?

I would like to state a com... (Below threshold)

I would like to state a comment to michele. She stated that customer's tip on the total after a coupon. I feel it depends on the coupon. For instance, if I have a coupon for a free appetizer, then I can see tipping on the bill BEFORE the coupon. If I have a coupon for instance that states $4.00 off 2 entrees, I feel the tip should be AFTER the coupon because the owner is temporarily reducing the price by sending out coupons. The service is the same except for the server having to get a manager to deduct the amount on the bill, that's it. The server doesn't do ANYMORE work besides that. The server is getting the $2.13/hr to do that extra trip to get the manager. It's NOT the cusotmer's fault that a manager has to fix the bill. It should be the server that does it, but it seems like from what I have heard, discounts can only be done by a manager. As I said before, bringing me another item such as a free appetizer is MORE work. Getting the manager doesn't SERVE me. It is NOT my fault that the server can't just discount the bill themselves.

I agree with Falze about that the server should make sure the order is correct BEFORE bringing it to the customer. Maybe the cook messed up, but, I think servers look like idiots when they bring out the food completely wrong. I have had the SAME server bring me the wrong entree completely. He even wrote the order down. I felt, "What's the point of writing it down if the server isn't going to compare the plate of food with the order he or she writes down?"

I have given over 25% tips before, 20% and less. I have stiffed servers who were REALLY bad and weren't apologetic when they made huge mistakes like wrong entrees or overcharges. I treat people the way they treat me. I order condiments a lot when I order my meal and servers seem to forget. It gets aggrevating to have to wait to enjoy your food when the server didn't remember and doesn't have the decency to apologize. The tips I give for forgetting my condiments with no apologies is around 13%. If a server apologizes 15%. I feel act like you care and I will care more about your tip.






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