Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Dueling Bloggers: Tipping

Photo courtesy of the New England Wedding Blog.

Peter: I'll be honest - I have no concrete notion of what is proper tipping etiquette.  Some people (maybe most?) calculate gratuity based on the pre-tax total. I have always based gratuity on the bottom line total including tax, and I don't know exactly why other than because that's how my Dad always did it. I usually tip 18% unless I am constantly trying to get the waiter's attention away from his iPhone to refill my water glass or futily searching for him while he is on a smoke break, in which case the tip gets knocked down to 15%. For higher end restaurants, I usually bump it up to 20%.

Rene: Daddy Warbucks and his pocketfuls of greenbacks over here. You probably spend a good amount of time tipping everyone and anyone who looks your way. Two things, first I usually tip on the pre-tax dollars. Real misers tip on the pre-tax and pre-drinks amount, but that seems a little cheap to me. Also, I try not to judge tipping by the location or style of a restaurant. Consider the humble breakfast waitress. She gets up at 4 a.m., refills coffee near endlessly, makes sure your eggs are scrambled softly, fetches you an extra biscuit, and snags the Sports page for you. All of that work and the bill is $12. I was always told and try to follow (when I do eat breakfast out) to tip breakfast waiters and waitresses over 30%. Maybe I am just more considerate and appreciative than you, Warbucks.

Peter: Here is an interesting question emailed to us by a faithful Blackened Out reader named Kelly: Is it customary to tip on take out? I always tip on takeout, but usually only to the tune of a few dollars. My rationale is this: If the bartender handles take out orders, and the bartender makes a living on tips, then throw him a couple of bucks. Here is another question for you, oh King of Corkage: When you bring a bottle of wine to a restaurant, do you calculate gratuity solely on the corkage fee or do you calculate based on the value of the wine that you brought in?

Rene: I do tip on take out, but usually only by adding a dollar and rounding up to the next whole dollar. So let's say the bill is $27.39, I would tip $1.61. This is stupid and it doesn't really make sense. No one is actually serving me anything, consider it a guilty conscience. Also, I must add that the growing proliferation of restaurants that take credit cards and print a receipt with a gratuity line has created an almost Pavlovian reaction to tipping. Listen up, dry cleaners, Walgreens, liquor stores, if there is a gratuity line, 9 times out of 10 you can trick me into leaving a tip.

As for corkage, I usually just add a base line amount to the regular tip based on how the wine service went. For instance, when we dined at Meson 923. The wine, a White Burgundy, was constantly taken from the table and placed in a wine bucket across the room chilling it and destroying the almond cream and mushroom aromas. Now despite my repeated requests to stop doing that, I may have been able to let it slide. If, and this is a HUGE if, I didn't have to get up and traipse across the room to retrieve said wine each time our glasses were empty. For that wine "service" I added $5 to the tip. For anything approaching competent service I'd probably do 20% of the cost of the wine to me added to regular tip.

Peter: If it takes forever to get your food, do you discount the server's gratuity even if the problem is most likely attributable to the back of the house? What about if the restaurant is understaffed (through no fault of the server), and therefore the server is spread too thin?  The service industry is a tough way to make a living, and the front of the house gets the brunt of the complaints because they are the ones dealing face to face with the customers. The back of the house gets paid the same no matter if the food is good or bad. Such is not the case with servers, but I try not to punish a waiter for problems outside of his control.  The only service issue which has the potential too drastically discount gratuity is if I am waiting an extended period of time to either get my check or run my credit card.

Rene: This brings up a very interesting argument. As we have talked about before, in Europe and elsewhere service is included in the price of the meal. In America, is tipping a way of passing the cost of service from the restaurant owner to the consumer? I say yes. But that this is not a bad thing. The number one thing we hear from friends and reader (they are pretty much mutually exclusive) is service complaints. If prices were higher and service was included, people would complain that they are paying for a service that doesn't please them. This way the patron decides the value of the server's wages. However, it should be the role of management and the kitchen to ensure the waitstaff is in the best possible position to make the most amount of money. When that happens, regardless of the restaurant, everyone wins.


Julia said...

I tip like Peter, usually in the 20% range. If the service is great, I'll even round up a bit. If the service is bad, I'll do 15%, which is what I consider the minimum. I also do a couple of dollars on take-out out of guilt.

I've only tipped less than 15% once because the server insulted me and was generally rude throughout the meal. I have not, and will not ever, return to that establishment.

Anonymous said...

Being in the service industry, I generally like to tip well I guess for karma reasons, but is it really necessary for the cashier at Felipe's to have a gratuity line on the receipt? I feel like a schmuck I don't leave anything, but it doesn't seem appropriate.

Anonymous said...

We almost always tip 20% in restaurants, unless the server does something really egregious, like dumping an entire tray of wine glasses on someone's head (yes, that really happened). Standard tip of a buck for regular bar drinks and beer, but more for the fancy stuff they work on at places like Iris and Cure.

Corkage: other than standard BYOB friendly places like Lola, the ONLY time we bring a bottle to a restaurant is if it is something VERY nice we ant to have with food for a special occasion. In those cases, I agree completely that I am expecting exceptional wine service and would tip on the value of the bottle if it was delivered. And, I always check to be sure the bottle is not in their cellar (very bad form) mention I am bringing it when making the reservation, and offer the sommelier a taste. We actually had the sommelier at Bayona decline to taste a 100 point wine we'd brought in for my wife's 30th...stunning

Rene said...

Perhaps the sommelier turned it down because drinking on the job is frowned upon at Bayona? Not everyone can be lawyers.

ScottH said...

I tip 20%, post tax amount pretty much every time. somebody's gotta screw up for me to tip less in a typical restaurant or bar situation. There's a lot of places I go regularly and I want to be remembered positively. And I've been in the service industry before. Like julia, if service is great, I round up and/or toss in another buck or two.

I leave some kind of tip for carryout but 15%ish. Somebody packed it up, etc. but that's kind of reflexive and a little bit about karma.

What I want you guys to talk about is leaving the heads and the tails on shrimp in pasta and risotto dishes, etc. Chef's apparently think this is some sort of sign of quality preparation. I see it as an opportunity to get nasty shrimp goo all over my clothes and ruin them when I try to pinch the head a bit to remove it. It is diner-unfriendly and every time I see it I want to smack someone.

Becky said...

I just tip 20% everyplace; more for breakfast as described by Rene. Take out: $3. Do I tip at Felipe's? Hell yes I tip at Felipe's. Those guys have fed me well at least once a week for the past couple years. They get tips, and they get bottles of booze at Christmas. In return, my quesadillas are always perfectly crisply browned on the outside and I get extra chorizo and guac.

If I'm drinking an expensive bottle of wine, chances are pretty much 100% I'm not paying for it, so I don't worry about that conundrum.

Pick Dat said...

Like everyone else in the world, I consider myself a fairly good tipper. I don't however have a "minimum" tip amount that I will give. I try to shake off socially accepted standards and tip what I feel their service was worth. Most of the time this falls in the 20% range, but not always. Years ago I dined at Lonestar Steakhouse (don't judge). Everything that the server could have done wrong, she did. Forever to greet us, rude, forgot drinks, didn't put our order in, wrong food, ignored us, etc. The bill was around $40 and I was so annoyed with the service, in the "tip" line of the credit card receipt, I put -$6 and made the total $34. I signed the receipt and left. She did get the last laugh however, because when I got my credit card statement, I had a $46 charge from Lonestar.

Nora said...

I tip at least 20% on the bottom line. This may be because I lived for many years with a professional waitress. If the service is horrible, I leave 15% of the final tally. I can't help it!

To-go situations, though, I will tip a dollar plus change if I have the dollar. Sometimes I don't, and I gotta live with that.

I always tip $1 minimum of drinks, and if the total is more than $7/drink,I will tip 20%.

RulesWonk said...

I tip like Becky, but with an embarrassing passive-aggressive twist. When service is horrible (and by that I mean I went more than ten minutes without alcohol--nothing else upsets me), I still tip the standard 20%, but I will occasionally draw a frown next to the tip line. In a perfect world, the server will take note of the face and correct his or her problems (I was an economics major in undergrad and know that without any kind of economic incentive, I'm just kidding myself).

My partner is a bartender, and this drives him mad.

Anonymous said...

"As we have talked about before, in Europe and elsewhere service is included in the price of the meal."

I can't speaks for all of Europe and all restaurants in Europe, but this is not true in the way I interpret this statement based on Italy, France, Spain, The Netherlands and Greece.

The service is not included in the price of the meal the same way we interpret that in the US. In other words, they don't add a mandatory gratuity -- the price of the meal is the price of the meal. You don't tip very much because the waiter is paid a living wage with health coverage and that type of economic model leads to higher prices overall than you might find in the USA.

In the US, the waiter is paid less than minimum wage, making the tip a customer-subsidized portion of the waiter's salary.

If you tip 15% in most European counties, you're crazy. As a general rule, a 5-euro coffee and breakfast bread elicits a 20-cent (Euro cent) tip. That give you an idea of how "little" you're supposed to tip. I've seen wait staff in Spain and France laugh at Americans who leave 15% tips. They're happy to take the money, though :)