Tipping Philosophy – When and When Not To Tip

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Are you a generous tipper or do you give the minimum tip possible? Do you tip extra for good service or not at all for bad service? Well, everyone has their own tipping philosophy and it does vary by where you live, your background and expectations. Mrs Micah’s, Finance for a Freelance life had a recent post on Dining Out Frugally Without Stiffing On the Tip, where she talks about tipping etiquette and her philosophy behind this is :

Beyond the basic 20%, I think that when you’re ordering something particularly cheap, you should tip based on the average price (if possible)….they’re still putting in the same effort as they would with something more expensive. No matter how you handle eating out, just remember to plan for a 20% tip. If you can’t afford it, then you can’t afford to eat there. Pick someplace cheaper or get fast food instead.

My tipping philosophy is a bit different. Most likely this is due to the fact I have lived a large part of my life outside America and am more use to different cultural norms. By far America is the most generous nation when it comes to tipping. The standard here is 15%, with 20% the norm in New York and other large metro areas. While I respect standard tipping norms I do not like to tip for bad or rude service, no matter what.

I am not against tipping, in fact after being here for a few years now I have found that the service you receive at American establishments is generally much better than you would receive in Europe, Australia or anywhere else in the world. Given the US minimum wage is so low compared to the cost of living (especially in bigger cities), tipping definitely has its place. However, giving a standard tip for any kind of service seems a bit strange. Would employers pay the same bonus or salaries for poor performers as compared to their top performers. I think not. My belief is that tipping should be based a sliding scale relative to the service you receive. Here is my tipping philosophy:

1. Where a service is provided that meets expectations I will tip around 15% to the total bill amount.

2. If the service is excellent and above the norm, I will tip closer to 20% of the total bill.

3. If the service is really bad, yet they still expect a tip, my tip will be $0. That’s right – I will not tip for bad or well below par service. If this is automatically added to the bill I will ask them to remove it because of the poor service.

What are your thoughts on tipping? Am I being to harsh on tipping for bad service?

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

John September 12, 2012 at 9:40 pm

While it is true that servers get paid below minimum wage, if their tips do not bring them up to at least the minimum wage level, the restaurant is legally obligated to make up the difference. And I don’t understand Brittany’s complaint about restaurants illegally not paying overtime. I presume Brittany no longer works at places that have done this to her, so why does she not sue them for back wages (presuming she has demanded the compensation already and it has been refused). While a lot can be said about the over-litigious nature of this country, people who are wronged are too afraid to use the small claims court to receive justice. No lawyers have to be hired and the process is simple. Any server who is not paid overtime, or who does not make minimum wage after tips, needs to demand their employer make it right, and if not, sue them. If they terminate you, you can then sue for wrongful termination since it is obviously retribution. Or, at least very least, once you no longer work there, sue for back wages.

That said, I always tip 15% for decent service, and 20-25% for good to excellent service. If service is poor I may tip as low as 10%. The only case in which I would tip less than that is if the service was insulting or downright atrocious. But believe it or not, it is not my responsibility to make sure servers get paid a decent wage. There are laws for that.

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Brittany Gordon March 22, 2012 at 6:20 pm

Yes, you are being extremely harsh for tipping in general. For starters, standard tip is 20%. I am a recent law school graduate, and I have put myself through school for the past 8 years by serving and bartending. My first job paid me 2.12 minimum wage, everything else I earned was in tips. My last job, a bartender at a famous downtown Chicago restaurant, earned 4.95 per hour.

Tipped employees are exempted from minimum wage requirements. Additionally, servers and bartenders must also “tip out” other waitstaff (bussers, foodrunners, barbacks, etc) a certain percentage of either tips (usually 20-30%) or total sales (3-6%). Therefore, when you “stiff” a bartender or server, they have essentially paid to serve you, and also have lost out on having a paying table. On top of all of that, most restaurants will in NO CIRCUMSTANCE EVER pay overtime. Therefore, if you want to work over 40 hrs per week, your hours must be “adjusted”. Its illegal but it happens everywhere.

So, you should not think of a tip as a “bonus”, you should think of your check as payment for food, and your tip as payment for services rendered. Did you ask for an extra side of sauce? How many times did you get your diet coke refilled? You should notice that prices comparatively in Europe are much higher because the waiters “tip” (salary) is calculated into the total cost of the meal. So an American meal plus 20% roughly equals a French meal without tip.

I’m not saying that I’ve never tipped below 20% when the circumstances have called for it. However, 20% is standard, its what’s expected, when I get a below 20% tip I think either what did I do wrong or what a d***. Hopefully, this has been educational and you will begin to properly compensate some of the hardest workers of the American economy.

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