July 30, 2004

The Art of Tipping

WE NOTE WITH AMUSEMENT this Web site, Bitter Waitress, which names and shames people who tip their waiters and waitresses badly. We would gleefully add that many popular entertainers are listed in this cheapskate hall of fame, and as such stand accused for all time of being ungrateful, arrogant and generally wretched people.

That said, though, we are skeptical of one claim which the person behind Bitter Waitress has made vis-a-vis The Shitty Tipper Database. Namely, this is the idea that anything less than 17 pc -- that is, one-sixth -- of the tab constitutes a shitty tip when adequate service is provided for a meal. Adequate service, to be perfectly clear regarding her definition of the term, means that the service is minimally competent: the orders are correct, special requests done right, etc. Therefore, we think this tipping point is set slightly too high.

Why, you ask? Well, we think that, although America has turned into a service-oriented economy, some Americans remain disaffected and bitter at the fact they are doing service-oriented jobs. This goes double if they are jobs on the front lines, such as waiting tables. Hence, we would argue that while great opportunity exists for service workers who are cheerful and dedicated to their jobs, a contingent of these workers may approach their jobs with contempt and scorn. This contempt and scorn is then transferred onto honest God-fearing Americans who on paydays treat themselves to a dinner out. And quite frankly, we're not giving 17 pc to a waiter or waitress who is sullen and acts like a zombie.

On the flip side, we will say we have long recognized the hard work and dedication which most workers in tip-dependent industries (restaurant work, hotel work, transport, etc.) put into their jobs. So we're always very cognizant of the fact these workers earn their living through tips, and further cognizant they are doing very hard work. Therefore, we tend to be overly generous in tipping, across industries. And, as we've done a bit of traveling over our years, we've worked out sort of a tipping schedule, as follows -- although, admittedly, much of it is the "standard" stuff you would find in other tip guides. We have classified the table by employee category and tip; with rationale immediately following, where appropriate.


HOTEL HOUSEKEEPING: $1 per day, sometimes more, especially if we're staying at a cheap hotel where the housekeeping staff get very little in the way of tips.

TAXI DRIVER: 15 pc; but only 10 pc if he nearly killed us. Always 15 pc for livery drivers.

SHUTTLE DRIVER/HOTEL PORTER: A buck a bag, generally.

VALET PARKING: $3, but $5 if we know the place and go there frequently.

CAR WASH ATTENDANT: $3, but $5 if he really did a great job taking care of the car's insides. That one place on Sepulveda Boulevard, we can't remember the name, but the one where you could get an oil change and a car wash? Their guys did a great job.



TIP: 1 pc

Your service was so shitty that only our overwhelming desire to get you out of our sight prevents us from creating a nasty scene in front of all the other diners, your coworkers and your boss. You are a parody of a waiter; everything about you disgusts us, you stinking, worthless, miserable wretch. Also we hope you contract diptheria and the plague.

FREQUENCY: Once in our lives, at a pizza restaurant we do not wish to remember, in Ann Arbor, Mich., in 1998.

TIP: 10 pc

Boy, you really put in a lot of effort, didn't you? Yeah, thanks a lot for putting us back near the kitchen, where we could see you loafing about and talking with your friends while our drinks remained empty, our food remained under the heat lamp, and our patience grew thin.

FREQUENCY: Very rarely.

TIP: 15 pc-ish

You did a good job given the circumstances which prevailed in this establishment at this time. Also, thank you for keeping all that crap about being-our-server-and-such to a minimum. You have no idea how much we approve.


TIP: 18 pc-ish

Say, you helped make this evening a bit of fun. Thanks for all your hard work, and we will certainly return in future and make sure to order plenty of expensive drinks. Also, we'll make sure to bring our friends along and make a good night of it.

FREQUENCY: Standard.

TIP: 20 pc

MESSAGE (choose one):

A) Hi! We're on a date!

B) IF server = female, THEN 18 pc + 2 pc

C) Thank you for noticing we were on a date, and making sure that everything went smoothly. We will take care of you very well now and in future.

D) You really, really, really went above and beyond tonight, and we shall be eternally grateful for your hard work. How do we make sure we get you as a waiter or waitress next time, as opposed to the other people in this place?

FREQUENCY: Generally infrequent.

TIP: 50 pc or more / if alone, round up check to $100.

MESSAGE: OK, so not only were you an absolutely perfect waitress, you also happen to be a major fox not wearing a wedding ring. However, our sense of decorum and manners -- plus the fact it would likely creep you out something fierce -- forbids us from asking for your telephone number. As a result we will never see you again. But still, we're going to put this $100 bill inside the bill sleeve, and leave it on the table for you to pick up later. Just because we want to, that's why. If all goes well we will be getting back on the freeway by the time you happen to pick up the check, but in the event you do happen to stop by, you'll be set and no! don't open it and force us to explain ourselves! -- just -- God! -- just take it back to the till or whatever you do with the checks once they've been dealt with. There. Phew. Yes, everything was great, thanks for asking. Thanks. Gotta go. Bye.

FREQUENCY: Twice in our lives, with two different waitresses, at a Manchester restaurant we won't mention. We haven't been back for a year.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at July 30, 2004 01:51 AM | TrackBack

With respect to Bitter Waitress's site, I wonder how many reports of the large-party "shitty tips" fail to take into account the fact that many restaurants automatically add a 15-20% gratuity on to the bill for parties, say, over 8 or more. I certainly hope these folks don't expect an additional 15-20% on top of THAT...

Posted by: Geoff Brown at July 30, 2004 12:26 PM

From the numbers I saw all those things were spelled out. That said, mandated gratuities have generally rubbed me the wrong way, particularly since the number in one's party has seemed to drop over the years.

Posted by: Benjamin Kepple at July 30, 2004 12:55 PM

Well, I saw one comment, though, that claimed that the waiter only received a 14 % tip, but in the comments it said something like, "good thing there's a minimum 18% for large parties." Sounds like maybe that tipper left 14% of the total that already included and 18% tip.

Restaurants always say you can raise or lower the so-called mandatory tip as you like. That having been said, I question whether some of those large parties reported on the STD actually (a) did not have a mandatory tip imposed, and (b) if they did, that they lowered it to whatever low level was being claimed on the site.

Posted by: Geoff Brown at July 30, 2004 01:15 PM

Well, it is possible this could have been the case in some circumstances. On the other hand, there were an awful lot of parties for two or four.

Posted by: Benjamin Kepple at July 30, 2004 09:33 PM