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The Great Debates Server Tipping

Reader Feedback:

American Restaurateurs, listen up! As the owner-operator of a small off-premise catering business, and the one who prepares, delivers, and serves all product, usually without assistance, and who ultimately aspires to owning and operating a B&B in perhaps 10 years or so, I have a very different take on the practice of 'tipping'. As others have stated, the term 'gratuity' is probably far more appropriate.

I don't expect or ask for a 'gratuity' because I've priced my service based on what is fair compensation to me after cost of food, preparation , and transportation is accounted for. My clients get great and distinctive menus, freshly prepared food products, delivered and served HOT, and, because I specialize in catering for groups of 100 or less, service on china with stainless flatware. Even the most modest buffet for 15 or 20 people merits 'restaurant quality' service. And it generates repeat business.

Most diners in America (domestic or foreign) have no idea that our tax laws require that waitstaff be reported as receiving a percentage of gross house receipts as 'tip compensation'. These diners also believe that ALL waitstaff NEVER report their tips anyway, and feel that they're cheating the government. (Which, of course, they are, but who can blame them when their actual base wage is LESS than the legal minimum wage for virtually all other occupations.)

Far too many of you deduct the allowable 'tip compensation' from the waitstaff's hourly pay. In fact, I don't believe you should be allowed to do so. That's simply a perk to your own bottom line. I believe that if you are one of those operators who deduct from your waitstaff's base pay, that you owe it to them to inform your restaurant guests that YOU ARE A CHEAP ***, and that your employees depend on their tips to earn their living. At least your guests will understand they are also supposed to 'compensate' their server for his/her time on the job.

I would venture to say that diners at upscale restaurants here in the Los Angeles area would be shocked to learn that their waitperson doesn't even receive the California state minimum hourly wage . . . even though they're dining in an establishment that cost $1 million+ to appoint and equip, charges $6.00+ for a dinner salad, $7.50+ for a 1/10 slice of cheesecake, and $35+ for a bottle of California wine that can be purchased at the local grocery store for $6. The 'appearance' is that 'this place makes a fortune, they must pay their waiters/waitresses really well' (i.e., I don't need to tip them too much).

HOGWASH!! AND YOU KNOW IT!! You should be ashamed.

Does this hurt? It should. I also take strong objection to restaurants that believe it is 'customary' to arbitrarily add a gratuity in any amount to 'parties of "X" or more'. Especially when the service doesn't merit it. I am also offended (as I'm sure others are, too) when a menu states, as the Rainforest Cafe's does (for example), words to the effect that: 'a gratuity of X% is customary for professional service'. I don't need to be told what to tip, and most of the public understands that 10-15% is a proper base.

I always tip appropriately based on 1) the quality of the waitperson's attitude and attention to detail, and 2) the overall dining experience (quality of food, value received, ambience, etc.). I don't penalize a waitperson for poor food quality or slow service--I let the manager or chef know about it. And, yes, I do occasionally tip the Chef if I feel that he merits my special consideration.

Consistent poor tipping will chase good waitstaff away to your competitors. Constantly training new employees is obvious to diners, and it suggests that the employees don't like it there--which they don't. If this is happening to your establishment, I would suggest that you reevaluate your business. You're in the wrong location/demographic market, your prices are out of line with the quality/value of the meal received, or you genuinely hire the wrong people. (Understand that 'price is only an issue in the absence of value'.)

Failure to properly compensate and provide meaningful benefits--oh, yes, we haven't even talked about that--has an outward effect on your employees. Do you know how they talk about you off the job, or behind your back on the job? Do they respect you, or do they think you're getting rich off their labor? Why don't you provide/offer family medical benefits for that single parent trying to make ends meet through her/his tips? Why don't you provide a retirement plan (SEP, SIMPLE, 401(k) or profit sharing plan)?

It's not a matter of chains vs. independents. It's a matter of common decency as an employer. Do both your clients and your employees a favor. Pay your employees what they are worth, and let your clients know that you do. Tipping--or lack thereof--is a public relations problem.

Max H. Herr
D'Oily Boid Cafe Catering
Walnut, CA
(909) 595-1909

**Next Post

I've been a waitress for a couple of years and I really enjoy the challenge and reward that it provides.

I agree with many of the people above that the tip should reflect the service given. I've been in plenty circumstances where I've left a smaller tip due to poor service. (mind you, service doesn't include poor food, or things beyond the wait persons control.)

But most people are not so diplomatic. Plenty of customers are just cheap and refuse to leave a decent tip no matter how good the service it. People like this cannot be pleased, and it is useless to worry about what you could have done to make their service better. Just serve them as you would any other customer.

Erica Tava
Chicago IL

**Next Post

The word "tips" stands for - to insure proper service. I was a server for more than 20 yearrs in family style restaurants to fine dining establishment. It has always been my contention a customer never has to tip. It should always be gratuitous even though servers make less than minimum wage a customer doesn't have the responsibility of paying your salary. A server is responsible for his or her own salary ie. excellent service insures a good salary in my case a fabulous salary at times. As a customer I am, as most servers, an excellent tipper...but I do not tip on bad service. I can tell if it is not the servers fault if something is not right (cold food, too long between courses, etc.) But rudeness, incompetence, unknowledgeable etc. does not deserve a 15%, 20%, or 30% tip. I'm sorry. I never stiff a server, I don't want them to think I simply forgot to tip, I want them to know 5% was all they deserved.

Dee Mason (

**Next Post

Good point by all that tipping is a 'reward' and that if poor service is provided, the 'reward' is less. But consider the cable company that says they will come to the house between 9-4, making you miss a day of work, only to show up at 5:30 and then not all your channels work. These people still get paid their hourly rate for their poor service. It's odd to me that servers and bartenders are some of the only people that get paid 2 dollars an hour and make their money based on actual performance.


**Next Post

I have to say that waitstaff occupy one of the most intrinsically capitalistic positions available in any industry. They are immediately rewarded or punished for their attitude and actions. Whether the guests steak comes out cooked properly is not in the control of the waiter, but how they react is.

I tip based on performance. If the waiter is competent and genial they receive 15% for being adequate. If they are lethargic and non engaging (not to mention rude, arrogant, careless, inept, etc.) The tip is reduced accordingly. And yes, I will say it, there are times when no tip was earned or deserved.

My thought is that they are in control of their income. They have the ability to extract that little bit extra from me based on their actions. They also have the ability to totally ruin a perfectly cooked meal and make me never come back to that establishment as they are an extension of the restaurants attitudes.

If they are not good at what they do (1st day's are excluded) then they will not make any money and Darwin's Law will prevail. They will not be able to afford to continue in that position and will need to move on (thankfully) to meet their financial obligations. All are served by this action as opposed to the tip-welfare offered by the bleeding hearts that feel obligated to tip 15% no matter what the service, only prolonging the agony to the waiter and the restaurant owner.

Conversely, the motivated and agile waiter can make serious money far and above their peers by realizing that the customer wants an experience, not just a meal.

Long live capitalism!

- John

**Next Post

A tip by no means is a reward. Each and everyday they arrive knowing they slime and grime and yes, the good inevitably arrive. Some, yes, are worse and some are better. How is this different than any work-place hole any of us trudge trough? To demean them is shi*. And it makes you shi*! They need to work hard, yes, just like anyone with a job. But we are not less because we serve and take care of things that make your night better. Grow up and cook at home!


**Next Post

I have been a server in a cocktail and fine dining bar for over 4yrs and I know I am a great server I have had people tell me I was awesome and tell me in advance that they will leave a good tip and the end up leaving a 10% tip which is pathetic. Some people even ask the price of every drink or which is the cheapest which lets me know I might not receive a tip at all. I can't stand people who go out with 50$ dollars and do not consider that they have to tip the bartender or waitress when choosing their drinks. They just budget their five or six drinks into that 50$ and then if their bill is 48.50 they think their doing you a favor by saying keep the change. I have had people leave me a 10% tip on 125.00 tab and then ask me if that is enough only to have me say the standard tip is 15%. Why is it people are offended when they see gratuity on their bill only to tell you I would have left you more, I want to yell at them and say then tip more you ***hole I only serve now to help out if someone calls in because I was driven to the point of just telling people if your only going to tip me 10% tell me now so I can send you a bad server who at least will not bust his **s for you.


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