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On Tipping (in the USA)

SJS (1851) writes | about 2 years ago

User Journal 9

The subject of tipping in restaurants has come up recently, and I realized I had a heuristic for such things. This seems a good as place as to write it down.

If I have to stand in line and order at a counter, there's not going to be any tip.
Caveat: if (a) there's a tip bucket and (b) I've been there before and (c) the food was really good, I'll drop a dollar in the tip bucket.

Base tip rate is 15%.

The subject of tipping in restaurants has come up recently, and I realized I had a heuristic for such things. This seems a good as place as to write it down.

If I have to stand in line and order at a counter, there's not going to be any tip.
Caveat: if (a) there's a tip bucket and (b) I've been there before and (c) the food was really good, I'll drop a dollar in the tip bucket.

Base tip rate is 15%.

If the wait staff is rude, the tip goes down. (I don't care about your shitty day. Be professional.)
If the wait staff is impossible to find, the tip goes down. (I can't serve myself, else I wouldn't need you.)
If the wait staff continually interrupts, the tip goes down. (I didn't come here to listen to you talk.)
If the wait staff makes excuses, the tip goes down. (Your team, your problems. Take up intra-staff conflicts with your manager.)
If the food isn't very good for the class of restaurant, the tip goes down. (Again, your team, your problem. Reward your cooks. They're why I came.)
If the food is late, the tip goes down. (Again, your team, your problem.)
If I end up thirsty, the tip goes down. (I am not going to reward you for ensuring I have a crappy dining experience.)
If the bill comes with 'pre-computed' tip-guide based on the post-tax total instead of the pre-tax subtotal, the tip goes down. (Your establishment is trying to scam me. I resent that.)

If the wait staff seems to be actually enjoying their work, the tip goes up. (If you're enjoying yourself, you're helping me to enjoy myself.)
If the wait staff is nearby often enough so that when I need something, they're there to help, the tip goes up. (Making my experience pleasant should be rewarded.)
If I never have to ask for a refill of my beverage and water, the tip goes up. (If you're going above and beyond, so will I.)
If the food is better than expected for that class of restaurant, the tip goes up. (I came here for the food. I hope you share your tips.)

Generally, it's pretty dang easy to get to 20%, and you have to basically be phoning it in to get 10%. Note that I round the final result to a dollar amount, and the percentage of the tip is based on the pre-tax subtotal (since the government gets the tax, it's not part of the food or service price).

All this excludes significant problems. The quality of a restaurant's service is not really in its day-to-day service, but in how they handle dining disasters -- did you forget or drop my dish? Did you get the order wrong? Does what's delivered not match the menu? Was something under- or over- cooked? Did the food go bad? Was there something _in_ the food that shouldn't be there? These sorts of problems eventually crop up at any restaurant, and this is where I really start to pay attention to how they're resolved.

Do they apologize? (If you don't apologize, you're not sorry, so that means this is expected or that you don't care. Either way, bad.)
Do they make excuses? (Excuses are bad. They don't fix the problem. They don't make things right. They just waste my time and your time.)
Do they get the manager involved? (Better, but it indicates that you don't have the authority to make things right, or you don't have a policy of how to make things right.)
Do they not charge me for the item? (Minimum expected behavior. If you don't do this, I'm likely not coming back, or if I do, 10% is the tip ceiling.)
Do they not charge me for any of my meal? (Good! I had a bad experience, but at least it didn't cost me anything.)
Do they not charge me for any of my meal and give me something extra (e.g., a dessert)? (Great! I had a bad experience, but it didn't cost me, and you demonstrated that you were actually sorry about it. I will strive to become a regular, and will suggest your establishment whenever folks wonder where to go to eat.)
Do they not charge my party at all? (Awesome! Your establishment is so committed to superb service that they'll eat the cost of a screw up. That's dedication. I will be back. I want to send all of my friends to your place, because it's a guaranteed good time. I will make friends with strangers for an excuse to introduce new people to your place.)

If I have to push for something to be done, or ask the the manager, or make a fuss... that's a failure. The wait staff has just ruined my experience by Not Doing Their Job. I will be unhappy. I do not like to be unhappy. I do not want to be unhappy. My unhappiness will be expressed in my tip, and in future choices, and in how I describe the establishment to friends, acquaintances, and outright strangers.

Some common objections when I float (bits of) the above in conversations:

"If they're slammed, you have to take that into account."

No, I do not. It's not my fault that the manager didn't allocate enough staff to serve the people he let in. Hire more or better staff (you may need to pay them better). Increase the size of the kitchen and decrease the size of the seating area.

"It's a hard job."

It's part of the job. Do the job, or do something else. Paying someone to NOT do their job is incredibly stupid.

"They might be having a bad day."

Yes, and so might I. I went out and GAVE SOMEONE MONEY so I could have a better day, and they made it worse. And kept my money. I assure you, me spending money to make a bad day worse is in no way a better experience than someone *getting* money for having a bad day.

cancel ×

9 comments

Very sad. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40355443)

Clearly you have never worked a day in your life in that business. The air of entitlement that surrounds you not only shows a lack of respect for your fellow men, it also helps you reduce a complex social interaction to a science experiment with clearly defined controls. Take this gem from your diatribe
""If they're slammed, you have to take that into account."
No, I do not. It's not my fault that the manager didn't allocate enough staff to serve the people he let in. Hire more or better staff (you may need to pay them better). Increase the size of the kitchen and decrease the size of the seating area."

Do you understand how the restaurant business works in North America? It is not only based on turn over, it is also based on how many you can seat and about 95% are chains. So who you hire, for how long, how many seats you carry etc, is dictated by head quarters and they are driven by numbers. Not your comfort and not by the comfort of the stuff that should wait on you with a big smile and "perfect" your day. The managers in those stores have about as much control over their restaurant as a lab rat has over the experiment they are a part of.

Your opinion is yours, as such I have to accept what you write. It is, none the less, a sad reflection of the state this society is in.

Re:Very sad. (1)

Jiro (131519) | about 2 years ago | (#40356015)

If headquarters is forcing the restaurant to provide bad service, the restaurant is still providing bad service.

Re:Very sad. (1)

SJS (1851) | about 2 years ago | (#40382207)

I am indeed entitled to a meal without putting up with hostile staff, substandard food, or unprofessional service. Why? Because I am *paying* for it.

With. Actual. Money. That. I. Earned. Myself.

I understand how the restaurant business works in North America. I have had it explained to me at length by some very passionate people. Some of the harshest judges of service are my friends who've actually worked as waitresses. They'll ding the tip *and* chew out the staff if the plates are cleared away incorrectly, a sin I can't even comprehend. To them, my heuristic is weak, pathetic, and amusingly non-confrontational. (And other friends who are just as passionate about generously tipping, no matter how bad the service. To them, my heuristic is cold and stingy.)

What astonishes me about your position is how the burden of respect falls entirely on me, the paying customer, and not at all on the person to whom I am giving money to. At a minimum, it should be an equal and mutual respect, should it not?

If the corporate headquarters are indeed as callous to the conditions that result in my having an unpleasant experience, then those chains need to go out of business. If my comfort, and the comfort of the staff, is as meaningless as you imply, the sooner that chain goes out of business the better.

Then there's a remote chance they can be replaced by something that doesn't suck quite so much.

I also infer that there's a suspicion that my heuristic is used to keep my tipping low. On the contrary, it's normally at the upper end of the scale. I don't like having a crappy time, so I tend to not return to places where I did not enjoy myself. My heuristic is used as an attempt to keep my tipping fair. (Yes, it's a rather geeky thing to do.)

Finally, I agree, this is a sad reflection of the state this society is in, as there's a sizable number of people around who think that paying customers should just accept crappy service, crappy food, a crappy experience, and pay extra for it, because the people responsible for all that crap *deserve* that money. A clearer sense of entitlement would be hard to come by.

IRS taxes them for 15%. (1)

140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) | about 2 years ago | (#40355581)

Whether you tip them at that rate or not, IRS assumes they get 15% tip and taxes them accordingly.

If this is how you wield power, I shudder what would happen if you ever get to a position with real power.

Re:IRS taxes them for 15%. (1)

SJS (1851) | about 2 years ago | (#40506595)

If this is how you wield power, I shudder what would happen if you ever get to a position with real power.

Quite well, obviously.

People who don't do their job get mildly penalized. People who do their job well get rewarded. People who do the bare minimum are neither penalized nor rewarded. It's fair, it's more-or-less standardized, it applies pressure instead of going over the top, and it scales. This is the essence of a meritocracy.

It avoid the negative feedback loop of a customer making a fuss and calling over the manager for substandard service (which would demoralize the employee and result in continued substandard performance). It avoid penalizing the entire establishment for hiring inexperienced staff (as not ever returning would). It avoids setting up a system of entitlement (which kills the drive to do well for a fraction of the populace needs an incentive to do a good job).

How is this not an ideal exercise of power?

Tipping (outside the USA) (1)

mister2au (1707664) | about 2 years ago | (#40356077)

As someone outside the US, tipping confuses me to start with and certainly the really impersonal 'carrot and stick' mentality really confuses me ... Before you jump in, I know not everyone has that mentality and fully expect SJS to cope some flack from fellow Americans who don't share those views

Maybe I'm unusual but I tend to view these as social interactions where I have obligations to make their day pleasant too - the money is for the food not to have some beg-and-grovel and boost your ego ... but then I live in a country where tipping is polite but certainly not expected.

Re:Tipping (outside the USA) (1)

SJS (1851) | about 2 years ago | (#40382277)

Good point about obligations.

I don't see cash as making boorish behavior pleasant. I see avoiding boorish behavior entirely as a better place to start.

Thinking on it, it's like kindergarten lessons:

When you ask for something, say "please".

When you are given something, say "thank you".

It's never appropriate to throw a temper tantrum.

Smile at people.

No hitting, yelling, shouting, screaming, or making a mess.

Don't be grumpy on the outside.

Always be ready to help, but don't get in the way if help isn't wanted.

Basically.... all the stuff we should be doing *anyway* when interacting with other people.

tips are easy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40356171)

quality of service: hotness of waitress
attentive service: flirtiness of waitress
ambiance: other visible eye candy
quality of product: was the above worthy of a repeat visit
going 'above-and-beyond': ;)

i grade on a curve. top scores across the board can result in tips exceeding check total...

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