Tipping in Restaurants

I stumbled upon a blog post by a waitress with regular contributions to Slashfood over the past few days. After perusing the comments on that entry, I was inspired to read the entirety of Hanna’s “What Can I Get You Folks?” series along with most of the comments, and as a result I’ve been left extremely disillusioned with restaurant servers.

The vast majority of industry commenters, and the author herself, express a level of entitlement to a minimum 20% tip that I find absolutely disgusting. While I acknowledge that a vast number of states in the US are permitted to pay their employees below minimum wage (often as low as $2-and-change per hour) and subsequently do literally live off of the tips they receive, there are plenty of states that are required to pay at least minimum wage and those servers still seem to feel they deserve a 20% tip for simply showing up and doing their job. A quick calculation puts their earned income then above my most well-paid job in the States–a job that required of me a level of responsibility holding me accountable for government records and the possibility of testifying in Federal Court. While waiting tables is admittedly no easy feat, it certainly doesn’t impose anywhere near that degree of accountability, and it deeply peeves me that a waiter or waitress would feel entitled to that standard of salary based on tips.

When I worked in a bakery, I would say the level of physical and mental demand of the job was very similar to that of a waitperson, and I made just a bit over minimum wage with no tipping–it was flat out not permitted by our owner to have a tip jar on the counter. Even if it was allowed, I would never have expected tips because my job was to provide a service, and that is exactly what a waiter or waitress’s job at a restaurant is to do. The fact that so many apparently feel entitled to at least 20%–even in the cases where they are already paid the same wage as any other “unskilled” labor–is absolutely abhorrent.

It is an entirely different attitude to view tips as exactly what they are: a gratuity given as a token of appreciation and thanks for a level of service that goes beyond what is expected of the employees at an establishment. There were occasional times when I was handed a dollar bill or other relatively small amount (compared to this expected 20%) as thanks for carrying a heavy cake out to a customer’s car at the bakery; this task was not part of my job, and the customer chose to acknowledge their thanks for my added service with a tip. I always viewed that as a truly genuine gesture, and I never had a problem with helping a customer out by offering the same service of carrying products without receipt of a tip. I did my job because that was expected of me, and I would go beyond the expectation because I enjoyed my work and helping people. I expressly did not show up for work because I expected customers to pay me extra for providing them with the service I was there to provide and more specifically felt entitled to a particular percentage of their total purchase.

Tips should not be an expectation. They are not something a customer service provider is entitled to receive. Waiters and waitresses do not have a right to 20% of my bill simply for showing up for work and doing the job they are paid to do. While I will happily entertain the idea of a 15% tip as a starting point in states like NY where waitstaff are not paid minimum wage (something completely inhuman and worthy of discussion in its own right), that is a baseline for simply doing one’s job there. After being enlightened to the attitude it seems most servers possess, I’m completely disinclined to ever consider leaving a 20% tip anywhere. I’m now also inclined to start at a 0% baseline in states like Oregon and California where the servers are in fact paid at least minimum wage. They can earn a tip by doing more than what is expected of them at their job.

It’s particularly astounding because it is quite clear when one is hired what the wage will be. These people are fully informed and choose to take the job at the rate of pay that is offered. They then expect to be paid more. At what other job is this considered reasonable behavior? Where else can one have the luxury of feeling entitled to more than their offered salary? Nowhere.

Tips are not an entitlement. They are a gift. It would be nice to see these servers treat them as such.

3 thoughts on “Tipping in Restaurants

  1. It’s not even that simple, in some states–as I recall, some states tax servers based on an 8% tip whether they make that or not. As such, if they don’t average at least 8%, they’re being taxed on money they didn’t make.

    (I use 15% as a baseline, more for excellent service, less for crappy service–certainly not a 20%+ entitlement.)

  2. I’m a very generous tipper because I know what an under-appreciated and hard job servers have. I do have a story, though. I was eating at a restaurant with my best friend a couple of years ago, and when it came time to pay, I gave the waitress some cash and told her to keep the change. Not thinking anything of it, my friend and I went to the restroom before we left, and when we came out, the waitress was waiting for us. She handed me my change, and when I told her it was hers, she said very shortly, “No, that’s ok. Keep it.” I was confused and even more perplexed when I looked at my hand and found that my change was just a few coins. I had mistakenly looked at the total before tax and figured I was leaving a generous tip. She, however, took it as a direct insult. I was so pissed off, I’ve never been back to that restaurant. The other waitresses even gave us dirty looks!

  3. Scott: I am aware of that tax policy, but I also know they don’t pay any tax at all on cash tips because that doesn’t need to be reported on their W-2. I’m sure they wind up way ahead in the end. And again, I do feel the waitperson deserves a bit of a tip by default in the states where their wage isn’t even the minimum, but seriously, anywhere else, I will not be generous now that I’m aware of this sense of entitlement.

    Kacy: That attitude is exactly what I’m talking about. Apparently it’s rampant, and that’s absolutely inexcusable. Tips are not a right, they’re a gift. Would they respond that way if someone were to come to their birthday party empty-handed? I actually wouldn’t be surprised if they did. It’s disgustingly self-centered and ungracious. I’m appalled.

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