Sunday, January 25, 2009

On Tipping

A few months ago, Voodoo Medicine Man brought up a story about trying to tip at a restaurant in New Zealand.  Turns out that you don't tip in New Zealand.

I am a fan of being able to tip for service-related jobs, but I hate how it has become expected.  While the etymology of the word "tip" is debated, the idea of a tip is a "gratuity" (as in a way to say thank you) or in French a "pourboire" (literally: to drink).  When I go out to eat and I get really good service, I like to reward that service with something extra.


I'm lucky to live in a state where all servers have to be paid at least minimum wage, and then they can supplement that with tips.  States that have no such laws are ridiculous.  I know that when my wife and I lived in a mid-eastern state a few years ago, waiters and waitresses made a buck-something an hour plus whatever you tip them.  That is just silly.

But for the sake of my argument, I'm going to talk about tipping as an extra, and not as a base wage.

I hate that we have linked our tips to the price of our food.  Is it really any harder to bring out a plate of lobster bisque than it is a bowl of soup?  No.  So why do we add 4 dollars to the tip for lobster and 1 dollar for the soup?  Tipping should be based on performance - not cost.  When I go out to eat, I expect to get my meal brought to me in a reasonably timely manner and have my drink refilled occasionally.  This is the very basic core of hospitality.  A server who provides this level of care for me will get a very basic tip.  A server who is prompt to the table, provides courteous care, observes and anticipates our needs before we have to call for them, and shows kindness, humor, and consideration can expect to get a big tip.  It is very rare for me to leave no tip at all, but it has happened when we get a server who completely ignores us for long periods of time, who displays an attitude when I order a water (I almost always get water with my meals not for cheapness, but because water is healthier than other drinks and doesn't take away from the flavor of the meal.  I can get root beer at home.  I'm not at the restaurant for the root beer - I'm there for the grilled chicken pasta or the salmon fillet.), or who messes up on the order and is unwilling to simply say "I'm sorry" - the basics of customer service.

I'm not sure why it is so hard to take each hospitality situation as an individual situation and tip accordingly.  When K and I were honeymooning in Fort Lauderdale, some guy at the airport asked if we were going to get a cab.  We said yes, so he waved with his right hand to a cab about 50 feet away.  When the cab showed up, he put one of our suitcases in the trunk and then held his hand out and said, "we works for tips."

Sorry, sir, but a tip goes to someone who does something for me that I can't do for myself, and for someone who shows that they are willing to go out of their way to serve me - for someone who makes me believe that they are there for me and not the other way around.

I've left huge tips for 6 dollar meals and I've left a dollar for huge meals.  Someone asked me once, "why don't you just leave 15%?"  My answer: "Why doesn't Tiger Woods just carry a 9 iron to use on every shot?"  Every situation is unique and should be handled as such.

Oh, and on another tipping subject: I appreciate that you put my happy meal together, but I am not going to give you a tip for standing at a counter and putting fries in a bag.

So in the end, after all my meandering ramblings, I guess what I have to say is that I like the ability to give a tip.  I don't want to live in an area where it would be considered insulting to give a token of gratitude, but I really hate what tipping has become in our culture.

Anyway, if my waiter deserves 5 bucks for bringing me a plate of food, why can't I get 15% of the ER bill for saving someone's life?  Chew on that one for a while.


audrey said...

I agree 100% with everything you said.

mikraas said...

i agree 100% and i used to work at starbucks.

i made well over minimum wage and i just couldn't get why we were allowed to take tips when most retail and fast-food establishments wouldn't even let you take a tip, let alone ask for one. i certainly don't deserve a buck for standing behind a counter and handing you your coffee and muffin. i think that's a little ridiculous.

Shrtstormtrooper said...

I waited tables for 5 years making $2.08 an hour, plus tips. I have always tried to be there for the customer and take care of them as best I can. I always expected decent tips, but I also always expected great service from myself - the only times I could ever say I got crappy tips were when I gave crappy service. My own fault.

Except for the tools who tipped $5 on a $300 bill...well, I always think karma is a bitch. When I owe the restaurant money after they ate there - AND I gave great service, I always hoped for a flat tire for them on the way home.

Braden said...

audrey, I agree 100% with your comment.

mikraas, I agree 100% with your comment.

captainewok, I agree 100% with your comment, but don't worry, I made it home safely anyway.

Shrtstormtrooper said...

point: you. well done :)