The Trouble With Tipping

In a relationship as tenuous and charged as that between server and customer, it seems like almost any mistake can be plugged into the phrase, “there’s nothing worse than…”

It’s just that, when you’re hungry and somebody else is controlling the flow of food to stomach, you’re really in their power. They can make you squirm with an action as minor as leaving a plate up on the order window for an extra couple of minutes if they want to. Of course, you have a fair amount of financial power over them, too in the form of that gratuity you’ll calculate at the end of the meal.

Even though we all know tipping is customary here in the U.S., sometimes it escapes the casual or infrequent diner just how important it is to the livelihood of the service staff. In a review of the new book based on the blog Waiter Rant, Wall Street Journal writer Moira Hodgson reminds us:

A lot of customers don’t seem to know that waiters are rarely paid a proper salary. In New York, where the minimum wage is $7.15, they receive just $4.60 an hour, with the assumption that tips will make up the difference. Waiting on tables is a job where the compensation depends on the whim of the customer, and [author Steve]. Dublanica has been working for tips for the better part of a decade.

Most of us, especially frequent restaurant customers, know the importance of tipping and know that, even on an off-night, stiffing a server is a major transgression. Things happen in restaurant service. It’s imprecise at best, and diners, especially those who have put in time on both sides of the notepad and white apron, usually understand this and make exceptions.

However, in these increasingly lean times, when people don’t want to give up dining out altogether, at least one news source found they are cutting back not just in drink orders or frequency of nights out, but in tips. To which we say, “booooo.” An article in the Harrisburg, Pa. Patriot News, picked up by Nation’s Restaurant News, found servers and bartenders reported getting smaller tip percentages in addition to smaller total sales.

This is a travesty, and we know our readers would never think of fudging the tip, but what of the friend handling the bill when a group goes Dutch? What are your options if that person leaves a smaller-than-appropriate percentage on the bill?

Well, you can raise a polite stink, acting like the small gratuity was a group mistake and that all ought to cough up another dollar or so. But that’s awkward. You can quietly slide a few more dollars into the check folder, but why should you be stuck making up for somebody else’s bad manners?

Unfortunately, the thing to do, it seems, is to be just a bit gauche and either set about the tip calculation yourself, on behalf of the group, or chirp up about making sure not to forget the 20 percent. Sure, it’s uncouth, but hey, so is splitting the check to begin with. And there’s nothing worse than when that doesn’t work out.

Take Your Own Damn Order [Wall Street Journal]
For restaurant workers, economy eats away at tips [Patriot-News via Nation’s Restaurant News]
How to split the check? [Chowhound]

[Photo: via respres/flickr]

The Trouble With Tipping