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May 31, 2006 09:45 AM

Must we give larger tips on bigger checks?

  • a

My husband and I are planning on dining at Alinea in Chicago, and I got to thinking about what the tip might be on a meal that will cost close to $800. I just don't know if I can bring myself to tip my usual 20%. We have eaten at some pretty pricey places (Charlie Trotter's, Avenues, for instance), and I never quailed at the tip before - but really! Shouldn't there be a cut-off point? The funny thing is that I used to be a waitress (at Arnie Morton's parent's place - which in the 60's passed for fine dining), so I'm sympathetic to waiters in general - but now I'm an architect, and in my profession, in many cases, the bigger the construction budget the smaller the percentage that the architectural fee is based on - so for a smaller job it may be 15%, but on a large multi-million dollar job it may be 5% or less. The fee is still a larger dollar amount, but the percentage is smaller. This reflects the fact that though there will be more work required for a larger project, it won't be, say, three times as much, so the fee percentage shouldn't be three times as much, either.

So to get back to tips - shouldn't the same philosophy prevail? I know a waiter at Alinea has a much more demanding job than one at, say, Chicago Chophouse, and must present a much more polished and sophisticated image, but does he really deserve a $160 tip? Isn't $100 just fine? I am usually such a generous person, and love to reward a good waiter with a good tip. Maybe I'm a closet cheapskate. Maybe the genetic influences of my Scottish forbears are finally making themselves evident. Advice please?

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  1. As at most ultra fine dining restaurants the servers have very small stations so their gross reciepts at the end of the night are not as great as say someone who works at a Mortons or Capital Grill where you might have a very large station. The tip question is always sticky on this board and I would expect a large number of posts. But let me ask you this, if you take a cab for a long ride do you tip more or is there a cut off there? You are still chewing up the cabbies time.

    1. f
      Former Waitress Too

      You are not thinking this issue through.

      I am happy that you are now an architect, but really, if you can afford to spend the $800 for the meal, now you are going to quibble over the gratuity for the team of people that brought it to you? That's tacky, IMHO. You must remember that the waiter must tip out to a list of others in the restaurant, and that varies from place to place. He also must declare a percentage of tips on his sales. I realize that is not your concern and we'll soon have the proper wage vs. tipping discussion raging here.
      Times have changed. Please, tip your server generously, but tip as you normally would, as the service deems you do so. If you've received excellent service, tip accordingly. If not, You may be questioned by a distraught manager asking if there was a problem. And, you'll sleep better.

      5 Replies
      1. re: Former Waitress Too

        yeah, to expand on that point, a nicer, more expensive restaurant typically has a much larger staff and you shouldn't think about it as just giving one server $160 because that server has to tip out several others, more, perhaps, than at most other establishments. The food runner(s) need to be tipped out, sometimes whoever fills your water or if someone covers for the server and takes your dessert order while your server is otherwise occupied, or if you order a Screaming Viking and the bartender has to specially bruise your cucumber, the bartender needs to be tipped out, then there's the whole sommelier issue...

        1. re: Former Waitress Too

          As my dear husband always says as we give a tip, it means more to them then it does us. We are dining at a fancy place where they work...if we can afford the meal, we can afford to treat them as they deserve.

          1. re: Former Waitress Too

            I do have strong feelings about tipping vs. proper wages and frankly cannot understand why a restaurant that can charge $800. for a meal cannot afford to pay its staff properly. Having said that, I try, whenever possible, to leave the tip in cash rather than charging it as I understand that credit card companies deduct a percentage of the charge as their fee. I always want to be sure that the waitstaff is not penalized -if there is a fee - for having the tip added to the credit card charge.

            1. re: mshpook

              Everything you tip the waiter goes to the waiter, they don't get docked because it's on a credit card. Where I work, I go home with my cash tips, while I get my credit card tips by paycheck. This is largely because the restaurant is not inexpensive and the vast majority of our guests pay on plastic; the managers would have to dole out lots of money nightly if we were to get our tips in cash daily.

              Most restaurants run on very thin margins. After you have bought the food and drinks, paid the rent, and paid the cooks, there isn't much left over. We could build the server's wages into the cost of your meal (and indeed some places do), but then your 800 dollar meal at Alinea is going to set you back at least 950, which is how much you were going to tip anyway if you tip properly.

            2. re: Former Waitress Too

              I fail to see how leaving less than $160 is tacky. I tip 15% in upscale restaurants, 20% in moderate places, and as much as 50%+ in very inexpensive places like diners.

            3. Good Lord. We ate at Alinea for $280 last summer. You must be planning to go all out!

              2 Replies
              1. re: danna
                Niki Rothman

                That's OK, Dana, no harm done - as you can see, they always remove anything that's political anyway. This is supposed to be a party. Life is a cabaret my friend, so come to the cabaret...come hear the band, start celebrating! Right this way, your table's waiting!

                1. re: Niki Rothman

                  Cheers, Niki, and Happy Weekend!

              2. If you can afford the meal, you can afford to tip properly. Period.

                5 Replies
                  1. re: DanaB

                    Agreed. If you're planning to spend $800 for dinner, than an extra $60 shouldn't be such a big deal.

                      1. re: DanaB

                        That isn't the point. Of course they can afford the tip. They could also afford a 50% tip. Does that mean they pay it!?

                        This person is simply inquiring about what is reasonble, and doesn't deserve a hostle response. As she pointed out, it is *very* common in other fields to base the fee on a sliding scale. Real estate commissions tend to be 6%, but as the price of the house goes up, many times the commission rate goes down. This person is simply inquiring as to whether a similar practice is common in high-end restaurants.

                        1. re: Darren

                          and the answer is: no. If you were to throw a large meal for 20 or so people... something like a grooms dinner, in an upper scale restaurant, the chances are that the restaurant will add 18%-20% gratuity on for you, because that is the standard.

                          YOu also have to consider that people who WORK at restaurants where the bill can be upwards of $800 have probably worked damn hard to get to that point in their career and correct me if I'm wrong, but people like architects who with more experience get higher end jobs and therefore increased salaries over time.

                      2. So give 15% if you usually give %20. 15% is fair. But your tentative plan to cut a $160 tip down to $100 is not fair. If you are the kind of high roller who can afford an $800 dinner, then you can afford $120 for the, no doubt well-earned tip, which is $15 percent of it, so your whole attempt to justify yourself with this post would would only be saving you $40 on your $800 meal. You say you're an ex-waitress. Do the right thing.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: Niki Rothman

                          I don't agree that by cutting the tip down to 15%, the o.p. will be doing "the right thing." As I see it, it's not any fairer than her original intention to cut the tip down to $100. When it comes to the highest caliber restaurants, I think it has now become customary to tip at least 20%, of course, presuming the service is of high caliber. The only reason for reducing the tip in any restaurant is if there are serious lapses in service.

                          1. re: RGR

                            Being unfamilar with what's standard tipping procedure for the tax-cut set, I'll have to bow to your exprerience. I've always tipped 15% and if the service is unusually great I throw in an extra five bucks - but then I don't remember ever spending more than $50 for my own meal.