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Oct 21, 2008 09:28 AM

Is tipping % going up; if so to what & why?

First of all, if this starts a rant, I'm not going to read them :) I ask this in all sincerity and with no bias.

It seems like I've been reading that "standard" tipping is going from about 15% to 18-20%. If that's so I'm wondering why? As the price of food and wine goes up, staying at 15% automatically gives the server a "cost of living" increase. A $15 entree that now costs $20 will generate an increase of $1.75 at a rate of 15%. I'd appreciate learning if my thinking is off somehow. (Well, I KNOW my thinking is "off" regularly but....!)

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  1. I just think it's an increase over time like anything else. Used to be 10% was standard. Gradually it became 15. Now it's more like 20 many places.

    I could theorize that the financial disparity between those who make well below minimum wage and are "expected" to make up the difference in tips makes for a worse overall annual income than in years past, but I don't know if that's true or not. I do know that given the prices of gas, rentals/housing, cars, etc. having jumped incredibly, I could not live on a full-time server's wage as I did 15 years ago, and even then it wasn't a comfortable living. Maybe "society" is increasing it because many recognize that forcing someone to rely on the public's whim, good will, cheapness or generousness to make a living is really unfair and they are paying a little more when someone depends on their tips to make income?

    2 Replies
    1. re: rockandroller1

      That makes sense. Plus I see too often people leaving SO little. I don't mind making up the difference. One thing we do is NEVER leave less than $1 per person. We will frequently share a breakfast with no coffee and it could cost $8. Our tip is $2. Always. I don't think anyone should have to serve food and not get at least a dollar for it. Just my opinion.

      1. re: c oliver

        I used to dream of a waitress job where all I had to do was come in, wait the tables and then leave, keeping all the money I made. Instead, between waiting for your turn for a table at beginning of the shift, the hours sidework and silverware rolling takes and the tip-outs you have to make, it was just a losing battle all the time.

    2. Ive been tipping 20% for probably the last 10+ years, more if I have had good service, and if I have had a few too many tequila's(which happens more often than not).

      I love tipping threads.

      2 Replies
      1. re: swsidejim

        While I can't say that "I love tipping threads" I just have to say that we've been tipping at 20% for about 15 years or more for good service. Good service deserves to be compansated.

        1. re: Gio

          I love the debate, and drama some bring to the threads, I get a good laugh when posters try to advise others on how to spend their money, or what they may deem "appropriate".

      2. I think that some of the increase comes from showing off combined with a desire to not seem like a cheapskate.

        You get the person who says "I ONLY tip over 30%"
        tThe next person who is more in the standard range says "oh crap, I'm seriously undertipping, I need to increase to at least 20%!"
        Then the next person hears that person #2 does 20% and says "geez, I should be doing at least 20!"

        and so on and so forth and it goes up and up and up

        4 Replies
        1. re: jgg13

          Spend any time working in the front of the house in a restaurant, and you'll understand why the "standard" (blithely ignored by much of the clientele) is 20%. I have always used that as a starting point, with a small reduction for poor service that was clearly within the control of the server( not including things like stuff coming out of the kitchen wrong or at differnt times, etc., but including being ignored for 15 minutes while trying to get a server's attention to get another bottle of wine or a water glass refilled) but not to less than 15%, If the service is truly problematic, I'll say something to the server to see if there's a reason, and if no satisfactory response is had, then to the manager or owner. If service is above and beyond the usual, I have no problem with 25 or even a total of 30% when there is a captain(who has doen more than just seating and presenting menus) involved and something extra for a sommelier who has been helpful or made a non-obvious suggestion that turned out well. I think that the whole idea of a substantial part of the wage rate of these employees being set by the whim of the customer. the european method of including service as a fixed portion of the price and then paying the ervice staff a living wage is far far more civilized and humane. I don't understand at all why this country persists in our system.

          1. re: chazzerking

            It persists because the dominant powers that be among American servers oppose the service charge approach used in other countries. It's not just the owners or the customers.

            A standard blithely ignored by much of the clientele is, by definition, not a standard but an exception to the standard.

            1. re: Karl S

              I probably erred in saying the standard "is" 20%, rather than "should be" 20%. I'm not sure who the powers that be that you refer to are. Owners of restaurants could soleve this issue quickly, merely by adding the service into their prices. there arre some restaurants in the US that do this, and I haven't noticed their business evaporating.

              1. re: chazzerking

                It's been controversial, not just among customers but among servers. Good servers tend to feel that such a system penalizes them (because the overwhelming majority of customers will generally not tip on top of the service charge - it's delusional to imagine that many will) and rewards the less-than-good servers. It's been an issue much hashed-about.

                Finally, since tipping is entirely a matter of longstanding cultural custom, one cannot fault people for observing the longstanding custom where it still largely obtains, which is most places. One can only encourage them to consider doing more, but telling them the standard has already changed where it has not is a sure way to have the custom remain unchanged. People are funny like that...

        2. The lower half of Manhattan saw that higher benchmark a generation ago as standard. It spread in the past generation to other areas dense with fine dining options.

          That said, 15% still appears to be the dominant benchmark in most of the US outside those kind of areas.

          1. jgg13 hit on part of the reason when he talked about "showing off".

            I think the biggest reason is that it is easier to move the decimal one place and double than it is to move the decimal one place, remember that number, divide that number by half, and then add the half to the whole. Lots of times people are ready to leave when they get the check, and don't want to spend more time than necessary figuring the tip, and also may feel self-conscious as their dining companions watch them scratching their head on 15%, worried these companions may think they suck at math.

            Because of this, waiters are getting 20% more often, and so they start expecting it, feeling entitled to it, and go around saying that is the "correct" tip.

            7 Replies
            1. re: Reefmonkey

              completely agree. I have been moving the decimal and doubling it since I was in High school. In the beginning(maybe because servers expected much less from someone of my age....) I got great service and genuine thank you's for tipping 20%. Now its like I am everyother schlub being cheap or just average. Autograts for large parties made a jump from 15% to 18-20% a number of years ago and seems as if all tipping kind of followed suit.

              1. re: nkeane

                No, it has nothing to do with your age, so many waiters have gotten a ridiculous sense of entitlement to 20% for merely doing their job over the last 10 years or so.

                1. re: Reefmonkey

                  That echos how I feel pretty well.

                  1. re: jgg13

                    I treat servers as I would treat a friend and I receive good service. I tip 15% at a buffet, and 25% at a sitdown restaurant. Your servers depend on tips for their income and appreciate being paid for their services.

                    1. re: powillie

                      "Your servers depend on tips for their income and appreciate being paid for their services"

                      While risking getting into *that* discussion again, they're the ones that chose that job, not me. I'm not running a charity, it isn't my place to say "oh woe is them" and pay them extra just because they chose a hard job.

                      To echo what another poster mentioned, I tend to use the # of 20% purely because it makes math easy, and generally will round down unless that drops it below 15%, which which case I wing it. More if there was something noteworthily good, less if there was something noteworthily bad.

                      I don't particularly like how the "standard" seems to be moving - to echo other threads, it would seem that as prices increase, that keeping a flat %age would entail increased tips for servers. I'm also one of those people who would prefer it all just bundled into the cost of the meal and the servers be paid a normal wage (of course, I suspect that what would happen is that the cycle would start over again ... some people would continue to tip, servers would feel entitled to that amount, so forward thinkers tip even *more*, ad infinatum)

                      1. re: jgg13

                        jgg13, I'm the OP here and I think I'm agreeing with you. There certainly are plenty of jobs that servers could go to that would pay better (and I'm not talking neurosurgeons). And, yes, as prices increase, then their tips increase. And I further agree that incorporating a service charge into the bill would solve it. But that's probably not going to happen. And, yes, would the expectation then increase again? Sigh