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Mar 23, 2012 11:56 AM

Percentage Tipping

There have been numerous discussion on CH concerning tipping, but none that I can find discuss the following:

Why do we tip a percentage of the bill?

The amount of work required to serve me a prime rib dinner at the "family restaurant" and the "quality steak house" are about the same:

Greeting/present menu,.
"Would you like a beverage?"
Delivery of beverage
"May I take your order? (maybe "Come back in a couple of minutes")
Bring apps and/or bread service
Bring salads
Bring mains
"Would you like desert?"
Bring dessert (or not)
Present check
Bring slip to sign (or present change)
"Thank you for coming. Please stop by again."

OK, there are intermediate steps, like clearing dishes, refilling beverages, ensuring everything is satisfactory, and the like, but that happens (or doesn't happen) at all levels of restaurant.

The family place charges $15.95 vs. $24.95 or more at the steak house, with a corresponding price differential for everything from beverages to dessert. The quality of the food is not the question (though in the example presented it is every bit as good at the family place), nor is the atmosphere. Neither materially change the amount of work the wait staff has to perform.

Along that same line, it takes no more effort to serve me a local craft beer with said meal than a Bud Light at either establishment. Open the bottle, place glass on table, pour some beer in the glass, place bottle on the table, smile. Yet the craft brew costs more, resulting in a higher tip.

As an analogy, if I buy a new refrigerator at Sears, Home Depot, or an appliance store, they charge the same rate to deliver it to my house. It doesn't matter if it is a low end GE or a high end Samsung with all the bells and whistles.

So does anyone know where the tradition of tipping a percent came from? I am not familiar with the European model. Isn't the service charge also based on a percentage of the bill?

Part II (If you care to go there?) OTHER THAN "paying a fair wage and eliminating tipping" (That would be my answer) how would you change the system? If you would prefer to leave it as-is, why?

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  1. Sorry to ignore your question, but on the Bud vs. craft beer, l tip differently on food than wine for that reason. Not much service difference between the $ 25 bottle or the $ 100 bottle, thus l tip either a flat rate or a smaller percentage on wine while use a far higher rate for food. Your point is well taken but do not know how to make it equitable.

    8 Replies
    1. re: Delucacheesemonger

      I learned to tip many years ago from my late father. Dad went through college in the 30s by waiting tables and tending bar. I also tended bar in college and waited tables at the Catskill resorts during holiday and summer breaks.

      Dad taught me that you tiiped a percentage on food (10% then, 20% in these times) and tipped a flat rate per alcoholic drink. It was 25 cents when I was 18 and $1 by the time I was 40. Now it seems to be about $1 on a beer or $2 on hard liquor. In an establishment without a sommelier, I was taught to tip for a bottle of wine at $1.50 per person being served or $5 minimum.

      I don't order wine by the bottle (not much of a wine drinker), but IMHO $1 is ample for handing me a beer, and $2 more than generous for a mixed (non-exotic) drink.

      1. re: bagelman01

        Many feel similar, and I, in no way mean to diss your dad, but I seldom break things down, and almost always (other than breakfast) have wines.

        I also do not bother to factor in taxes, and tip on the total, unless something is amiss, and then I do break things down a bit.

        With wines, if things are spectacular, I still tip on the total, but might slip a US$20, or $ 50 into the sommelier's hand, upon departing.

        Many others will create intricate spreadsheets, and then dole out tips to every person involved, based on their personal formula. I cannot be bothered, so make it easy on myself - the patron.


      2. re: Delucacheesemonger

        That old-fashioned flat rate on bottle rationale worked before the IRS started mandating % withholding on server receipts a couple of decades ago; now, the server is taxed more heavily on the expensive bottle regardless of what you give. Hence, the rationale is now anachronistic.

        1. re: Karl S

          example....$150 food bill @20% tip = $30
          $100 wine @ $10 Flat = $10
          Tip $40
          $250 total sale, IRS mandatory 8% = $20
          Using Delucacheesemongers method the server still gets TWICE the IRS tip mandate and the IRS mandate has ZERO affect on this transaction.

          If IRS had a mandate above 15% then it would make a difference to the server.

          That said if the server has to tip out the bartender 3% based on the sale, a flat tip might have to be adjusted upwards. But if the server merely brings the bottle, purs the first round and leaves you to refill (as often happens) then the server does not deserve 20%,

          And yes I have worked as a waiter dependent on tip income.

          1. re: bagelman01

            It works in that example - a 16% tip, a bit higher than the larger US standard of 15%. It less likely to work when the bottle represents a disproportionate amount of the total and if you were to use (as most Americans do) use less than a 20% factor for the tip.

            1. re: Karl S

              I think you will find that most CHers leave 18%+
              (Impressions gathered from many threads on tipping)

              1. re: bagelman01

                CHs are not representative in that regard, and many are 15%ers who live in the many areas where 15% is still the customary threshhold.

              2. re: Karl S

                Karl S,

                That is why I do not get involved, at that depth. The time to do all of the intricate calculations, is worth more, than a few US $'s, at least to me.

                For most of my meals, the wines are the larger portion of the bill, but that is just me. I could drag out the calculator, work up an equation, and apply it, but do not.

                Call me lazy, or perhaps "busy."


        2. I have pondered this same question myself. It could be argued (wrongly I think) that the "good" waiters are able to get the jobs in the more expensive restaurants and therefore deserve a higher income.

          I would prefer that waiters be paid a wage commensurate with their labor and that tipping be outlawed.

          1. It is a good question and I've wondered about it too.

            One difference is that sometimes (and I do realize only sometimes) the nicer restaurants actually do staff differently so that the level of service is better. It is often subtle but the frequency with which a server can refill water, clear plates, get another round of drinks, etc, etc is directly related to how many tables they have to serve. You can't drop a round of 32oz sodas or a pitcher of beer at a higher end restaurant.

            So there is a service difference, you might not always appreciate it, which is a different argument.

            1. It seems to me that servers in finer establishments are more experienced and knowledgable. The better places often have changing menus that the servers must be able to understand, describe, and recommend. The menus at lower end places are usually big, colorful, self-explanatory documents. At a nicer place they also usually have fewer tables to serve. If everyone tipped the same amount per each meal served, the college kid working ten tables at a chain restaurant would be making oodles more money than the professional server with years of experience working four tables with elan. The way it is seems fair to me.

              3 Replies
              1. re: L.Nightshade

                There's also a higher likelihood that in finer restaurants not only will your server have fewer tables, there are more "service" people working. Bussers, back servers, and bartenders are all tipped out by the server. That's right, your server is tipping all of those other service people. In Denny's, one person is doing it all and keeping all the tips.

                1. re: L.Nightshade

                  It seems to me that servers in finer establishments are more experienced and knowledgable
                  Menu pricing doesn't necessarily relate to the level of service. I have had both ends of the service scale, and everything in between, at all levels of pricing, as, I'm sure, have you. Incompetence and indifference can happen at all levels. At one higher end place, a dining companions asked about a particular beef dish on the menu. The server's answer: "I dunno. I don't eat meat.."

                  For our first anniversary dinner, DW and I went to a better place owned by a highly regarded (and decorated) chef. A chef friend had even called ahead for me and made the reservation with the owner, explaining it was our first and I wanted it to be a "special night." Being the middle of the week, our waiter had only one other table of three to tend to while we were there, yet she provided a decidedly lower level of service than we typically receive at the family style place cited in the OP.

                  Yet for our fifth we went to a similar place on a crowded Saturday evening and received excellent service from a waiter who didn't stop moving the whole time we were there.

                  The menus at lower end places are usually big, colorful, self-explanatory documents.
                  This may be the case for chains like IHOP or Denny's, but I've been to many a place at all price points where the staff had to explain a menu item to someone in our party. In the example I cited, the family restaurant menus are composed in a word processor in 12 pt TNR font. No color, no pictures, and the note: "Ask your server about our specials." Sometimes you get an extra similar page with the specials, but not always.

                  At a nicer place they also usually have fewer tables to serve. ...
                  It could be argued the college kid working ten tables at a chain restaurant does more work in a shift, and therefore deserves more.

                  1. re: L.Nightshade

                    I seldom differentiate between "levels" of restaurants, and tip, based on that service, for the bill.

                    Like with wine (there is wine, good wine, fine wine and great wine), I feel the same about service.

                    Obviously, at a restaurant, such as Restaurant Daniel (NYC), the total bill will be different, but my percentage will most likely be based on the tab. At such a restaurant, a 22% tip will be much higher, than the tab at a "mid-level" restaurant, unless I go heavy on the wines. That is, how I see it.


                  2. Sometimes I think I'd rather tip on a sliding hourly scale. Say that minimal basic service gets $4-5/hr extra, up to fine dining getting $8-9 extra. So the guy who brings your pho and coffee and makes change gets $2 or $3 and the tip on that birthday tasting menu is $25-30. Of course servers have multiple tables in an hour, so they still can do very well.

                    I hate tipping.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: babette feasts

                      Or, you can create a spreadsheet, then fill that in on a server, have all of the calculations, including the exact location vs all other possible locations, then a "local fudge factor" included, and then, the phases of the Moon. When that calculation comes back to your smart phone, from the server, you can offer the tip. Of course, you must create that spreadsheet, and allow for all variables. Shouldn't take more than about 15 mins, plus the time to develop that spreadsheet, and locate all possible variable, and by that time, I have picked up my car from the valet, tipped them, and am back in my office. Still, you are way ahead of me, as I just did a 22% tip on my total bill, and kissed the hostess.