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Jun 24, 2013 06:04 AM

To Tip or Not to Tip

The NYT opens the question in their "Room for Debate".

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  1. I didn't read all the readers' comments, but there wasn't anything in the debaters' contributions that hasn't been brought up, argued, and counter-argued 100 times here on CH.

    12 Replies
    1. re: DeppityDawg

      Agreed. In addition, my ongoing problem with those who say that tips motivate good service is that it doesn't look at countries that have no tipping, or minor/symbolic tipping.

      Yes, good service is never going to be a hard and fast measure - but if you pose the claim that tipping motivates good service and nontipping will lead to poor service, then you have to be able to say and explain that a country/tipping culture like Japan provides poor service.

      1. re: cresyd

        As a European, living in Europe, I know several of our countries have different attitudes towards dipping than does American custom. I'm also aware that European countires do not discriminate against restaurant workers in terms of, say, minimum wage or health cover. I live in a country that has a mix of traditional tipping and added service charges. I see no difference in service standards, even though the tip/charge is always entirely discretionary and folk often tip much less than the "accepted norm".

        But what strikes me as interesting about the discussions in America (OK, only on this board) is, indeed, the claim that tipping promotes good service. When I read tipping threads here, it is clear that folk very rarely vary from whatever is their usual percentage tip. Even when they have experienced appallingly bad service, they might only drop a percentage point or two. Servers know that there is minimal difference in their evening take home pay whether they give good service or not. Frankly, you get good service from committed good servers and bad service from those less committed. I take the view, categorically, that American tipping practice does not, in itself, give the customer good service.

        1. re: Harters

          Hi... I go to a couple of restaurants in Los Angeles that I'll refer to here as nice/mid-priced ($50 to $100 per person, not including wine), where I am generally considered a 'regular' (2+ visits per month). Where I _have_ noticed improved service, warmer cordiality and/or special treatment (frequent arrivals of amuses and 'tastes' from the kitchen) is on my repeat/return visits. I know it has nothing to do with my looks or stately gait. :-)

          I tip at 20%, and if I'm feeling flush, 25%. No doubt this gets around and is remembered by wait staff, even if it's not all that much in the scheme of things. And it results, as I've said, in just a bit more attentiveness and generosity on my plates.

          I wasted so much $$ in my misspent youth, on over-indulgences and selfishness, and now in middle age, I'd rather indulge others when I can afford to. To quote a line from tv show MASH: "Its' nice to be nice to the nice".

          1. re: silence9

            I really respect personal anecdotes - but at this point I'd really rather hear about a study looking at whether tipping genuinely does/does not impact service. Is Japan's no tipping service something that is just ingrained in the local culture/work practices so applying it the US is inappropriate? Is this US notion that servers work for tips totally unfounded?

            At this point, I get the theories and I get personal experience - but I wish that in the NYT's Room for Debate, they'd had some people in favor of tips providing something other than personal experience.

            1. re: cresyd

              While not a personal anecdote, I did read an article on the attitudes of servers in countries where serving is seen (and compensated) as a respectable career (one of the examples in the article was France, not sure if it mentioned Japan).

              The gist was that the servers there take pride in their work, but don't focus that much on the customer; it's more the work that's the focus. The customer doesn't affect their pay, so it's more about "good customer service is part of my job", like anyone else in a service-oriented industry, vs "if I don't make this guy happy I might get paid less today."

              1. re: cresyd

                The eGullet guy in the NYT debate does allude to actual studies (although no specific references are given). He says that the evidence indicates that US-style tipping does not function as an incentive for better service, and instead encourages upselling, obsequiousness, and servers using their looks to get bigger tips.

                It would be useful to find and read these studies first-hand.

                1. re: DeppityDawg

                  Yes - I really enjoyed his contribution - and personally was already inclined to support his views. When the NYT debate is done well, both sides have engaging arguments that make me think - and this time I felt the "pro-tipping" side really didn't. Len Penzo's comment "this isn't Japan, it's America - and tipping is American as apple pie", is a point given without anything serious backup.

                  And Kelly Fitzpatrick's statement of "I work in the industry, trust me I know".....why is it that the "no tipping" side brings in studies regarding how it impacts service and the lives of servers, while the "pro tipping" side just wants us to trust industry professionals or in the case of Penzo, a personal finance blogger?

                  Sometimes I do agree that industry professionals just know best practices, and evaluations or studies done that prove the professional right lead to industry professionals going on about how it was a waste of time, money, something everyone already knew, etc. But these studies are done because industry professionals don't always know and sometimes get married to outdated systems because it's just how things were always done.

                  At this point different models of compensating servers exist around the world, all that have a reputation for overall good service. Maybe the answer to this is that a Japanese model wouldn't work in the US because of culture - but I think it's well worth testing that assumption.

                  1. re: cresyd

                    It's my understanding that a number of high end American restaurants have "service included" pricing - places like the French Laundry.

                    I don't think I've ever read a criticism that this detracts from the standard of service. That would seem to suggest that it works in the America, certainly at that level of restaurant. I see no logical reason why it would not work in other places.

                    Big cultural shift I agree - it's taking years for places in the UK to move on from old fashioned tipping to the added service charge. But it is now pretty much the majority way of working. Of course, the service charge is something that Americans are also culturally happy to accept when restaurants levy it for larger groups of diners. Again, I see no logical reason why, if it is culturally acceptable to pay a service charge when there's eight of you, it wouldnt be culturally acceptable to pay similar when there's just two of you.

                    1. re: Harters

                      I think at it's base, restaurants are scared of having to increase the prices on their menus.

                      I don't think it's a good reason, but there it is. Going back to what the eGullet contributer said - if all we're getting from a culture of tipping is upselling, obsequiousness, and flirting, then I'd be ready to see US restaurant prices all go up.

                      1. re: cresyd

                        You make a valid point, cresyd.

                        The traditional old-fashioned tip in the UK was at 10% and that is what is levied as a service charge in most of the country. However, in the London area, it has now crept up to 12.5%. Presumably, on the one hand, this reflects the higher cost of living there and gives the server a higher rate of return (the service charge applies to almost all London restaurants, wheareas its application in the rest of the country is lower). On the other hand, the increased percentage means the restaurant does not have to increase its prices to raise the income of its employees.

                        My personal preference is for the French system, for example, where the menu price fully includes service and nothing else is required or expected.

                      2. re: Harters

                        I agree with you that it shouldn't be such a huge leap, logically, to extend the large-group service charge to all groups of diners. Especially since, as you noted above, most diners in the US already adhere to a kind of service charge model, since they just automatically leave xx% and the supposedly discretionary nature of this tip only comes into play in exceptional circumstances (which get a lot of attention in these tipping threads, but which remain exceptional).

                        If only people approached this issue logically… Unfortunately, there are many intangibles like Americans' attitudes about power/control/choice/freedom (which make comparisons with, say, Japan, pretty difficult). And since there is so much money at stake (for the customer, for the server, and for the restaurant), the discussion is always undermined by self-serving false arguments (and/or suspicion that the other sides are using self-serving false arguments).

                        1. re: DeppityDawg

                          i have only worked in fine-dining, so check averages exceed $100pp. auto-grats on large parties vary by place from 15-18%. my tip income always averaged higher than that, so even as a server i was not fan. however, i did appreciate being able to apply it to non-american groups since those tips were more likely to be less than 10%.