Can someone please explain the tipping thing?

6 04 2006

OK, I've travelled a lot to the US and Canada. And everywhere we're advised to tip the waiter (and other service people) some 15-20% of the cost of the service. This is NOT common practice in Australia and something that – after all these visits – still rankles with me to the point where I often don't tip at all.

I've heard the arguments about the wait staff being paid a pittance and so they have to make up for it in tips. But this is a Catch-22 argument – if the employers paid a decent, award wage, then tips wouldn't be needed; but because waiters get tips, employers don't pay a decent wage. A very circular argument that goes nowhere… and doesn't convince me.

What I want to know is what about all the other people in the restaurant? Who actually gets the tip? The person who serves you (can be more than one), the busboy who cleans up the tables afterwards (I've seen them pocket tips left on the table), and what about the rest of the staff – like the people who do the hard work of preparing the meal, making sure the place is clean, taking the bookings, cleaning the dishes etc. What do *they* get from the tips? Why just the waiters? What makes them so special that they get all this extra money?

And if I leave $$ on the table or on the VISA slip, how does the money get divided up with these other people? Is there an honour system whereby you tell everyone what tips you got for the night and it gets divided equally, or do you pocket your own and say nothing and don't share with anyone else who made the meal happen?

The other argument I've heard is that tipping is for good service. Well, isn't service exactly that – "service"? And doesn't "service" imply that you have a job to do and are required to do it politely and civilly? If you're in the service industry, then THAT'S YOUR JOB. You shouldn't be paid more for it. The other thing we've found is that most service isn't exceptional – it's just service. Nothing more or less. Just what I expect. So why this pressure to tip for something that I consider to be part of the job?

We had a situation yesterday that brought this home to me – we were at a chain restaurant and the waiter came up towards the end of the meal and asked if everything was OK. Well, it's a bit late to ask then, and I realised that her question was just a euphemism for "I'm still here. You are going to give me a good tip, aren't you?" Where was she earlier when my husband wanted Tabasco sauce for his chilli? Where was she when my uncle wanted a decaf coffee? Nowhere to be seen. But she pops her head in our faces right when we're down to the last French Fry to ask if everything is OK. And of course, she sure isn't expecting a negative response! Not that we gave her one, but I wondered what she would or could do if we told her the meal was horrid (it wasn't, by the way). Would she have the authority to refund part of the meal, give us a voucher for another meal, or just apologise and tell us she'll let the kitchen staff know.

So, after that little ramble, if anyone living in the US and who has perhaps worked as a waiter can offer me any valid reason why I should tip, I'll consider it. And not being paid enough won't fly with me – that's an issue between employer and employee and needs to be sorted in another arena.


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4 responses

7 04 2006
Whitney

As far as I know, wait staff is not required to share their tips with anyone else in the restaurant. I have met a few waitresses who give a few bucks at the end of the night to the busboy/busgirl who cleaned up and readied tables between patrons — presumably to thank them for keeping their stations clean (lots of customers will be asked to move if they feel a table or booth isn’t clean enough…and sometimes a waiter/waitress risks losing a customer altogether if there’s not another table in their area).

What boils my blood is the need to tip the following people who, near as I can tell, stand around all day between the moments when they’re actually providing a service to customers:

–bellhops (who carry your bags to your room)
–skycaps (who wrap a paper ID tag around your suitcase handle before putting your luggage on a conveyor belt into the airport terminal)
–hotel concierge (who tells you where to find a good comedy show or great Greek food, and *maybe* dial the phone and make you a reservation)
–cab drivers
–shampoo girls at the hair salon (I’m already paying $35 plus $6 tip to make sure my haircut turns out right…now I have to pay a couple of bucks to have my hair shampooed?)
–parking lot attendants/valets
–the hotel doorman (for hailing a cab for you)

12 08 2006
Zinnia

Speaking as a former waitress (I worked at a pancake house while in high school, and a hotel restaurant during college) yes, in better restaurants wait staff must share tips with the other service staff (busboys, etc.). The cooks are pretty well paid. I don’t know about the janitorial staff. I was obliged to give the busboy working my station ten percent of my tips. This was on the honor system, and I’m not saying that I didn’t short him when he did a rotten job—but if I had to clear the table and set it up because he was grabbing a smoke in the basement, well, I’m not paying him.

You can argue that the restaurant should pay wait staff enough to make tips not necessary, but that’s just not the way things work here. The incentive of getting a good tip really does make a difference in how you serve a table—making sure everything is right, fussing at the cook to get the food out quickly, topping off the drinks—it all makes your dining experience better and hopefully will earn me that coveted 20% (or better if I really shine).

And if I am a good waitress, and sell the customer on ordering dessert or a bottle of wine (and thus up the bill) my employer also rewards me by assigning me to the best stations and to special diners, like the table full of lawyers celebrating something who are very likely to tip very lavishly.

Waiting tables is a very strenuous, tiring job, and it’s this carrot dangling in front of you that keeps you hustling even when your feet hurt and your back is screaming because you’ve been carrying armfuls of heavy china plates laden with food to the customers. You probably don’t see the other things wait staff have to do—from folding endless napkins into cute little shapes to slicing lemons for iced tea to filling all the condiment containers on the tables to restocking the service stations to…well, you get the idea. It’s nonestop work, and it’s all to make the customers happy.

I don’t know if this will change your mind at all. I really enjoyed waiting tables despite the hard work, and I learned all sorts of useful skills like folding napkins into clever shapes and carrying four laden plates at a time.

22 08 2006
Craig

In principle I agree with Sandgroper, but then I’m used to the Australian culture.
Having said that, even back home in Australia, I would often leave a tip if the service was excellent.

I have also worked in customer service, and while I totally understand that it is often hardwork, I also take pride in the fact that every time, and this was without tips, that I gave every customer that little bit extra to make their experience a positive and memorable one. This should be part of the training for the role. Not an additional service add-on for monetary return.

It really is a catch-22. Having said that, in most cases that I’ve seen so far, the service level here in America has been better in many cases to what I’ve experienced back in Australia. So maybe the tipping hasn’t been completely fruitless.

Ultimately, wages should be improved, as should training, then if a tip for excellence is required, it’s a bonus, not an expectation.

My recent experience at a restaurant in Redmond left me less than satisified.
http://anotherboyfromoz.wordpress.com/2006/08/20/claim-jumper-stalker/

As a side note. If I’m expected to add a percentage to the overall bill when I’m happy, does that mean I’m also allowed to subtract a percentage overall if I’m not?

I’m sure that would be frowned on.

Food for thought though…

22 08 2006
Outside the Box - breadcrumbs from a random mind… » Tipping

[…] I was reading comments left on my blog regarding my recent experience with bad service at a local restaurant, which linked me back to that persons take on similar experiences; Can someone please explain the tipping thing? […]

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