Here's a conversation starter from a Food Channel e-newsletter. What do you think? More important, how much do you tip?
Servers Seek Tipping Standard of 25%
There were media reports earlier this month that restaurant servers in San Francisco were seeking to have 25% adopted as the standard tip amount for service.
While it was initially reported by the Contra Costa Times that this was an organized effort backed by some area restaurants, it now appears that this was simply an opinion expressed by several restaurant workers who were interviewed. The newspaper issued a retraction.
But it raises the age old question, what is a fair tip to leave for good service at a sit-down restaurant? Should 25% become the unofficial “standard” tip?
For most diners today, the usual tip seems to be between 15% and 20%. According to the restaurant review source ZAGAT, the average tip is now 19.2%, having creeped up a fraction in the last couple years.
When the “25% tipping standard” story first broke, most consumers interviewed were opposed to the tip hike, saying that 25% went too far. One person commented, “Tips should be earned, not expected.” Another said, “The government puts 15 percent as the tax tab for individuals getting tips. Does anyone really think restaurant workers will admit to the additional income and report it to the IRS? I’m sticking with 15 percent as my restaurant tip.”
But there were some supporters of the proposal. “Given the state of the economy, I think 25% is not unreasonable,” Valerie Green of Oakley, Calif., said. “I usually do 20 percent, but everyone needs some extra money now and I’m all for it. I’m going to go with 25 percent starting with my next meal out.”
The CNNMoney website publishes a quick guide, provided by the etiquette people at the Emily Post Institute. Here are its guidelines.
Waiter/waitress: 15% of bill (excl. tax) for adequate service; 20% for very good service; no less than 10% for poor service
Headwaiter/captain: often gets a cut of table server’s tip; so tip your server extra to reward captain, or tip captain separately
Sommelier or wine steward: 15% of cost of the bottle
Bartender: 15% to 20% of the tab, with a minimum of 50 cents per soft drink, $1 per alcoholic drink
Tipping is generally seen as a reward for good service, but there are other underlying reasons, according to Cornell professor Michael Lynn, who has studied tipping behavior for two decades.
“The major reason people tip,” according to Lynn, “is to avoid social disapproval.”
Lynn found that the quality of service had little to do with how much of a tip people left on the table—a variability of around 4%. He did find that people tend to tip more on a sunny day.
Tipping is also a way for the equality-minded to feel less guilty about being served, Lynn says.
Psychology aside, tipping is part of the cost of a meal out. It’s not really optional, even though the amount is discretionary. And the next time you’re tempted to leave a tiny tip for a surly server, think about this: a tip is often shared by the busboy, bartender, and hostess. When you leave your server a lousy tip, you’re probably punishing them all.