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Tipping amount always a personal matter

July 24, 2011
By ANITA HANABURGH , For The Leader Herald

I picked up the bill, $9.14, much less than I thought. I had been sitting there for two hours. The diner was a perfect spot for a grandkid exchange. It was around three o'clock and I already had lunch. A summer day, it was 90 degrees and I was thirsty.

A tiny waitress with a slight accent directed me to a booth. I requested an order of French fries and an iced tea. I told her there would be three of us plus a baby. She returned with a high chair and three tall glasses of ice water. "Lemon with the water?" she asked. I nodded "yes" as she placed a doiled plate of lemon wedges on the table.

My offspring arrived and rushed to use the restroom. Diapers changed and hands washed, they settled onto the cool leather seats of the booth. We were talking about traffic when the waitress arrived, this time with the tea and fries, very hot and very cold respectively. No one wanted much, saying "We've been eating in the car." My daughter ordered iced tea, the teenager just wanted water, the 7 year old-wanted an ice cream sundae (with two cherries), and the baby wanted grandma's fries.

Departing, I picked up the bill. $9.14, much less than I thought. We had been sitting there for two hours. I looked at the table. Oh busboy. There were cherry stems, lemon peels, fries all over the floor. There was artwork on the back of the place mats and water everywhere. What should I leave for a tip? I left a $20.

Why do we tip? Why don't we just charge more for the food, add it to the bill or the cost of the meal? Does tipping affect good service? Let's think about this strange custom.

Americans pay out $16 billion in tips each year. Ninety-six percent of all Americans will tip their waiter or waitress. (Not sure what the other 4 percent do?) Tipping today is expected by both the waiter/waitress and the customer. Tipping is big business and a standard part of our economy.

No one really knows why we tip. It is strange the American tipping system is currently very well established because before the Civil War, Americans did not tip at all. They thought that it was undemocratic and encouraged a class system. Today, Americans are the most generous tippers in the world.

According to Cornell Quarterly (must read for serious restaurateurs), tipping began in England a couple hundred years ago. A tin-coin cup was put on the table or bar with a sign "for faster service." When the waiter or bartender heard the "clink" then they would wait on that customer.

Who should get tipped and who should not? Restaurant rumor might say the chef does not get tipped because he/she is a professional and should not rely on tips for motivation. This implies the waitress is not professional or motivated which is certainly not the case. One idea is that waiting is a very personal thing and we want to reward for that personal attention. What if you just don't tip? In most states (but not all) a wait person receives a "tip wage" if they receive more that $30 a month in tips. This wage is usually around one half to three quarters of the state's minimum wage. This is important to remember when deciding on your tip.

The customary tip in the United States is 15 percent for the wait staff. I usually round that up towards 20 percent, but then I'm in the business. As I live in New York, I just double the tax to figure the tip rather that write all over the napkin or I take 10 percent of the bill then add half of that. It is not necessary that you tip on the total, only the amount before tax.

Ideally, we tip for better service. However, restaurant research has shown that service has only a small effect on the amount of the tip. A smiling waitperson can increase their tips more than 5 percent. A waitperson that squats down to talk to the customer eye-to-eye can increase tips by 10 percent. Drawing a smiley face on the check, introducing themselves by name and mentioning the sunny weather are statically proven to increase the amount of the tip. Older people generally tip more that younger. People sitting alone tip the most

When I managed a dining room in Saratoga Springs, I found the psychology of good tips had more to do with matching the personality of the waitress/waiter with the customer. Some tipped for silent, impeccable and formal service, while others tipped the chatty, clumsy waitress the most. Customers who drank the most either tipped the most or forgot to tip. Those who won at the track were a sure "bet" for a good tip!

My feeling about tipping is that it is just too late to change it even if we wanted to. The tip system already is in place. Bottom line, what you tip is always a personal matter. I'll serve you more scenarios and customs about tipping at a later date.

Restaurant Watch: Note what your waitperson does to increase tips.




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