Tipping Etiquette

27 Jan

I went to a restaurant today with my friends (none other than the usual suspects). At the end of the lunch came the usual question. How much should we tip? Honestly, I have never really been a big fan of tipping because as I grew up, I very rarely went to restaurants where tipping was a norm. After coming to US, I did see that a tip of 10-15% is common and in a sense, mandatory (unless ofcourse the service was terrible).

My cultural and social background is one thing. But, rationally, I started thinking about why someone should tip a waiter/waitress. One of the common story that I have heard over and over is that, the waiters are paid minimum wage or in some cases, less than minimum wage and that, tips are their only main source of income. Does that mean one should tip? Does that qualify tipping as a charitable act? Do we tip people in other professions who get minimum wage the same way? By paying generous tips, arent we encouraging the restaurant owners to recruit people with even lesser wages? When a person accepts a job, isnt it implicit that thats what he qualifies for? Do people who wait assume a minimum payout through tips? Assuming each waiter/waitress serve atleast 5-6 tables during peak time, and looking at the average eatout cost, are they really worth it for the tips they get? Interestingly, restaurants which serve cheap food dont get tips (McDonalds or Burger King). So, are we paying for those who work in expensive restaurants? If so, that doesnt make any sense to me.

The other part of me thought about the service that they provide and tried to reason out if there is a relationship between the amount of work done versus the tips paid. Unfortunately, it still didnt make any sense to me. Does opening up a $100 wine bottle different from opening up a $20 wine bottle? But, when we pay tips, we look at the total amount (including sales tax) and pay the tips as a percentage. If all we care about is good service, shouldnt we have a norm? A person serving 100 burgers to 100 people at McDonalds (assume 99c burger) is going to get nothing when compared to a waiter at an expensive restaurant who opens up a $100 wine. Does that make sense?

Well, I am certainly up for encouraging good work, and possibly, give some bonus as a token of my appreciation. I think it should come from my heart based on the service. But, I certainly dont think that there should be a set limit on what one should tip. I remember this incident from when I was a kid. If we had a cake which was equally split between all of us in the family, I always tried to take the smallest share. You know why. I usually got the sympathy from everyone else which resulted in everyone giving a piece of their cake to me. Guess who got the lion’s share at the end… I am not saying that waiters are getting their lion’s share, but I sure think there is a big inequality that we dont think of and a big irrationality that is considered the norm. Well, that’s just me….


Posted by on January 27, 2007 in From AM-KICKING blog


19 responses to “Tipping Etiquette

  1. Manohar

    January 27, 2007 at 12:41 am

    Well this is the kind of situation where different kind of rationalization comes in.
    1. Rationalise the logic of tipping. I have no qualms about various logic. Each his own. But at the end of the day tipping is no different from commission. My realtor get bigger commission for sealing the deal on a more expensive house rather than a less expensive one. All things being equal typically the work is the same on both. So for me its not just tipping – a whole lot of things we do in society is based on this behaviour.
    2. What do I do knowing this? Here is my take on this. If i don’t agree to a system- my personal opinion is to boycott it. For me knowing this is the custom and still going there and not following it is weird. Ofcourse i’m not saying this behaviour is the right one- I just prefer to follow this.

    Sure when it started out- tipping was a way to get better service. But today its almost the other way around- not tipping indicates bad service- a subtle but important difference. Knowing this- I usually tip as long as i’m satisfied- I don’t need to be tickled pink and I just need to be ok with service.

    So at the end of the day its a personal thing- my call is if i’m not willing to tip 15% in a place that expects 15%- I just don’t take my business there.

  2. Mindframes

    January 27, 2007 at 1:39 am

    Yes, I think it is a personal thing and should not be imposed… My aim is to just state the facts to see if there is anything rational about it…

    My take is that, in a lot of cases, 15% is not what the place expects, but a norm and I think that norm doesnt make sense. By the way, what other job out there gives one an automatic 15 to 20% bonus at the end of the day? If a place expects a 15% gratuity, I would prefer that they charge it as part of the bill and not attach it to the gray area of tipping and its association to the waiter’s poor income which is pure BS…

    I do agree that the same logic does apply to many other things like realtors, which too is irrational, according to me…Given an option, I wouldnt pay the realtor with a percentage of the house price. But then, its just me and I dont have that control…

  3. Manohar

    January 27, 2007 at 2:04 am

    To reiterate- the norm exists whether its rational or not.
    My arguement is only about how we respond to that norm— My rationalisation is simple- knowing such a practise is prevalent and choosing to go there and not follow the practise (in this context) is irrational. Irrespective of whether the norm is BS or not. If one feels for whatever reason that 15% tip is BS – my only response is don’t go there.

    As far as adding the 15% to the bill- that prevents you from not using tip as a genuine carrot in some cases. There are times I’ve had bad service and in those cases I haven’t tipped. As a matter of fact I find the practice of adding a mandatory gratuity for 6+ people BS. But- the establishment states so clearly and its my choice to not go there.

  4. Manohar

    January 27, 2007 at 2:23 am

    >By the way, what other job out there >gives one an automatic 15 to 20% bonus at >the end of the day?

    On a less serious vein- the answer is IT.

    Atleast in the food business we are talking about people who are depending on gratuity for a significant portion of their pay.

    In the case of IT— on top a fat pay check most get an automatic bonus. As a matter of fact if you are not getting a bonus- its almost like you are gonna get fired.

  5. Mindframes

    January 27, 2007 at 5:39 am

    I think we can argue on this for ever… But, I am not convinced by any of your arguments since none of them gives a valid reason to tip, other than the fact that it is the norm. As far as I am concerned, I tend to not follow a norm that doesnt make sense to me, if I have a choice/say on that. Well again, thats just me…

  6. Manohar

    January 27, 2007 at 7:42 am

    (had to delete prev 2 comments- misbehaviour)

    I don’t believe I’m justfying tipping as a logical conclusion.

    My point in conclusion and I’m probably not going to argue this any further either- There are different choices in the case of tipping (as with other comparable scenarios)-
    1. Taking the service where tipping is normal (unless service is bad) and not tipping after you finish receiving the service, just because you think it doesn’t make sense to you. (Lets look at a similar logic in a different scenario- Taking off footwear in a temple is a custom. It may not make sense to me- what do I do? Go to a temple with shoes or not go to a temple at all? (sure its not a 100% transferrable example- take it more in the spirit of an example))

    2. Not putting yourself in the situation where you avail of that service- knowing you are not going to tip because of your personal beliefs and also knowing tipping is expected.

    Both are choices one can take. I just find (1) irrational (and without being personal- unethical) and (2) A more positive and rational approach. But hey thats just me.

  7. BrainWaves

    January 27, 2007 at 10:05 am

    I too think 15% is a rip-off mainly because it is a hidden cost (not stated in plain).

    If Waiter is taking 15% as norm and thinks anything less means bad service next time. I would want that in writing rather than hide it as some “norm”. Realtor states that in writing didn’t they?

    It is sad that the resturant system is setup in a way to screw either the customer or waiter.

    The problem probably lies in the fact that I don’t consider tip when I put a mental estimate on the cost of going to resturant.
    But the norm (in US) expects us to put I guess.

    Slightly off the topic. We should be careful not to tip on top of sales tax. It saves 1.25%

  8. Manohar

    January 27, 2007 at 5:39 pm

    @brainwaves- true unlike commonly done- one need only tip on the bill minus applicable taxes.

    About the actual percentage of the tip- Again its personal and subjective. While 15% may seem a ripoff to you, 10% may be a ripoff to your friend. so and so forth.

    I agree I wish it where stated explicity- but again if it were stated explicitly one would have to tip even if service is bad. In the case of realtor, yes, its stated explicity- but how many times have people come out of the deal thinking the realtor did nothing and still got paid 3%. In the case of waiters its goodwill..

  9. Survivor

    January 27, 2007 at 6:12 pm

    My two cents worth….
    Tipping waiters is equivalent to tipping temple priests in India. Their salary is meager and they survive on 1s and 2s that you put in that plate.
    I know you dont visit temples often, but do you tip them? or do you think they are swindling you.

    I think every job has a give and take policy. We tip if we get a good service.And any service oriented business comes with a tip,bonus or a commission. But that should definitely not be a norm.It should be based on performance.And I feel 15% is a ripoff. I am a critic and I want things to be perfect. My tip varies from 5-15% depending on the service. For 15%, the service better be good. If the waiter survives on tips only, I would say, “Go get a well paying job”.

    And I agree I am talking from a customer’s point of view. If I had been a waiter,I would obviously want every single customer to tip me 15% and might even throw a curse every now and then for the non-believers :-). But, Hey! Thats life ….:-)

  10. Manohar

    January 27, 2007 at 7:02 pm

    @brainwaves: bloga uzhunga padi. The question is not about 10-15% its about any commission based on % of bill.

  11. Mindframes

    January 27, 2007 at 7:03 pm

    blogga ozhunga padi… the question is not about 10% or 15%..its about any commission as a percentage of bill…

  12. Manohar

    January 27, 2007 at 7:36 pm

    @survivor: In agreement about paying as a percentage of perceived satisfaction (each person has their own perception).

    Your question: “I know you dont visit temples often, but do you tip them? or do you think they are swindling you.”

    I thought i understood that and replied. Deleted my comment because I dont’ think I understand your question. 🙂

  13. BrainWaves

    January 27, 2007 at 7:37 pm

    A realtor may provide bad service and get 3%. It is same as resturant providing a bad quality food for the price mentioned in the menu.
    You will not refer/use the service next time.

  14. Manohar

    January 27, 2007 at 7:44 pm

    @brainwaves- true. but i’m not sure what you are getting at.

  15. Mindframes

    January 27, 2007 at 8:14 pm

    I think what brainwaves says is that, we should not compare realtor commission with tipping. Commission is explicitly stated when we hire them. It’s true that some realtors dont do a good job. But, that should only be compared to a restaurant which doesnt offer a good quality food…outcome being no more of their service or not visiting the restaurant…

    Anyway, on a tangential note, when I thought more about the topic, I came to the realization that there is a deep rooted truth behind my arguments.

    In India, I think tipping is usually associated with the showing of wealth and richness on the part of the economically stronger people and the acceptance of favor or commission on the part of the economically weaker sect. As part of the “generous” act, people get thanked and end up sensing “power”… But, here in US, for whatever reasons, it is a norm and it is not thanked for or noticed on the part of the waiter. Whether you give them 15 or 20%, there is no empowerment. Unconsciously, that makes me think why I should tip a person if he/she just did their job and nothing out of the ordinary that I could perceive… May be, if the service is “excellent” in Indian terms, people will be more willing to tip. Atleast, I will be…

  16. Manohar

    January 27, 2007 at 8:21 pm

    @brainwaves: Interesting points.. but here is some more tangential thinking..

    Tipping based on the norms of one culture (india) in another culture (US) creates stereotypes too. Stereotype is positive if people from one culture tip more and stereotype is negative if people from one culture tips less than the norm for a given perceived level of service. So discounting bayarea (where indians are normal)- in many parts of the US, indians have a -ve stereotype due to typically less tips. This over time makes the waiter assume you won’t tip much irrespective of what they do and they give average service in anycase.

    So in my case- I try to be sensitive to whats the prevelant practice…

  17. Manohar

    January 27, 2007 at 8:26 pm

    @brainwaves/mindframes: The reason I asked that question about what exactly are you coming at is: Yes i understand one case commission is stated and in other its not and I also see the comparison between food and realtors quality.

    But assume you don’t tip for bad quality of service to a waiter- you still won’t refer that restaurant to somebody- or will say “food is ok- but you know service sucks”. So I still think service by waiter is comparable to service by realtor (not just food quality).

  18. Mindframes

    January 29, 2007 at 7:16 am

    @mano: Your point about the stereotyping is well taken. I think the stereotyping partially could be a reason why there is a negative feedback in the system…

    Not sure if I can make a generalisation here. But, in my opinion, Indians, culturally/socially are not charity or community minded. Atleast, in my case, unless I came to US, I’ve never known or cared to know or contribute to any charity organization… It was not part of the main stream system… I hope the system is changing these days…

  19. Manohar

    January 29, 2007 at 8:11 am

    @mindframes: true- and i still dont’ do much charity 🙂 (oops did i tell that out loud)


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