Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Etiquette of Tipping

Having just been interviewed by a newspaper about the "etiquette of tipping," I'd like to put my 20% here on the blog ... I mean my 2 cents worth.

Please keep in mind that this is a funny question. There are the "rules" of tipping, and then there is the "etiquette."
The rules are easy -- 20%.
$1-3 to the valet. $1 per coat in the clockroom. $.50-$1 in the restroom.
The ETIQUETTE is something else. I mean couldn't you have som fun and put $5 in the restroom lady's jar?
My grandfather was a great guy. He was a banker, but he really liked to help people. He was comfortable, not wealthy. He used to leave $5 to tips back when that was a LOT of money. Just because it made him feel good.
Etiquette is about good manners, thinking about the other people, and taking in the whole situation.

First the rules because they're easier.

The 15-20% rules includes expensive wines, and the bartender (pay before you eat). If you can afford a $300 bottle of wine, what on earth are you complaining about?

At bar, $1 for beer or wine; $2 for mixed drink.

Tip jar - 5-10%. Be more generous is you feel like it. You know its split, and you know these are minimum wage people.

Fine Dining? Same deal. If you can afford a $300 meal, you can afford a $60 tip.

If you got great attention, tip the sommelier 10% and also the maitre'd.

Now for the etiquette. This means thinking, not just memorizing rules. This is what emotionally intelligent people. Anyone I know, for instance, who ever did waiting, or has a child who does, will tip more than 20%. Why wouldn't you?

It feels good to be generous.

Lousy service? Be sure you evaluate it with your EQ cap on, If you have ever done the job, you would know that there are many factors beyond the control of your wait person - like the chef messing up the order, some other waitperson taking their order, a bad night in the kitchen. - and whose fault is it if they've run out of prime rib already?? Or simply it's their first week on the job. These jobs are harder than they look.

A waiter who cops an attitude is another story. If your waitperson is surly, nasty, disdainful, obviously have a bad-mood day, see the manager. The tip is kind of irrelevant. If he got your food there, leave 10%; it's a statement of its own sort. And then don't go back there, unless your discussion with the manager leads you to believe it's a rare occurrence. Yes, you can leave nothing. You can also leave one nickel, like an unpleasant acquaintance of mine does. But then you have to live with yourself. This is what etiquette is all about.

The most ridiculour thing I hear is about time spend at the table. NO!! NO!! Who on earth came up with that one? In the finest restaurants, the ones I enjoy the most, the wait staff doesn't run up, put their foot on an empty chair and join your conversation (dear lord). They are INOBTRUSIVE, like the best of British servants. Looking after you, silently appearing, anticipating needs. Their actual time with you may be 15 minutes, if you're actually clocking it (why aren't you enjoying your meal and companionship is my question??)

Etiquette is about manners and between people. If the waitperson really knocked your socks off, make yourself feel good and leave them 40%. Send$25 in to the chef. What is money for but to have fun with, and what is more fun than largesse -- generosity. I love a date who is generous.

Does it bother you that a tip is added for larger groups? If you ever waited a large table, you'd know why. It's a lot more work. It's stated up front. If you don't like it, leave. It's as simple as that.
The waiter depends on tips to make it. They have to deal with the kitchen, the chef, the maitre'd, learn the specials, the wines, cover spills, cranky guests, people who can't pronounce the foreign words (in Texas, concierge (con-see-air'-jah, from the French) is pronounced con-see-air'. Tournedos - the accent is on the first syllable (tour'-nuh-doze). It is not a Tour-na-do. etc. They have to know when to interrupt. And my favorites are the ones who quietly arrive to fill my water glass, know just when to bring the bill and who to give it to, and do not bounce up and say, "I'll Fanetta, I'll be your waitperson today." My meal and my companion are the focus of my evening. Good waitstaff is background material, and I award them for that.

I'm a generous tipper unless there's some reason not to be. It's etiquette.

Odds and Ends

  • Men are worse tippers than women. I guess because they're worrying about the difference between 15% and 20% or how much it amounts to by hour.
  • Sometimes the credit card companies demand adding a tip and checking out if the credit card money is there. Be smart - understand that's not the restaurant doing it.

  • Some restaurants dictate a tip. This is like a contract. Read the fine print and agree to it or not. As long as they are up front about it.

  • Yes, check your credit card bill immediately before it passes through the bank. That's just smart. It can take a week for the real bill to show up rather than the pre-authorized amount.

  • Waiters are trapped by software, just like convenience workers. Give them a break.

  • Don't argue with others at table about the tip, the bill or anything else. This is bad manners.

  • If you're on a date you'll make a great impression if you're a generous tipper. Remember the words of - who was it? - a person who is not nice to the waiter is not a nice person.

  • You are not paying them only for time spent, but for what they know ... like the wine list, and how to placate the grouch at your table, and how to move the order through the kitchen, where to find the butter when someone forgot to put it out. Ever been in a kitchen a meal time? I used to work for the head chef at a 5-star resort. You would not believe what can go wrong.

  • Remember, it's the credit card company that does the pre-authorization thing.

  • If you are getting "terrible service," call the manager over. Likely they will comp your meal, which leaves you with the question of the tip. But this isn't exactly brain science. Why not leave them something? Is it so much to ask? The waiters going to catch hell from the manager, isn't that enough?

  • It is typical to tip the lesser amount (15%) at breakfast or dinner. Why? Just because.

  • If it's a special occasion and the restaurant has raised their prices, make your tip the same. It's designed to be a special occasion.
  • Should you be charged a gratuity at a buffet when you bring your group? Are you a rube? CALL AHEAD OF TIME AND FIND OUT THESE THINGS. If you disagree, don't go there. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Of interest - some servers have to what's called "tip out" as many as 5 other people - bar (even if they served no alcoholic beverages), good runner, host, busser, service manager - do you even know who these people are?

Lastly, there's eating out and there's eating out. On some occasion you wish to impress. A first date with your dream girl, your mother on mother's day, and anything to do with boss and colleagues come to mind. EQ-smart people call ahead and check on things.

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