I’ve been over this a time or three, but I’m about to beat it to death again.

First, the definition and origin of a tip – popular myth says that it means “to insure prompt service.” It originally started in caveman days when the patron would put clams on the table little by little as Triceratops liver was being served, depending on how the service was. The better the service, the larger the pile of clams.

That is one explanation I have heard that uses the grammatically incorrect “insure” and is probably false and made up by a publicly-educated American who can’t spell in his native language. In any case, it gets the general point across. Tips are extra compensation at the discretion of the diner based on service.

If you work in the service industry, you work mostly for tips and probably make like $2 an hour. That is the job you signed up for, and if you want your tip, you need to do your job. If you think it sucks and you don’t make enough money, find another job.

No matter what, you are never entitled to a tip, nor is it ever cool to ask for a tip. Sometime in the last ten years or so, the standard tip went from 10% to 20%. That’s alright too. Most people aren’t cheap and don’t have a problem tipping. Personally my only problem with tipping comes from my complete inability to do math after consuming alcohol. I think I have mentioned it before – alcohol paralyzes my calculation cortex.

I can calculate 10% even if I am intoxicated. I can double that and come up with 20% while intoxicated as well. However, I am not super great at doing that while dividing my attention between a story I am telling or listening to, and if someone wants to split it up and put in a $20 and ask for $5 from me and $2 for the guy to my left, I usually start crying.

This is what got me last Friday night at La Terrazza in Miami. We were eating dinner with some friends and drinking wine. To protect my friends’ identities, I will Call them Chris and Angie. Dinner was coming to a close and the service was great, food was good, and we were happy.

I screwed up on the check when it came time to calculate the tip. Due to math paralysis coupled with Chris telling me about pulling Angie around the yard in a wheelbarrow behind the riding lawnmower, I mistakenly wrote in a tip that was about 12% of the total bill.

For the record, 12% is low by today’s standards, but it is by no means unacceptable. It was an honest mistake on my part, but I was temporarily retarded.

A few minutes later, the manager came by the table and asked how everything was. “Did you enjoy dinner? Was everything okay? Did you find the service Acceptable?” And so on. The answer was yes to all of it.

Then he made that move that they do when they are giving you news that is potentially embarrassing – like if your card is declined or you didn’t wear pants – they lean over to you and say whatever it is in a hushed voice that just makes everyone else listen intently.

“Yes…sir…” he said in my ear. “This total…it is…well, that’s only about a 10% tip.”

Instantly seeing my mistake, I was apologetic. “OH! Wow. Sorry. I just can’t do math sometimes. No problem. I’ll fix it.”

And as he was walking away, I realized the absurdity of what had just happened, and I changed my mind. Although the service had been fine, this asshole just told me I need to tip more. While a 10% tip is low, it is a fucking tip, not the price of something I bought.

I asked around the table if I was just being stupid or if I should be a little offended by that. It was unanimous from a table full of folks who had collectively spent years working in retail and/or for tips that the manager was out of line.

The waiter came over and asked me if I would like a new receipt, and I said, “Yeah. I think that will work.”

When he returned, I said, “Hey, we really enjoyed the meal and our service, and you were great. What I am about to tell you is going to suck, but your manager needs to know that his choice of action is bullshit. The low initial tip was totally my mistake, and I apologize, but it was a baseline tip, and he should be smart enough to take that and hope for better next time.”

Really I was sort of talking to the waiter about his actions, because I know the manager wouldn’t have said anything if the waiter hadn’t run crying to him about his crappy tip.

“Yes, but he doesn’t lose any money if I don’t get tipped, I do.”

“I understand that, and I apologize if this is going to ruin your night, but the tip is staying where it was, and your boss is the one to blame for that.”

“But you said it was your mistak…”

“It was my mistake. A mistake that I shouldn’t have made, but people mess up now and then, and you still got a tip. Not a great one, but it is a gratuity and not really required at all.”

Now I was passively hinting that it could go to zero percent if he wanted to keep talking about it.

Meanwhile, Angie was over there giving the manager the what-for. I don’t know what she said to him, but she’s Messican and they know how to get jiggy with the verbal beatdowns. The manager was staring at her as she walked away and sweat was beading up on his brow. Meanwhile her husband Chris, who is a large guy who used to play college football, was returning his stare in a sort of “Go ahead and say one goddamn word, you sorry mother…” kind of way. I love having good friends.

So I guess this is yet another of my battles against stuff that shouldn’t be. The service industry may need to be reminded occasionally what a gratuity is, and that a minimum amount is not legally owed to them even for spectacular service. Acceptable service should get you around 15%, and sometimes people are going to be dicks, make mistakes, or just not pay you much for your help. It’s socially unacceptable, but still their choice.

56 Responses to “Never look a tip in the mouth.”

  1. on 03 Mar 2009 at 3:08 pm Janet

    I agree totally. I was once almost arrested for not tipping a total asshole waiter. He gave the worse service I have ever seen, we even had to go get our refills from the bar ourselves because he was “busy” sitting at a table of friends. Then I found out the place added a tip onto all checks automatically. When I paid the amount of the bill minus the tip amount the manager called the cops. Luckily the cops were on my side. Place sold and I can see why.

  2. on 03 Mar 2009 at 3:12 pm Loamy and the Itchy Taints

    I almost admire the balls it took to confront you about the tip. The way I see it, manager and waiter both got a valuable lesson, on the cheap. Well done.

  3. on 03 Mar 2009 at 3:14 pm Justin

    Well, I think your tip story is indicative of how everything has become a right these days. I have a right to not be offended, I have a right to privacy, I have a right to free healthcare. Please everybody, grow up and realize that life is not fair. Good post.

  4. on 03 Mar 2009 at 3:32 pm Brennan

    My state (Kentucky…shut up) has a 6% sales tax. Generally, if the service was polite and prompt and the waiter did NOT try to talk my ear off, I triple the tax to create an 18% tip. Simple enough, but the 6% tax also lets me drop down to a 12% tip if the waiter can’t be bothered to refill my water glass or if I have to stand up to get their attention.

    I also have issues with restaurants where the fine print on the menus says “an automatic 15% gratuity will be added for parties larger than 6”. Really? My guess is that if a waiter is serving a table of 8, they could also be serving two tables of 4. When I go out with a group of friends, I’m aware that we require a bit more handholding due to the larger numbers – but that doesn’t mean that the waiter suddenly has forgotten how to do his job or needs an extra reward. If they want to charge an automatic 15% gratuity, then the waiter should not expect a dime more.

    Thanks for putting your thoughts out there. I agree.

  5. on 03 Mar 2009 at 3:46 pm KC

    As a former server, I agree that the Manager’s actions were out of line. You should never be strong-armed into a tip, whether the amount was intended or otherwise.

    At the same time, if you get great service, you should tip accordingly. Servers know that their income is not guaranteed, but not everyone can up and “find another job.” Tipping is customary and expected when dining out and if you have trouble calculating – maybe a tip card would be helpful.

    That being said – that manager was a total dickfore. It sucks to get a 10% tip, but it’s just poor form to call someone out on it.

  6. on 03 Mar 2009 at 3:47 pm Nuke

    Solid post, and I agree with your actions. I once had a lunch that I paid for with a $20 bill and said to “keep the change”. That was a tip of well over 10% but less than 20%.

    The waiter comes up to us as we leave and asks if the service was alright. I say it was dandy, but then he asks about the tip. My response was that I know it was less than 20% but that was literally the last of my cash and I was not writing a check for the rest. Never. Went Back…

    Now one of my best friends parents always tip $1. An no, they are not so old they don’t know better. When I eat out with them I usually throw all the tip money in the middle and pad theirs out a little.

  7. on 03 Mar 2009 at 3:47 pm davejase

    You guys wanna know what I love? No? Tough luck. How about the automatic “tip” they put on room service charges? You get your mushy cheeseburg that is actually BELOW room temperature, something that may have at one time been salad, and they expect an attaboy? I’ve gone so far as to draw a line through it and write the amount that I’m willing to pay.
    Goodta hear from you, Dusty… and you’re right… those Messican ladies are messed up when you get them spooled…

  8. on 03 Mar 2009 at 3:47 pm Jay

    I agree with all the posters here, especially on the “right to” issue. The only thing you have a right to is life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Not a 20% tip. Do this, start out with $20 in singles on the table. When the waiter/waitress comes over. Tell them, this is your starting tip, every time you screw up I take away money from the pile. Dangle the carrot in front of that ass and see what service you get. I’m betting it will be better than the slob sitting at the next table with the 3 kids spilling juice all over the place, screaming and carrying on, who leaves a 5% tip after they devistated the booth they were sitting in.

  9. on 03 Mar 2009 at 3:55 pm davejase

    And by the way, that wheelbarrow/ riding mower story was the cat’s ass, if that’s a good thing…

  10. on 03 Mar 2009 at 4:04 pm JamesC

    I had an experience similar to this one in a Chinese restaurant…with the exception of a manager that I thought was going to pull out a Kung Fu spear and pin me to the chair like a bug collection specimen if I didn’t fix my error. He went off on a tirade with me, about 3 words of which I actually understood. My response to him was that maybe he should consider paying his people a little more than slave wages and then they wouldn’t be so dependent upon the tip to make ends meet. The truth is that most of the people working there were probably indentured employees, paying off their passage from China by toiling in his sweatshop restaurant and that he got a piece of their tips so it was taking money out of his pocket and not theirs. Either way…I do not pay tips on command or as a result of being insulted or shamed into one. I am sure you felt like throwing your fork into the back of the manager’s head as he walked away from you…maybe not…but I sure did.

  11. on 03 Mar 2009 at 4:35 pm Pollyfusia

    I got a talking to from a crabby cabbie in Vegas once. I was young and had never actually been in a cab before. I tipped him a couple of bucks and he was all pissed and started yelling. It was a five minute ride from the airport to the hotel. And he hadn’t been one of those friendly chatty cabbies. I ended up with one of those later and he got a fat tip.

    Here’s an idea. Pay your people decent wages and figure the tips into the prices. Happy servers should equal good service, no?

  12. on 03 Mar 2009 at 4:40 pm Claire

    I agree that embarrassing guests is a piss-poor way to correct the error. However, I believe that the price of eating out should include enough for every employee to be paid at LEAST minimum wage and (if the management cares about customer service) pay the employees that are their customer contact on scale to the importance of the quality the management wants that contact to be.

    Although I am in a cushy salaried position that is practically recession proof, I do want to clarify two things for those who have never worked in restaurant industry and whose parents neglected to instruct them on the finer points of the **privilege** of dining outside the home:

    1) if you’re using a coupon, you should tip 20% on the amount of the bill BEFORE the discount was removed from the tab.

    2) a business meal (which typically lasts longer and therefore monopolizes the table and the server’s time) should include a much larger tip. They STAND THERE for $2 an hour. They serve you for tips.

    And just as an aside from a former server and bartender… if you’re trying to decide between two amounts a dollar apart, that one dollar won’t mean a great deal in your pocket but can change a pretty good tip to a GREAT tip to them. In the interest of ever coming back there again, round up.

  13. on 03 Mar 2009 at 4:44 pm warcrygirl

    All the whiny liberals who think everything is better because it’s from Europe should realize that they don’t tip in Europe, in fact it’s considered rude. Funny how they don’t mention that when they yammer on about the right to free health care. My husband and I argue over this every time we’re out; he thinks a tip is mandatory, I think it’s at my discretion. I’ve even left the server notes as their “tip” on how to give better service so next time they’ll get a real tip. That probably makes me as big a dickwad as that manager but oh well. I agree with you, if you want more than $2/hour don’t wait tables.

  14. on 03 Mar 2009 at 4:58 pm Marliss Bombardier

    Once my husband and I went to a microbrewery/pizza place. The kitchen messed up our order, the server apologized all over the place, we got stellar service, a free pizza AND a free frou-frou dessert. We tipped her the amount our dinner would have cost.

    For what it’s worth, here in Washington state the servers get paid minimum wage, which is close to $8/hour. Plus tips.

  15. on 03 Mar 2009 at 5:00 pm Jimslam

    I have a few good friends who would stand up for what’s right and hold the line with me, but my wife totally caves. She always acts embarrassed and pissed off if I ever financially indicate that possibly the choice of “waiter” isn’t a good fit for someone’s disposition.

  16. on 03 Mar 2009 at 5:13 pm Ken JP Stuczynski

    I never heard of 10% or 20% … it was always 15% around here (Buffalo, NY).

    I leave 15% if the service was bad or mediocre, as everyone can make a mistake or have a bad day — or even a bad life that needs a kind deed in spite of their beaten down attitude.

    If it’s better, I give more, sometimes enough for them to look for or at least remember me when I show up.

    But that’s just me.

  17. on 03 Mar 2009 at 5:47 pm olderty

    I’m with Ken. I thought 15% was the standard. 20% for excellent and 10% for fair/poor service. Now I have been known to drop it to 0% or up to 100% based on extraordinary circumstances.

    And, since we’re sharing, I calculate my tips by moving the decimal point to the left one digit and adding half of that number to itself. Or just doubling it for 20%…

  18. on 03 Mar 2009 at 6:37 pm Capt. Ozark

    I was the waiter that night. You are a bad man. It’s okay though, as I put a boogar in your salad. Hope you liked it..

  19. on 03 Mar 2009 at 8:21 pm Nightmare

    I had a waiter chase me all the way out of the restaurant and to the elevators or the hotel asking about why he didn’t get a tip and told him straight up that his service sucked and that I had asked for one goddamned thing to be done and he failed. So he got nothing and then thought he could scare it out of me. I almost beat his foreign ass like a drum.

    If I do my job shitty, I don’t get paid at all so I say fuck them, And I was a bartender for 15 years! And a damn fucking good one. Never asked for more or bitched because there was less…fuck them!

  20. on 03 Mar 2009 at 9:00 pm Michael

    Dusty,
    That was a tough situation, but I think you were being a dick there. When alcohol is involved, waitstaff and managers are aware that people make mistakes in the math. I assume that happens every night in a busy restaurant. What are they to do? Keep quiet and take it on the chin?

    You didn’t just eat dinner and leave, right? You had a few drinks afterward and visited with your friends. That cuts into the waiters income when you do that, especially on a Friday night, and especially if there were people waiting for that table. That should have taken his gratuity to AT LEAST twenty percent, since you describe the service as “great.”

    You admitted it was a mistake, the next step is to fix your mistake. Simple as that.

    I don’t see how the management was out of line. He knew that waiter was good and knew it was probably a simple error. You turned it into some statement or protest or something, and it cost a hard-working waiter a few dollars. No big crime, but I think it was YOU that was out of line, not the manager.

  21. on 03 Mar 2009 at 9:44 pm Lisa

    I’m sorry, but I tend to agree with the previous poster. I love ya Dusty, and I tend to wholeheartedly agree with almost everything you say, but I don’t feel that the manager was that out of line.

    It may be policy that whenever someone tips below 15%, which is generally considered the appropriate tip for “acceptable” service, the manager questions the table to make sure nothing was wrong with their meal or service.

    Also, I kind of respect the manager for standing up for his staff like that. I was a waitress for many years, and I would have loved to have that kind of support from my boss.

  22. on 03 Mar 2009 at 10:24 pm Bill

    I used to work Pizza Delivery. Note the caps, as it was the most funnest job I ever had. We had one schmuck who lived on the edge of our delivery area, in Cranberry, PA, where refugees from the taxes and machine politics of Pittsburgh fled; for several years, only parts of Las Vegas grew faster than Cranberry. A wealthy neighborhood.

    This family lived in a brick three story, three car garage, double lot – and never tipped. We always shafted the new drivers with this delivery, as you knew you were getting zero, and the long drive meant you missed out on other lucrative deliveries.

    One particular time I delivered a Pizza which came to $9.95… I was handed a 10 dollar bill by the blow-dried freak matron of the mansion, and told to “keep the change.” I smiled and said, ‘Oh, no, you hold on – you obviously need this more than I do!’ and returned to her hand a shiny nickel.

    We of the Pizza brotherhood made a solution, however. Turns out, you can take a slice of pizza, push the sides together of the original pie, and not be able to tell. You take your tip in product. Not once, ever, in two years did I have a tight-fisted bastard figure out there is no way a pizza can be cut, and have an odd-number of slices. Never. Thank God for the public schools.

    Also, no one apparently counts chicken wing orders…

    …worst tippers – Nurses and Public School teachers. I kid you not. Consistently, bad. Now I of course tip very well, but have stiffed people maybe twice in the past 10 years. Once service was so bad at a Dingbats I actually got up, grabbed a decanter from the coffee kiosk and started serving my table and other patrons. That caused quite scene when the waitress realized I was doing her job and likely to start getting her tips…

  23. on 04 Mar 2009 at 12:19 am NYM

    Really they should be grateful for whatever they get. Where I live tips are only given if the service (or food) is beyond expectation, or you’ve bought a round of drinks that comes to $39.70 and you’ve paid with cash; so you say “keep the tip’.

  24. on 04 Mar 2009 at 12:54 am Vegas Bill

    My wife works predominately for tips, so when we go out, we make every effort to not screw up the tip amount. That doesn’t mean that we tip 20% for lousy service. I have a tip calculator on my phone with which I can punch in the total bill, the percentage tip, and it will give me the total tip amount. I can operate this in even in a severe state of inebriation, but that’s me.

  25. on 04 Mar 2009 at 4:06 am Matt

    Seriously loving Bill’s comment up there…

    However, I’m from London, England and was visiting La Jolla, CA last December and totally forgot to tip the pizza delivery guy. My friend asked me how much I tipped, looked like a badger had been pulled out his arse when I told him I didn’t and disappeared through the front door leaving, I swear, a trail of dust.

    It was a vodka tasting evening after all and I don’t have a math-puting brain area.

    Delivery guy got a good tip that night 🙂

  26. on 04 Mar 2009 at 7:41 am Max Girth

    How about we put all of the Union types to work in restaurants? Then a steak will cost $3,756 because you’re not only paying the servers over inflated wages, but for three generations of retirees too. The service will be surly because he’s getting paid no matter what. Parts of the meal will start falling off of the plate far too soon and by the time you leave the premises you’ll develop & oil leak in your undercarriage.
    In response to this the restaurant will launch a multibillion dollar advertising blitz to say that it’s a myth that the Japanese & European restaurants have higher quality. That it’s just a coincidence that being transformed into a poo cannon after eating there has anything to do with the quality of their meals.
    Then finally, when no one wants to eat there anymore and they are faced with changing their business model or going out of business, the government can step in and infuse them with cash by charging you for ten meals that you never wanted, nor will get, by spreading it out in taxes over the next twenty years. Or maybe it’s not your taxes, but they hit the company you work for so hard that they have to downsize thereby sending your tax burden to zero. Therefore a business that operated on sound financial principles is forced into bankruptcy by a restaurant that did not operate on sound financial principles.

    Sounds good to me…
    Or we could just stay on the merit system of pay for good service/meals and agree that Dusty was a dick for messing up his tip & let it go. He’ll probably over tip next time anyway…

  27. on 04 Mar 2009 at 9:09 am Ryan

    I had always heard that “tip” stood for “to improve promptness”. Btw, that manager guy sucks.

  28. on 04 Mar 2009 at 9:37 am phil

    ….3 times 8, carry the 1…no wait…8 divided by 4 times 3….shit…um….the square root of….oh fuck it…just take this extra $10 and call it even…

  29. on 04 Mar 2009 at 11:01 am Incredipete

    I would have asked for a new receipt and put a ZERO percent tip on there. What a bunch of jerks.

  30. on 04 Mar 2009 at 11:18 am Christine

    I just want to know what you named your new KITTY.

  31. on 04 Mar 2009 at 1:13 pm Navy Mom

    I don’t get a tip from my Husband or friends when I am serving them at home, I don’t even get min wage. No one deserves a tip and it should not be expected thats the job the picked. I will not leave anything if the service sucked…I can be a real bitch when it come to this, its your job to make coffee at starbucks. My real complaint…. I drink water, lots of water, my glass seems to always be empty so I ask for a pitcher, some places will not give you one. The waiter always seems to have time to refill coffee/tea and leaves my glass empty, I told the last waiter that he had better keep my glass full if he wanted a tip, he did.

  32. on 04 Mar 2009 at 3:08 pm Michael

    Navy Mom:
    Please tell me you had a few cocktails before writing that.

    If not, please tell me more, because that stuff is pure gold.

  33. on 04 Mar 2009 at 3:51 pm Donomanman

    I always leave those folded Tracts that look like $20’s, then when they open it, it’s like a proverb or something…Is that the right percentage???

  34. on 04 Mar 2009 at 5:50 pm MO

    Agreed with your writing. YOUR THINKING IS CORRECT.
    BUT, you never did indicated if you subtracted from, added to, or left the tip as is???

  35. on 04 Mar 2009 at 6:48 pm HairMetalMistress

    You were kind of a dick about it. I agree with Lisa that the manager was looking out for a diligent employee. Though you admitted your mistake with sincerity, which was gracious. That said, I wouldn’t have done anything differently. Except I don’t have friends cool enough to have my back like that. Few things make me more indignant than poor service in a service industry. Which is how the waiter comes out in the end, having tattled on you. Srsly. We come to you for self-righteous indignation, and you never disappoint, O fearless leader!

  36. on 04 Mar 2009 at 10:37 pm BringsFoodForMoney

    Hey there! Long-time reader of your column, love your stuff, absolutely cracks me up. First-time commenter, but had to weigh in on this one.

    I’ve worked on and off (mostly on) in restaurants as a server for over 15 years. Currently, I’ve been serving at a Morton’s for the last three.

    I completely agree with you on the principle about us “service types” thinking we’re too entitled. I tip very well when it’s warranted, and have no problem not, when it’s not. On the few occasions these days when I receive phenomenal (as opposed to just good or “standard”) service, I will always take the time to let the manager know.

    In your case, I think the waiter was a whiny little douchebag for running to his manager and tattling. While your 12% was left in error due to your mathtoxication, it’s not like you left the guy nothing. I’m a great server and take pride in making people’s night out a memorable one, yet I know that not every table is going to leave me 20%. I’d probably grumble a bit in a the back about your tip, but I’d be happy to at least get the 12% (at my location, due to the ethnicity and/or culture of many of our guests, tips than 10%, are, sadly, pretty common, even at a Morton’s.)

    I also can’t believe the manager pulled that move, completely unprofessional of him. PERHAPS if you had left no tip or, say, 5% as a sign of outrage at your service, he could have legitimately come over and asked that same question, and he’d be irresponsible NOT to because something might have been wrong and he’s trying to fix it, but at 12% that’s just going for the extra cash grab. I’ve only ever pulled that manager’s move once in all my years of serving, and it was for a German table of 8 whose bill was $700 and they left me a $5 tip. At most restaurants, making ANY comment about your tip to the customer is grounds for getting fired, but I was willing to risk it in that instance. Good on you for explaining it to your server why he wasn’t getting the extra, and good on your friend for bitching out the manager.

    Keep up the great work, I hate it when you have delays it your columns, always look forward to reading your new stuff! How’s Queasy Dos working out?

  37. on 05 Mar 2009 at 2:38 am Bad Wolf

    This is why I love living in Japan: no tipping. Course, it’s added to the bill as a service charge, but you don’t have to worry about paralysis of the calculation cortex. Then I go back to the states, have a beer in the airport and start having a panic attack because I realize I have to tip but have no idea how much. And should I hand it to him with a smile, or slap that baby down on the bar like they do in movies? Tipping is the stupidest custom ever devised. What’s wrong with wages?

  38. on 05 Mar 2009 at 6:43 am Rabjet

    Couldn’t agree more with Bad Wolf. Living in Ireland, and having travelled widely in both Europe and the States, and especially having worked in the service industry all through college, I can’t believe how 3rd world the whole tipping culture seems to me. I do tip well, but insist that it is a gratuity. It is not expected anywhere in Europe, but seen as an appreciation of a job well done.

    Depending on tips for wages? That seems almost barbaric to me. If you’re working 40-60 hour weeks and not knowing if you’ll make rent? That borders on employment abuse. In fact, here in Europe, where we have functioning employment laws, that would be prosecutable, and fully illegal. Minimum wage is the MINIMUM you should expect for covering a post/doing a job/working for a given unit of time – ie, an hour…and the tips reward those who do a good/very good/exceptional job.

    I would have happily tipped zero in those circumstances…but then again, my sympathies lie with people who rely on those job conditions for survival…

  39. on 05 Mar 2009 at 7:30 am Michael

    I’m beginning to see why my friends who work(ed) at restaurants have always dreaded serving a table of people from outside the US.

    It’s just a different culture, people. It’s not “barbaric” at all, to work for tips. It IS barbaric to accept a meal at a full service restaurant and NOT leave a tip.

    I’d much rather wait tables and take home a pocket full of cash every day, than do any other menial job that pays minimum wage. Being a waiter or waitress is far from being the worst job you could have.

    To clarify, for those of you from outside the US, if a waiter or waitress should somehow manage to NOT earn enough in tips to equal minimum wage, the employer must make up the difference, so that no worker ever earns less than minimum wage. I doubt that ever happens, or it happens so rarely as to not be a factor, because it’s just common practice here that you leave a tip when someone serves you.

    When I travel to other countries, I make sure I’m aware of local gratuity and compensation norms, so that I don’t unknowingly short anyone. Is it too much to ask for others to do that when they visit The States?

    I don’t remove my shoes when I go out to eat in the U.S., but I do it when it’s expected of me by local traditions when I travel. I don’t say “That’s a stupid custom. I’m not doing it because it’s not what I do at home.” I respect my hosts and their culture.

    Also, if we were to suddenly go to a “no tips” policy here, restaurant prices will automatically jump at least 20%. Those prices will apply to everything on the menu, regardless of the quality of service received, or even if the food is consumed on site. We’d pay premium prices for take-out food, and we’d pay the same premium price for shitty or excellent service. Maybe that works in some countries, but for the U.S. I think it’s fine the way it is.

  40. on 05 Mar 2009 at 8:02 am Bad Wolf

    The real fun starts when servers have to pay taxes. The IRS can calculate how much one should earn in tips and then demand that taxes be paid on that amount, imaginary or not.

  41. on 05 Mar 2009 at 10:30 am Rabjet

    Michael – I do not want to stand up for all non-US citizens, but when I visit or live in a country (and there have been many), I have without exception respected the cultures I have been in. Hence, I always tipped the seen standard of 20% in the States. However, when situations like the one outlined by Dusty above arise, I find it to be grossly and rude. Especially as it was an unintentional error. In fact, I don’t think the word “culture” should really enter this discussion. The first entry in dictionary.com for the word is as follows:

    the quality in a person or society that arises from a concern for what is regarded as excellent in arts, letters, manners, scholarly pursuits, etc.

    You can apply this to tipping? I doubt it. There’s a loose argument there for manners, I suppose, but that’s pushing it a little far…

    I suppose if I wanted to get particularly provocative, I could point out the fact that I am a member of a social (gentleman’s) club which is older than the United States, and that the idea of tipping would be repulsive, as the people serving are employed to do so. The institution would by rights pay them, and things are done on account so that money need not be handled in company…so if you want to get into the culture argument, I suppose I don’t mind…

  42. on 05 Mar 2009 at 11:24 am Aaron

    That manager was out of line. A waitperson’s tip should be the least of his worries. I waited tables for 6 years, and I don’t think you acted inappropriately at all. When I was doing it, I took the attitude that my tip was my tip, and shitty as it may have been “this is the business we’ve chosen” to quote Human Roth. I got some terrific tips as well. At the end of it all, my tax returns all showed that I made about the same amount of money each year. That’s why I quit doing it. It’s not exactly a growth enterprise. To those who like to talk about how there’s no tipping in Europe or Japan or wherever…well, that’s how they do things in those societies. In our society, we tip so shut up. Everyone should wait tables for at least a year to see what its like.

  43. on 05 Mar 2009 at 1:30 pm Dusty

    This sparked more of a dialogue than I thought it would, but it’s interesting to read everyone’s take on it. Frankly I am heartened to find that almost everyone thought it was a bit jackwad-esque to ask for a bigger tip when the original one was low, but better than nothing. Those who thought I should have “made it right”, well…it’s okay to be wrong, and you are.

    It is simply never anyone’s place to insist on anything that is not owed them. The notion that it is ever okay to question a gratuity is born from the society’s pussification and the bullshit entitlement that ineffective people have come to think that they have earned.

    If you spent the afternoon helping your neighbor build a supercollider and they gave you, say, a $20 bottle of scotch when they know you prefer the $50 kind, would it be more fucked up of them to have gotten the wrong scotch for you, or for you to ask them to “make it right”?

    The answer is the latter. They are showing their GRATITUDE in a way of their choosing. If you were to confront them about buying you an inferior bottle of scotch, I hope that their reaction would be to rape you with it, leaving you with injuries that would prevent you from reproducing.

    And Aaron is right. Everybody should wait tables and/or work in retail for a year as a lesson on how to behave. It worked for me.

  44. on 05 Mar 2009 at 2:47 pm Michael

    Dusty,
    With regard to your supercollider story: that’s apples and oranges, isn’t it?

    The neighbor receiving that gratitude does not (I assume) earn a living building supercolliders. He did not have a stranger come into his workplace and EXPECT his help in building a supercollider. And his overall livelihood was not affected in a negative way by that substandard show of gratitude.

    While having lunch in a restaurant with my wife today, I was reminded of your post and mentioned your scenario to her and I told her that, although I am a fan and avid reader of yours, I’d commented that you were being a dick in this situation. She said I was being a dick for saying that. (She’s waited tables before, I haven’t)

    She said the manager was well within his rights to ask and make sure you were satisfied with the food and service, but that he crossed the boundary as soon as he mentioned your gratuity. She said you just don’t do that. Perhaps that could be a veiled invitation for YOU to inquire if there was a mistake in your tipping, but nothing more than that.

    So maybe I was wrong.

    I just hate that YOUR mistake and the MANAGERS mistake, adds up to the hard-working WAITER taking it in the ass like that.

    Dusty’s response to Michael – I agree that it sucks for the waiter…sort of. I would have crossed the line (maybe) or perhaps been overreacting had I removed the tip entirely. But I left him a tip, and the service was good, but we were there in an empty restaurant for about 90 minutes and ordered four entrees and two bottles of wine. We weren’t high maintenance by any means. As for the supercollider story, well, it was my attempt to further illustrate that the gift I am given for helping someone out is the iver’s choice, just like a gratuity is the choice of the customer. I can only hope that the waiter’s livelihood would not be impacted by a tip of $40 vs $80 or $5 vs $10. If it is, he needs to find something else to do.

    Had the person agreed to be paid for his assistance in building the supercollider, then he could expect that pay. If the other guy decided to tip him as he saw fit, he could go home happy or shut his atom-hole.

    All of that being said, I am glad that people like you read this here blog. If I had heard an argument throughout this entire exchange of ideas (or if an argument even existed) that convinced me that I OWED this guy 20% of the cost of my meal, I’d gladly change my mind. However, the only thing I hear is that waiters don’t get paid enough…and that doesn’t count. I have worked for tips just like your wife, and she’s right. It’s a delicate issue to ask someone about their tip, and generally best to avoid it.

  45. on 05 Mar 2009 at 9:33 pm j

    I think if the waiter thought there was a problem (i.e., great service, low tip) they should have had the backbone to ask you directly if something was wrong. Running to a manager (i.e., mommy/daddy) is really immature and passive/aggressive, and only earns the now maybe appropriate low percentage.

    btw – your new kitty looks like Condoleezza Rice. My kid took one look and pegged that one.

  46. on 05 Mar 2009 at 11:29 pm Jen B.

    I used to waitress, and its a hellish job. The thing that sucks the most is even if you bend over backwards licking the balls of your customers you’re still not promised 20%.
    No manager of mine ever questioned someones tip. You get what you get, and either you kick up your service after thinking about what might have gone wrong, or you stay the same.

    I would have given them zero after that. Or refused to change it.
    I didn’t tip someone I used to work with because his service was shit. My old manager got a stick in his ass about it and refused to greet me when I was at the restaurant. Fucking ass-hat. Needless to say, I no longer spend my money at my former employers place of business.

  47. on 05 Mar 2009 at 11:57 pm Lisa

    OK – I wanted to comment once again and say I agree with Michael’s wife. I was looking at it more from the perspective of the manager coming over, period. I was thinking that maybe the mentioning of the tip was just to explain why he was inquiring, but he was probably doing it to “correct” your “wrong” versus just explaining why he was there. And, I would also like to clarify that, while I said I respected him for standing up for his employee, which I still have to admit I kind of do, it was a bit douchy for the waiter to run to the manager. Being a person that likes to try to find the best in people and likes to find a reasonable explanation of things, I was thinking maybe it was policy that servers had to report tips of less than 15% to the manager so that the manager could do a quality check at the table – or maybe the register flags it, etc. But, I admit this is reaching a bit…

  48. on 06 Mar 2009 at 1:18 pm Aaron

    Check out http://www.stainedapron.com/ It’s a website where waitpeople used to post and bitch about their jobs. It hasn’t been updated in years, but if you can see past the hateful overtones it can offer some perspective…also, its fun to read about other people’s shitty lives.

  49. on 06 Mar 2009 at 1:29 pm davejase

    Guys: regardless of all of your previous employment, it is a GRATUITY. In no case should ANYONE be rewarded for inferior service, I don’t care what they make an hour. This does not make me a dick, or a cheapskate, or anything else. Treat me like shit, yer gonna be paid like shit. Treat me like I’m the only one in the restaurant, you get a fat tip. IT’S YOUR JOB.

  50. on 06 Mar 2009 at 4:09 pm Kerrmudgeon

    Michael’s wrote:
    “I just hate that YOUR mistake and the MANAGERS mistake,
    adds up to the hard-working WAITER taking it in the ass
    like that.”

    You miss the point. A tip of any non-negative amount is *more than is required* and is consequently something to be grateful for.

    Calling a 12% tip a ‘mistake’ is only correct if we define the problem Dusty attempted as ‘compute 20% of the total.’ If instead we [more correctly] define the problem as ‘show appreciation for the service by gifting a nonzero fraction of the total to the waiter’ then Dusty performed just fine.

    It’s rather difficult to appreciate service if it includes an attempted public shaming at the end. And since tips are only reported at the end of the night [and only then if the check was paid with a credit card], it’s pretty evident the waiter bitched to the manager who foolishly went to bat for him.