The Case for Tipping Well

[Courtney Knapp]

I am grateful for all the comments and email feedback I received following Wednesday's post on tipping.

Just to be clear, my tipping preferences have nothing to do with my political persuasion.

And I am an excellent tipper. I generally tip 20% or higher at sit down restaurants and bars (though not at places like Subway where the cost of providing the meal is already built into the menu price). And while I don't tip the sandwich ladies at my old corner deli, I did make them cookies over the holidays as a thank you for all those turkey sandwiches and excellent service!

Below are a few responses sent via e-mail.

A traveler writes:

Just returned from France. No tipping. Loved it. I tipped once, our tour guide to 4 chateaux was outstanding and helpful beyond my experience. Other than that, I loved that I paid the price on the menu for my food, no tip, no sales tax. I was no longer mentally adding 7% sales tax, 15-20% tip, 1.21 euro conversion.

Says a former expat:

I lived in Japan for a while. There is no tipping there, and it works great. If we could be like Japan, I'd be all for it. However, I don't think we'd be like Japan. Anytime I have ever eaten somewhere that does not practice tipping, service has been abysmal. Customers herded through like cattle, dishes brought out late, then diners rushed through them, eyes rolled, etc. We just do not have the service culture that would allow us to disconnect pay from performance and continue to expect the same kind of service.

A former waiter:

Tipping as a signal is works to punish waiters or waitresses rather than to reward them for excellent service. Too often, a bad tip is punishment for a situation they have little control over (your food is late or terrible or late AND terrible) Leaving me $0.26 doesn't get your point across to the chef, it just means I made $3 for that hour of work.

On the 18% service charge:

I much prefer tipping over a service charge. Most restaurants base a service charge on 18% of the bill and some waiters just don't earn that. While I give even the worst wait staff at least 10% just for the effort, I like to leave 20 or even 25% when I get especially good service. To me a service charge is like socialism- everyone gets the same no matter their performance- and I'm a liberal Democrat. The only objection I have to tipping is that at lower priced restaurants, staff often work as hard or harder than at upscale places that have more serving staff, and yet make less just because the check is lower. What I would really like to see is better wages with tips being a bonus for good service.

An Australian, living in Hong Kong, visiting the US:

It's very stressful not knowing how much to tip. It's embarrassing when people expect me to pass out cash for unremarkable service. I cringed on their behalf. Either of these two reasons would be enough to stay away.

Contrary to what many of you assumed, I have been to Europe and other places where tipping is not customary, and I have waited tables, tended bar and worked as a barista. I have even waited tables in places where tipping is not customary.

Furthermore, I tip at places to which I know I will never return, and at restaurants with a service charge, I will add an additional gratuity if the service is excellent.

Lastly, I am not an advocate for "some kind of top down federally established service charge for all restaurants in America in order to take away the rights of the consumer and drive hardworking Americans out of the fancy restaurants" where I dine (presumably on arugula) because I am "a communist or worse another shill for the Obama administration." I tip and tip well because I know that livelihoods depend on tipping, especially in states where restaurant staff makes a service wage.

I tip because of social norms and because I believe in paying for work that is done, especially in America where the status-quo tip is an expected component of the work's cost and price.

I received a number of questions about tipping etiquette situations, all of which I will address tomorrow.

Additionally, 13 people recommended the following video
[NSFW, especially if you work at a restaurant].

Presented by

Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

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