Making Sense of the Tipping System

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When Food Channel curator Corby Kummer wrote about tipping a few months ago, he came to one major conclusion: "The current system doesn't seem to please anybody, so consider this an invitation to submit solutions."

Two recent blog posts confirm the fact that no one is happy with the way we tip--or clear on how it works.

The San Francisco Chronicle's food blog tries to help out a reader who doesn't know how much to tip on a pricey bottle of wine: Should he pay the standard 20 percent on a $500 bottle, or something less?

The post cites the following advice from Rajat Parr, wine director at San Francisco's RN74:

He thinks that if the wine is $200 or below, 15-20 percent is correct. Wines in the $200 to $500 range should garner a 12-15 percent tip. For bottles over $500, he thinks 10 percent is adequate.

But the piece ends with the caveat that vexes restaurant-goers as they puzzle over how much to add to the bill at the end of the meal: "These are only guidelines, because every situation differs...Now that you have the guidelines, let your conscience be your guide."

Proving that tipping is just as confusing to the server as it is to the diner, Slashfood offers these thoughts from a veteran waitress:

There's nothing more ambiguous than the 15-percent tip, which could just as well be a "thanks for nothing" grat from a miffed diner who always leaves 20 percent or a sincere show of gratitude from an infrequent restaurantgoer who thinks 15 percent is still the going rate for good service. Only the tipper knows for sure.

So, even if you do follow your conscience, your server may not get the message.

Is it time to switch to China's tipping culture--that is, to get rid of tipping altogether? Or is there another way to end the tipping confusion? Again, suggestions for solutions are welcome.

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Eleanor Barkhorn is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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