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What do we tip?

November 14, 2011 - Carla Tracy

According to the e-blast Trendwire, there were media reports earlier this month that restaurant servers in the San Francisco Bay Area were hoping to pocket 25 percent as the standard tip amount for their service.

It was initially reported by the Contra Costa Times. I say good luck with having that be the new law on Maui. Especially in Central Maui.

Yet it raises the age-old etiquette question, what is the standard tip to leave for good service at a sit-down restaurant?

According to the restaurant review guidebook, Zagat, for most diners today, the usual tip is between 15 and 20 percent. Zagat goes on to say the average tip is now 19.2 percent, having creeped up a fraction in the last couple years.

“When the ‘25 percent tipping standard’ story first broke, most consumers interviewed were opposed to the tip hike, saying that 25 percent went too far,” states Trendwire. “One person commented, ‘Tips should be earned, not expected.’ Another said, ’The government puts 15 percent as the tax tab for individuals getting tips. Does anyone really think restaurant workers will admit to the additional income and report it to the IRS? I’m sticking with 15 percent as my restaurant tip.”

But there were some supporters of the proposal. “Given the state of the economy, I think 25 percent is not unreasonable,” says Valerie Green of Oakley, Calif. “I usually do 20 percent, but everyone needs some extra money now and I’m all for it. I’m going to go with 25 percent starting with my next meal out.”

The CNNMoney website publishes a quick guide, provided by the etiquette people at the Emily Post Institute, according to Trendwire. Here are its guidelines.

Waiter/waitress: 15 percent of bill (excluding tax) for adequate service; 20 percent for very good service; no less than 10 percent for poor service.

Headwaiter/captain: often gets a cut of table server’s tip; so tip your server extra to reward captain, or tip captain separately.

Sommelier or wine steward: 15 percent of cost of the bottle.

Bartender: 15 to to 20 percent of the tab, with a minimum of 50 cents per soft drink, $1 per alcoholic drink.

“Tipping is generally seen as a reward for good service, but there are other underlying reasons,” according to Cornell professor Michael Lynn, who has studied tipping behavior for two decades.

“The major reason people tip,” according to Lynn, “is to avoid social disapproval.”

Lynn found that the quality of service had little to do with how much of a tip people left on the table—a variability of around 4 percent. He did find that people tend to tip more on a sunny day. Hopefully that helps with tips in Lahaina.

“Psychology aside, tipping is part of the cost of a meal out. It’s not really optional, even though the amount is discretionary. And the next time you’re tempted to leave a tiny tip for a surly server, think about this: a tip is often shared by the busboy, bartender, and hostess. When you leave your server a lousy tip, you’re probably punishing them all.”


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