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Why Should You Tip?

Thomas A. Mason -- Why should you tip? It is amazing how often this question is asked and debated.

To me the answer is painfully obvious. When someone asks me why people should tip, I answer their question with a few of my own. Do you want hot food? Do you want your drink refilled? Do you want the person taking your order to care about the quality of food you are going to eat?

The answer to these questions is always "yes." So why would a person that is getting paid hourly, whether you eat there or not, care about any of those things if there is nothing extra in it for them?

T.I.P.S. -- Tipping Insures Prompt (or Proper) Service

The argument above is usually very hard to argue against because there is no doubt that servers give good service based on what they perceive to be a carrot on the end of a stick. They will work hard for you and you will reward them at the end for a job well done. So to me, the question is not really to tip or not, but rather how much to tip.

Tipping standards vary greatly from region to region and country to country. To complicate matters, tipping standards change over time and what services require a tip also change. Back in high school I had a friend who believed that tipping on drinks was not necessary. I never did figure out his logic on that one but it does go to show that there are many ideas about tipping.

When figuring your tip, you should consider the following circumstances that may or may not apply to the server depending on which state you are in.

-- Hourly wages are typically significantly less in the service industry, because tips are considered part of the servers income.

-- Your server is likely being taxed 8% to 10% of your bill whether you tip them or not. Many restaurants automatically deduct this percent from the server’s pay check to keep the server in the right ball park at tax time. This is not the only income tax that the server must claim. So if you do not tip the server, it has actually cost the server money to serve you. This also means that the first 8% of a 10% tip goes to the government and not to the server.

-- Believe it or not, servers do not always get a paycheck. Sometimes, because of the taxes they pay and/or deductions, servers must pay in to the company rather than get a check.

-- Your server has to tip, too. It is very common for a waiter or waitress to have to tip out their supporting staff, ie; the bartender, bus person, food runners, and others. Bartenders may have to tip out their bar backs. These tips are based often on the sales of the server, so if you don’t tip them, in addition to the 8% the government gets, they often have to shell out money to the support staff, putting them further in the hole. Sometimes the support staff is tipped a percent of the server’s tips. So not tipping the server is the same as not tipping any of the hard working support staff in the restaurant.

-- Servers do a lot of work that they are not tipped on, also. It is called side work and it is work that is done for no more than their hourly rate. Side work usually involves cleaning the restaurant, stocking supplies, and getting the store ready for the next shifts business. Side work can be time consuming and, at times, physically straining.

The most common argument (and frankly the most annoying and ignorant) against tipping is that, by not tipping, you are “helping” the server’s cause for better hourly rates. For starters, hurting one server here and there on any given day is not going to further any cause.

Second there is no cause. Most servers do not rely on their hourly income. Serving is hard, fast paced work. Servers can earn a good living from the tips they get. If servers were going to work for a strictly hourly rate, I can assure you that rate would be high. If the hourly rate were high, guess what would happen to the prices you pay when you go out to eat or drink? That money would have to come from somewhere.

Do you legally have to tip? No. Occasionally, you will have a situation where gratuity has been automatically added to your bill. This is usually on larger groups or parties. This gratuity has been added because it is easy for the server to get a tip that is far less than they deserve, because in a group setting it is easy for one or two people to under pay, causing the rest of the group to fall short.

Again, you do not legally have to pay this gratuity. But if you don’t, you should have a talk with the server and/or manager and explain why. Remember, just because a gratuity has been added, it may still be less than a good tip for the server. For example, a gratuity may have been added at 15%. This is a tip for average service. If your server did a great job it is good to add in the difference to make up to 20% or more. Many times the server had to give up several other smaller tables to take your party, so even with automatic gratuity they end up making less on their shift.

After all that, why do servers do it? Well in the end, there are enough people out there that understand that a good tip is a kind reward for a job well done. And waiting tables can be quite profitable. It is no surprise that the most financially successful servers are typically the most friendly, efficient, and entertaining. These servers are rewarded for exhibiting those behaviors. And we all want to encourage those behaviors. Don’t we?

Thomas A. Mason is the founder of Tip20! The Tip20! website is a useful resource for service industry professionals of all kinds and a greater educational tool for the consumer on the dining experience in total.

© 2003 Tip20!

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