Saturday, February 28, 2009

Here's a Tip: Lose the Gratuity

I eat out a lot. In fact, I seldom eat in unless it is food that I have had delivered. Once in a while, probably less often than once per week, I cook dinner, which usually consists of some ready-to-cook meat dish, a frozen or canned veggie, and some instant mashed potatoes. The remainder of my home cooking consists of opening cans of soup or popping a packaged entrée into the microwave.

So with all that eating out it stands to reason that a relatively large part of my budget goes to tipping. But I have to confess that I’m not a big tipper. In fact, I’m not a huge fan of the whole concept of a gratuity.

I’m not a cheapskate. It’s not like a leave a buck on the table for a twenty-dollar meal. But I seldom go above 15 percent and I tip begrudgingly. I think I have some fairly good reasons for loathing tipping.

In some countries, such as Japan, tipping is not common at all. Wait staff at eateries are paid a wage commensurate with their work load and performance by their employers. That’s the way it should be everywhere, with tipping being completely optional.

Yes, I know that would make the price of the meal go up. But so what; we’re paying the higher price anyway when we add on 15 to 20 percent for a gratuity.

But since tipping is the norm, I believe the criteria we use for determining the amount we give to a server should be modified. The status quo is that we tip a certain percent of the check. But that really doesn’t make any sense, when you think about it.

Consider a scenario in which two people are dining at the same table but splitting the bill. One person orders fillet mignon for $30 and the other orders chopped steak for $12. Both entrees come with a baked potato, salad, dinner roll, and a vegetable. Both are brought to the table on the same size plate. It takes exactly the same amount of time and effort to deliver the filet as it does to deliver the chopped steak to the table.

But when the checks arrive, the filet eater’s total is more than twice that of the customer who ordered the chopped steak. His tip, therefore, will by custom need to be more than twice as much. So, for the same service and effort, the server receives a much bigger tip from one diner than the other even though both are following standard tipping rules.

A better and fairer method of tipping would be to base the gratuity on service and friendliness alone, without regard to the amount of the check. Start with a base amount, determined arbitrarily based on the type of restaurant and the meal being served. For argument’s sake, let’s say that at a typical, moderately-priced restaurant, the base tip is three bucks for lunch. That is the amount you add to or subtract from based only on the quality of service you get from your server.

The very best server is one who is invisible until you need her (or him). She greets you and takes your drink order promptly. After the drinks arrive in a timely manner, she immediately asks if you are ready to order. If so, she smiles and takes your order, being friendly but not too talkative. I don’t really care about what kind of day she has had or that her mother is in the hospital for surgery.

A good server will bring your appetizer, soup, or salad within five minutes. She will then disappear until you are finished, at which time she will have the entrée ready for you. After a few minutes to allow you to dig in, she will stop by only once to ask if everything is alright and if you need anything else.

She then disappears again until you have finished your entrée, but she is quick to respond if you decide you need another dinner role or a refill on your beverage. You don’t have to wait around to find her; she knows when you need her.

After you have finished your entrée, she is right there to ask if you would like dessert and to take your empty plates. Assuming you don’t want desert, she immediately places the bill on the table.

Now here is the most important part. Once you get the bill and place your plastic inside the folder, the server must pick up the check and bring the receipt back for you to sign within two or three minutes. When I’m ready to leave, I loathe waiting at the table for a slow server to finally come and pick up my payment.

At the end, after she returns your receipt, she will always smile and thank you for visiting. She makes it seem as though she generally appreciates your patronage, even if she’s only doing her job.

Those types of servers are rather rare. But, without seeming like I’m giving a plug to the chain, Olive Garden seems to have more of those types of servers than most places I frequent. And so they get a bigger tip.

I would have no qualms about doubling the base tip for a server like that, even tripling it if she were really great. On the other hand, I would not feel squeamish about taking a dollar off the tip of a server who was never there when I needed her and who seemed like she would rather be doing anything but serving me. In fact, etiquette suggests that it is entirely proper not to tip a server who is really bad. And there have been a few servers from which I have withheld my gratuity entirely.

Tipping is a built-in part of the service industry in America, so there is little chance it will become obsolete anytime soon. And, unfortunately, it is mostly still based on the total bill, especially in restaurants. But, personally, when I tip from now on, it will be based on the Wilson system. It is inherently fairer and much more logical.

13 comments:

Meggan said...

Yes, you would get this type of service most of the time if YOU WERE THE ONLY DINER!!!!
I've been waiting tables for 12 years, and almost every place I've worked, we are normally understaffed. The restaurant owners only schedule the bare minimum, less people to pay.
And, we aren't the ones cooking your food! If the guy in the kitchen is messing around, all I can do is tell him to hurry up, that doesn't mean he's going to!
So as far as bringing you entree, if it's hot, then your server brought it to you as soon as it was ready.
And, you spelled rolls wrong, you spelled it roles, wrong word Mr. science teacher!

How about this, go get a job as a server before you start complaining about tipping. There is a good reason most waitresses age quickly.

Jerry Wilson said...

Well, Meggan, like I said, I almost always get the kind of service I described at Olive Garden and also at Famous Dave's BBQ. So it IS possible even if you have several tables. And I notice you didn't comment on how the tip has to depend on the price of food rather than on the quality of service. But it's my bad on the "role." I got it right the first time I used it, though.

sara hensel said...
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Jerry Wilson said...

I disagree that we would get worse service if we changed the formula for tipping from cost-based to service based. If you are waiting on someone and try to up-sell him a prime rib and he ends up ordering chopped steak, you know your tip just went down based only on what he ordered. So you have less incentive to give him prime service. But if your tip is based only on service, then it matters not what he orders.

Oh, and where does it say that I don't give tips. I just don't like the idea of having to give one. Like I said, it should be built in to the price of the meal with employers paying you a higher wage. But if I must tip, it should be based on service, not the price of food.

And, I don't think name calling was called for.

sara hensel said...
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sara hensel said...
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sara hensel said...

oh, and not only do servers hate waiting on you but your friends probably hate going out to eat with you. i find it embarrassing to even be sitting at the same table with a crappy tipper. i always check the final bill to make sure everyone tips properly, compensating with my own hard earned money if it is not 20%. Then, I wont dine out again with whomever it was that could not properly tip.

whitney said...
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whitney said...
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whitney said...

I've never been a server, but having had many friends who are or were servers and understanding what they deal with, your post seems incredibly offensive and small-minded. You clearly have never been a server, nor do you have real-world expectations of people in the service industry. It's great that you have your ideal service thought out, but how many times in any part of our lives do things happen exactly the way we want them to? I'm sure that your servers - who are probably stressed, busy, and tired - would love to have the same utopian dining situation that you have described as your ideal. Life doesn't work that way. In the real world, shit happens, and nothing is perfect. Your speed of service depends on so many more factors other than your server - and this is so obvious that if you had taken five seconds to think it out before banging away your half-formed opinions on your blog, you would have realized it immediately - that it is impossible to consistently blame slow or bad service on your server. They have no control over the kitchen. They have no control over the bar. They are doing their best to give you the service you feel you desire, but people are human and things sometimes don't go exactly the way you'd like to. Not to even mention the fact that servers make so little money per hour that their only source of real income is tipping. If you don't like tipping, quit going out to eat. Going to a restaurant is clearly more agitating to you than sitting at home with your frozen Swanson Hungry-Man dinner while you surf for porn on the internet anyway.

Jerry Wilson said...

Is it possible for someone to disagree with me without being offensive? I set out a standard of service that people who choose to be in the service industry should strive for. If they succeed, they get bigger tips. The customer is happy and they're happy. It seems simple enough and was not meant to denigrate anyone.

Steven said...

SORRY GUYS, BUT I AGREE WITH JERRY. I HAVE SERVED FOR 6 YEARS AT CRACKER BARREL AND IF I GOT TIPPED FROM THE PRICE OF THE FOOD THEN I WOULD BE SCREWED. THE AVERAGE TICKET PRICE OF ONE PERSON IS ABOUT 8 DOLLARS. SO, IF I GOT 20%, THAT WOULD BE $1.60 PER PERSON, WHICH IN MY BOOK IS NOT A GOOD TIP. JUST LIKE HE EXPLAINED IN HIS FIRST COMMENT ON THE SUBJECT, THAT SCENARIO FITS ME TO A TEE, I GREET THE GUEST(S) WITHIN ONE MINUTE OF SITTING, ASK IF THE HOST TOLD THEM ABOUT THE SPECIALS, GET THERE DRINK ORDER, ASK IF THEY NEED TIME TO LOOK AT THE MENU(IF NOT, I GET THE ORDER & IF SO I GO GET THE DRINKS)ENTER ORDER INTO MICRO, TAKE BREAD AND SALAD ALONG WITH REFILLS FOR TEA AND SODAS(NEVER ASK IF THEY NEED REFILLS ON THESE THINGS- I DO IT AUTOMATICALLY,UNLESS THEY HAVE COFFEE OR UN-SWEETENED TEA IN WHICH THE GUEST USUALLY HAS PUT SWEETENER OR CREAMER, THEREFORE I DON'T REFILL 'TIL EMPTY. THE GUEST SHOULD NEVER HAVE TO ASK FOR A REFILL ON A DRINK. I THEN PROCEED TO GRAB CLEARED SALAD PLATES AND TELL THE GUEST IT SHOULDN'T BE TOO MUCH LONGER ON THE FOOD. I SERVE FOOD AND ASK IF THERE IS ANYTHING I CAN GET FOR THEM OR IF THERE IS ANYTHING THEY NEED. IF SO, I GET IT AND TELL THEM I HOPE THEY ENJOY IT. AFTER ENOUGH TIME TO GET A TASTE OF EVERYTHING, APPROX. 3 MINUTES, I ASK THEM IF EVERYTHING IS OKAY SO FAR. I THEN CONTINUE TO LET THEM EAT IN PEACE. ALL THE WHILE, I AM FILLING DRINKS AND REMOVING EMPTY PLATES WITHOUT BOTHERING THEM OR DISTURBING CONVERSATION. WHEN THEY ARE SLOWING DOWN ON THE EATING, I ASK IF THEY ARE SAVING ROOM FOR SOME COCA~COLA CAKE(OR WHATEVER THE FEATURED DESSERT IS) IF THEY GET DESSERT, I OFFER TO GIVE THEM COMPLIMENTARY COFFEE TO GO ALONG WITH IT. SERVE THE DESSERT AND DROP THE CHECK. I GO THROUGH THESE STEPS WITH E-V-E-R-Y GUEST I HAVE. FROM THIS, I HAVE AT LEAST 3 OR 4 "TABLES" TO ASK FOR MY SECTION EVERY DAY I WORK. SO, NO YOU DON'T HAVE TO SERVE JUST ONE DINER AT A TIME AS YOU STATED, MEGGAN. IF YOU ARE A HARD WORKER YOU DON'T HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT THE "18%" CRAP. YOU GET TIPPED ON THE SERVICE YOU PROVIDE TO THE GUEST!!!!

PJay said...

Jerry are you married? doesn't sound like it, I wonder why, You got an ugly selfish attitude... its people like yourself which is a plague in the world!