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.