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The Great Debate (Introduction)

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There are a number of topics about serving and restaurants that are open for debate.  The opinions are generally split between those who have been in the industry and those who have not.  It is very similar to the political process as it currently stands.  Most people have chosen either the Server Party or the Guest Party.  This moderates in the middle are enough to give either side a majority opinion.  The two parties are as opinionated and uncompromising as the political ones.  There seems to be one issue that even the moderates are split on.  Whether it is acceptable to leave less than 15% when the service is poor.

I discussed this issue with a couple of friends from high school.  It took all sorts of different turns.  If everyone gets 15-20%, isn’t that punishing servers who deserve 20%?  Can even an educated guest know all the factors that contribute to slow service?  I knew my vested interest in the topic precluded me from being truly objective.  This is why I asked one of them to write a post outlining her position.  I know from first hand experience that she is a good tipper and a very nice person.  Please refrain from death threats since she did do me a favor in writing this.  With that in mind, here is what she submitted:

Is Less Than 15% Gratuity Hitting Below the Belt?

I humbly come to the table never having served one my entire life.  The closest I ever came was in high school when I was required to ask my customers if they would like extra butter on their popcorn or a bag of over-priced candy to go with their soda.  With that in mind, I approach the subject of tipping cautiously.  I may have missed the window to strap on an apron and bring out a tray of entrees, but I have spent a lifetime with pen in hand trying to figure up the tip.

When our favorite blogger posed the question to me of whether it’s ever appropriate to leave less than 15% gratuity as a response to poor service…several thoughts came to mind.  The main one being that the customer is always in a tough spot when the check is dropped off.  We are kind of darned if we do and darned if we don’t.  Word on the street says that 15% is status quo for average/good service.  Sadly, most diners today cannot figure what 15% of their bill is without the aid of a calculator or laminated tip card…therefore lazily just round up to the nearest dollar or two.  I, for one, am pleased to do the math and leave a proper tip for proper service.  I struggle though with the concept of allowing your tip to reflect your opinion of the service.

Like the newer generations are grappling with paving the road of cell phone and facebook etiquette surely never to fully agree…restaurant patrons have struggled with the duty of tipping for years.  If we allow our tip to reflect our opinion of the service received we run the risk of the server just thinking we are cheap instead of taking some time to reflect on why their tip may have dipped below the standard fifteen percent.  If we are thankful for exceptional service and tip accordingly, the recipient could easily take that as a signal that they are deserving of an above average tip from every table and not continue to strive for that above-and-beyond attitude.

So as we circle back around to the tight spot the diner is placed in at the end of the meal, I choose to take the high road.  Although money talks, so can the patron…If I feel the service has been wonderful I will reflect that somewhat in my tip and make sure I compliment the server on specific areas that were appreciated.  I have often flagged down the manager and passed along the compliment as well; who knows – perhaps they will earn an extra piece of “flare” and their monthly staff meeting!  On the other hand, if the experience was less than hoped for I will slightly reflect that in a monetary fashion and let the server know why I was less than pleased.  No one benefits from the server just thinking I am flirting with him, or conversely, a cheap jerk.  Public awareness of what servers think about tipping or a standard pre-paid gratuity at all restaurants would make the whole situation more palatable.

Everyone take a deep breath.  I know some of you are ready to pound away at your keyboards.  That is actually the point.  Some of you probably think she is completely wrong.  Others of you probably think you could do a better job of making the point.  She took a pretty middle of the road position and that leaves room for members of both parties to respond. I would be happy to give a forum to anyone who wants to take a side here.  If you leave a lengthy comment, be sure to sign it with the name you want it attributed to.  If it disappears after a couple of hours, that means I deleted it to move into a post of it’s own.  Those of you who feel very strongly and want to write 300-1000 words on the topic can send it to me via email at hospitalityformula@gmail.com and I will use it in a future post.

Be civil.  Reasonable people can take both sides of this issue.  There is probably not a right or wrong answer to this question.  By making both sides heard we might at least understand the other party a bit better.  Let the great debate begin.

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About David Hayden

David Hayden is the creator of The Hospitality Formula Network, a series of websites dedicated to all aspects of the restaurant industry. He is also the author of the book Tips2: Tips For Improving Your Tips and Building Your Brand With Facebook.

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8 comments on “The Great Debate (Introduction)

  1. First let me say – Good job!! I too have never served but have a lot of family who have. I feel everyone who thinks of using only the monetary tip to speak for the gratitude for service is an avoider (sure that isn’t a word, but it should be). Yes leave a tip, but also leave a compliment or a tip for improvement. That is the only way to insure the server knows what the $$$ represents.

  2. skippymom on said:

    Why would anyone argue with that? It was well written, concise and spot on imo. Having been a waitress in several different restaurants – if I received less than a 15% tip I would really want to know why – but it isn’t going to ruin the night. Some people were really just cheap. It is always nice to hear a compliment and net 20% or more too.

    My husband and I start at 20% and usually go up from there – if the service is so egregious that we are sliding down the scale a manager is going to hear about it – we only eat out knowing we can afford a good tip but we would like good service to go along with it. [It usually only goes down if the server is rude or disappears when the restaurant isn’t busy – we always cut slack when we can see someone in the weeds. Miscooked food is not a cause for a lower tip either – that isn’t the servers fault.]

    And I hear it all the time “Verbal tippers never tip in actual money.” I think we have surprised quite a few servers in our time because we will always compliment a good server and thank them.

    Anyway – I can’t imagine anyone who comments here being less than civil regarding this – you have a great bunch of readers.

    • tipsfortips on said:

      I do have the greatest readers on the interwebz. I am glad to count you among them.

      I had a guest tell me one time he was glad that I didn’t write down the order because he doesn’t tip servers who write it down. I have a few comments on my post on memorizing orders where people say they will take away from the tip if the server does not write down the order regardless if the order arrives correctly. Unless they wear signs, I can’t tell which group is which.

      I also do not refill iced tea from a pitcher if the guest is using sweetener. I will bring them a fresh one each time it is low to allow them to perfect the sweetness level. Guests who recognize it appreciate it. Guests who don’t feel they are in constant jeopardy of running out of tea even though their glass never get to below 1/3rd full without receiving a fresh one.

      If I recall correctly, your first comment here was a mild rant about servers who give you too much information. Other tables appreciate it a great deal and I sell over 50% of the items I recommend.

      Service is in the eye of the beholder. The subtle things that a great server does are done without notice. Any number of the annoying things a server does (“Can a start you off with one of our amazing margaritas?”) are dictated by someone in an office hundreds of miles away who does not rely on tips. Everyone has their own idiosyncrasies. Servers are beholden to all of them and informed of none.

      I mean no offense by any of this. I am playing devil’s advocate here and stirring the pot. We have come a long way since that first comment and I am glad you have stuck around. You gave me the opportunity to stir the pot, but this is by no means meant as an attack on you.

      • skippymom on said:

        Oh – yeah – the salmon thing – sorry about that. I didn’t realize you actually weren’t as pompous as you sounded in that post [while I managed it quite nicely in my comment. egads]. Again, my apologies.

        I completely understand that everyone has a different expectation of service – that was the coolest part to being a waitress I thought. Bringing a different face to every table – we should all be actors – was a lot of fun and quite the necessity. I also knew that not everyone tipped the same. For example – my in laws, whom I adore, are cheap tippers. I will not go out to eat with them unless I get to leave the tip or I am able to slip extra to the server upon leaving. They don’t run the staff to death or anything of that nature but no matter how I explain the concept of server wage, taxes, etc – they refuse to tip more even when we can all agree the service was lovely.

        Thanks again for the lovely blog. I promise not to visit when I am feeling cranky. heehee

  3. yellowcat on said:

    I keep track of my tip percentages and winter or summer, I average 15%. Some days I can make up to 25% and other days I can make as low as 8%, but for more than 3 years, I’ve averaged 15% month after month. I really believe the only people who seriously worry about tipping the proper amount are those who have been or are now in food service.

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