Thursday, August 03, 2006


I just saw this article on Google News. U.S. lawmakers, it seems, are now attacking waiters' and waitresses' tips. Apparently, some states require waiters/waitresses to earn minimum wage, some don't, some keep all of the tip money, some don't, blah, blah, blaaahhhhh. It's just another one of those issues that are built up to make it seem like the politicians are really working hard. And, we all know that what they really do is show up for the vote at the last second, ask their aides (who have actually read the bill) how they should vote, and then press either the "yes" or the "no" button. Come on...who are you trying to fool? Politics aside, this started me thinking about tipping, and how I feel about it.
I grew up in the U.S., and this means that I was brought up with tipping - waiters, taxi drivers, Skycaps, delivery men, etc. You name 'em, and I've given 'em a tip.
I consider myself a generous tipper. Since my job (way back when) involved taking customers out for lunch everyday, and dinner several times per month, I wanted to make sure that:

1. I would continue to receive good service during return visits.
2. The chef/food server wouldn't flick a complimentary booger under my steak.

I considered it a necessary evil. I didn't like doing it, but I just did it. But one thing about tipping food servers always bothered me: I don't think it's right that the tip (15% - 20% in the U.S.) is based on the cost of the bill. Here's why...
Let's say I go to a restaurant and order a hamburger platter which costs $10.00. The waitress has kept the meniscus of my water glass heaping, she added a "...that burger looks AWESOME as she plonked down the platter with a smiling grunt, she gave me the "shoulder lean" (guys will know what I'm talking about) right in front of my wife as she reached over me to set the dessert menu in the middle of the table, and then she added the little "Thanks a lot!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Candy" with a little smiley face on the bill. She earned the tip, and she's getting $2.00 for that whatever she gets for the rest of the bill.
Now, let's say that everything is exactly the same the next time we go to the same restaurant (well, except for the lean maybe because she overheard Mrs. TBF lecturing me on the way out of the restaurant the last time...). This time, I'm extra hungry, and I order a steak platter that costs $30.00. Now remember...everything she does is exactly the same...she does nothing extra. Does she deserve $6.00 for the same amount of work? No! NO! NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! "Sorry...TBF :("
I've debated this with former waitresses and waiters, and they won't admit that I'm right. But, I KNOW that they really KNOW that I'm right. It's just that they've had this crap job before, lived through the disappointment of getting a bad tip, and they feel for the current waitstaff of America. And...I can understand it. But, it's just not right I tell you. However, what's the flipside of this tipping extortion? I'll tell you what it is: Switzerland.
Here in Switzerland, tipping is not expected. If the menu says states that the Wienerschnitzel is 25.50, well, then that's the price...INCLUDING TAX AND TIP!!! When the final bill comes, the practice is to round up the bill so that the waiter/waitress doesn't have to fish through their little purse to give you a bunch of coins. Sure, it's an extra tip, but we're talking rounding up 58.80 to 60.00 - not 15% - 20%!
Sounds good? Well, the downside is that the service at restaurants in Switzerland often SUCKS!!! Sure, some restaurants (usually family owned) have excellent service - and then we'll tip a bit more. But, for the most part, it's common to have a restaurant with 25 tables and two waiters. If you're at a table for six, it's common for three people to get their food served three minutes after the first two, and then the last person gets his/her food two minutes after that. Heaping meniscus on the water glass? Hardly. You have to usually flag down the server if you want more water, wine, etc. Dessert? Flag down the server once again. The check? I've waited for forty minutes after I was done eating before I got the check.
Why is this the case? I'll tell you why. The food servers in Switzerland are salaried. Hence, the restaurants can only afford to hire a couple of servers. The servers are well paid, they have to take care of a lot of tables, they aren't humping for tips, and, therefore, there's no incentive for them to work any harder than they do. Who suffers? The customer, that's who.
Somewhere between the agressive, rushed U.S. system and the "I'm doing you a favor" Swiss system is restaurant nirvana. But, I'll be damned if I can figure out what it is.


Mrs. TBF said...

Tipping in the US is a classic example of what Comp geeks like me would call "pay for performance".

Kirk said...

Tipping is one of those things that sounds good in principle, but in practice if everyone gets 15-20% then I'm not sure what the value really is (and it also encourages them to get you out the door quickly instead of letting you sit and relax). They seemed to have the best of both worlds in Japan: absolutely no tipping, but a real service culture--which is definitely NOT the case in Europe.

Colon Blow said...


Don't think that I can agree with you on this.

In the example you gave, you state that the service for the $10 hamburger platter was good. Although the service is exactly the same for the $30 steak platter, you feel she is not deserving of the extra $4. The problem with your logic is that you do no tell us why she does not deserve the extra $4. You seem to be implying that she should be doing something above and beyond what she did to earn the previous 15-20% tip...but you don't tell us what it is you want her to do.

The better way to look at this is to realize that she is earning 15-20% on the average cost of all the items listed on the menu instead of comparing one against the other...and you will have less indigestion in the long run over this.

Unknown said...

people in north america get too much money for tips but then again most of the time they don't charge as much for the same food as you get in switz.

The Big Finn said...

Your example is EXACTLY my point: I do not expect any additional service from the waiter, they are not performing any additional service, and therefore should not expect any additional tip. In both cases, they have set a plate of food down in front of me
My point, which I thought was obvious, is that in both cases he/she is performing a task which takes about thirty seconds to do. I am looking at the service in terms of an hourly wage rather than a "commission". Another example: Opening a $20 bottle of wine ($4 tip) requires the same amount of effort and time for the waiter as opeing a $100 bottle of wine ($20 tip). Since I'm not receiving, nor am I expecting, any additional service, where is the justification in the additional compensation to the server?

CanadianSwiss said...

I agree with you, TBF. I also think that if one works in a service oriented area, then it should be your job and goal to make the customer as happy as possible. If a waiter serves you a hamburger efficiently with a smile, there's not much more he has to do when serving you a steak.

Colon Blow said...


My biggest problem with your arguement is that you are trying to turn personal service into a measurable commodity. How can you say for certain that the service is delivered the same way each time? Better yet, how can you be certain that the customer at the table next to you feels that "the wine was opened" in exactly the same way as at your table?

Measuring an employees' production of widgets on an assembly line is easier. There are quality standards, output standards, etc., that are set to measure performance. The problem with the waiter and the customer is that each customer has a different perception of what good service is. Each customer served is a "boss" with their own standard. In addition to that, unless a waiter is a robot, it is impossible for him/her to deliver the exact same service every time to every customer. So in a way, the standard 15-20% compensates the waiter for those customers that are impossible to please and tip accordingly.

But knowing you as I know you, I'm sure that the above won't change your mind in the least. Let's agree to disagree.

I would really be interested in hearing Mrs. TBF weigh in on this topic...after all, she is the Compensation Expert!

The Big Finn said...

CB -
You're definitely wrong about one thing - I am completely open to you changing my mind. I feel that I have been involved in a debate, not an arguement.
The problem is, I don't feel you've debated your points in a manner that has convinced me to change my mind.
It's my blog, and I'll decide when to agree to disagree.

The DP said...

all I am going to say is that when I worked in food service, it was common practice to underreport your tips. It is also understood if you got a ridiculous tip (say someone won the lottery and gave you 100 bucks) you didn't report any of it. Seriously, a waitress at denny's and a waitress at the four seasons will not make the same in tips. When you do your taxes, you do the math about how much tips you report will make for a plausible living standard and go from there.

Bobby The C said...

My only problem with the debate going on between Colon Blow and TBF is the incorrect spelling of the word argument. I respectfully submit there is no e after the u in argument.

My comment on the tipping... lean in = big tip, no lean in = regular tip.

The Big Finn said...

Thanks for catching that. I intentionally misspelled argument in order to point out CB's misspelling. However, I forgot to italicize it.
It must nice going through life...being SO POIFECT (misspelling intentional)!!!
Then again, it's easy to not make spelling mistakes...WHEN YOU ONLY BLOG ONCE EVERY WEEK!

Bobby The C said...

of course I knew, you knew, of the misspelling. I will get back to blogging.

Mrs. TBF said...

Ok boys - I need to weigh in on this tipping this issue. While TBF was writing his first debate rebuttal to CB I was giving him my opinion and he told me to write my own comment! So goes. TBF and CB - I can see both of your points, however, the point I would make is slightly different and somewhat related to my first comment on pay for performance. It has become acceptable in the US to tip between 15 and 20% - this is for acceptable service. The problem with this is that the majority of patrons are unable to differentiate payment between acceptable, unacceptable and superior performance. It's actually not that they are unable to discern the type of service, but they are afraid to compensate accordingly for whatever reason - cowardice, embarrassment, pity for the server, etc. So, I contend that the 15-20 has become an entitlement that patrons resent perhaps leading to the conclusion that the server is receiving a "commission" off the food rather than a payment for the service rendered? I think we should change our thinking to just accept that they are in fact receiving a commission and it is our job to differentiate the leverage on the commission based on service. The reason I say this is because the tipping system is not going to go away in the US and as other economies of the world evolve it will only become more prevalent. So just accept the commission and pay it higher or lower based on the service you receive.

Colon Blow said...

Mrs TBF,

I totally agree with you.

Most servers now are pushing for 18% as compensation for acceptable service. I still stick with 15% for acceptable, going up to 20% for superior.

A couple of months ago I was so upset with the service we received at a new sushi establishment (after complaining to the waitress, busboy and manager), that I walked out WITHOUT leaving a tip. This was after the manager took the cost of the appetizers off the bill, offered to give us free deserts and gave me two free appetizer coupons for our next visit! We should not be shy about expressing our dissatisfaction over poor service! Customers rise up and say WE ARE NOT GOING TO TAKE IT ANYMORE!!!

OK, I guess I had too much coffee this morning.

Beejum said...

Another thing to think about this whole thing is that the minimum wage in the US compared to the cost of living is APPALLINGLY LOW!!! hmm did I spell appallingly right? At any rate, what the politicians need to do instead of penalizing the states that are trying to give the minimum wage workers a barely acceptable living wage, is RAISE the freaking minimum wage already! It hasn't been raised in FAR too long! ok that's my rant for the day...