Explaining How Much to Tip People

The practice of tipping extra for service is socially accepted in North America, while notably absent in many parts of Europe. Every year Americans fork over about $40 billion in tips to nearly 3 million servers across the country’s restaurants.

Tipping can come with a lot of anxieties.

How much do I tip?

Am I going to look cheap if I only tip 10%?

Do I tip on the pre- or post-tax total?

What is a Tip?

It’s often understood as some sort of optional or voluntary kindness on the part of the diner. Except in America, when you don’t tip you’re actually taking money out of someone’s monthly pay check.

Say what?

Federal law in the U.S., as it stands, allows an employer to pay a server substantially less than the minimum wage.

The reasoning: the difference will be made up in tips.

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The minimum wage in the U.S. is $7.25 an hour, but U.S. law allows tips to be used to make up the difference between a server’s salary and minimum wage. This means that in reality people are being paid $2-3 per hour with tips expected to make up the difference. In fact, in some states employers are legally only required to pay tipped labor a minimum of $2.13 per hour.

So when you stiff a waiter, you are actually docking their wages.

The Expert’s Guide to Tipping

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At this point tipping is a part of life so you might as well know where, when and how much to tip. These are low to average amounts someone should tip in different situations. Stay in this range and you are fine and forgotten. Go above this and you will be remembered, and it’s always good to be remembered and noticed by service workers. Go below this and you’ll be remembered too – for a different reason.

  • At restaurants a good rule of thumb is to always tip 15% even if the service sucks. After all, the appropriate tip on a restaurant bill does not depend on whether the service was good, or if you will even ever visit that establishment again. (Pro tip: when you get the bill, slide that decimal over one, that’s 10%; divide that number by half and add it to the 10% to bring you up to 15).
  • Tip your bartender/barista; $1 a beer, and $1 a cocktail at minimum and 15% if you have a larger bill. Additionally, the longer they take making your drink, the more you should give.
  • Tip your cab driver, especially if you get off somewhere where it would be hard for them to find another customer, like if you’re being driven to a graveyard at 4 AM.
  • There’s no need to tip on restaurant takeout, but do tip valets at least $1.
  • Do you live in an apartment with a doorman? No need to tip, except at Christmas; $50 will go a long way here.

A Brief History of Tipping

The practice of paying someone extra as an expression of goodwill likely dates back to the first use of physical money – whether or not it was called a tip is a different question. By the 16th century, guests at English mansions were expected to leave a “vail”, the equivalent of a modern-day tip.

Before the Civil War, Americans did not tip. It was only after the War that tipping spread – when rich Americans returning from overseas travels brought the practice home with them. Tipping quickly became the norm, and a way to show one’s comfort with and knowledge of high society

Who Wins When it Comes to Tipping?

The same people who always win: business owners.

Tipping certainly doesn’t help servers and bartenders.

Tipping does not act as an incentive for better service. It actually degrades teamwork in a restaurant setting because now the servers are out for themselves. It’s all about how much money they can make. Why would you help a waiter who is having trouble on a big table when it means you don’t get to share in the tip? Tipping also shifts the burden of paying workers from the business owner to the customer. Also, the rest of the kitchen staff doesn’t always get tips (cooks, busboys, etc.) which divides the restaurant.

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NYC’s Sushi Yasuda eliminated the tipping system in their business, instead opting for a gratuity added on to every bill. This is the easiest way to move away from a tipping service model. Server’s wages become more consistent and teamwork should rise as a result as restaurant staff become more focused on the health of the establishment itself and not just their own tables.

How to Game the System

Michael Lynn, a professor of consumer behaviour and marketing at Cornell, is an expert on tipping science. His research shows that the amount people tip has almost no bearing on the quality of service they received. Instead the amount someone tipped often came down to social cues.

Here are some proven ways servers can increase their tips:

  1. Introduce yourself
  2. Touch the customer, just not in a creepy way, a touch on the shoulder will generally yield you a bigger tip. This is usually more effective with younger patrons.
  3. Be the opposite gender of your customer.
  4. Smile! Smiling people are perceived as more attractive, sincere and sociable than unsmiling people.
  5. Sit at the table or squat next to it when taking the order.
  6. Give customers candy: people feel obligated to reciprocate when they receive gifts from others.
  7. Upsell: industry speak for selling more stuff, whether it be another bottle of expensive wine or an extra desert, 15% of a bigger bill means a bigger tip at the end of the night.

There you have it, everything you need to know about tipping.

Remember, it isn’t about how generous of a person you are. It isn’t even about gratitude for good service. It’s about doing what you’re supposed to do.

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