(This is a slightly different version of a slice-of-life little piece that is running in the Washington Examiner print magazine….)

A discussion on Twitter about tipping at restaurants led to a discussion in the Examiner newsroom as well, and, next thing I know, I’m caught defending what once were accepted practices.

Those accepted practices were directly related to the actual purpose of leaving tip amounts to the discretion of the customer, rather than having the restaurant just assess a flat serving fee. The purpose of a discretionary tip is to reward good service, period.

Apparently in some places in the United States these days, a tip of anything less than 20% is considered an insult. That’s absurd – especially if, as I do, one tips on the post-sales-tax total, rather than pre-tax.

Back before the world went haywire, this is how things worked:

The way tipping once was understood, and the way it should be, is that 15% is standard, with a sliding scale for how good the service is. If one feels generous, something between 15 and 20 might be standard, but no server should take offense at 15% above restaurant prices that already are jacked up. But if tipping is really going to accomplish its aim of encouraging good service, the tipper should be willing to leave only 10%, or even slightly less, in the case of really bad service, but should be willing to go above 20, even to 25% for truly excellent service.

And, every once in the bluest moon imaginable, 30% might be appropriate for extraordinarily superb service.

So says the old guy.

Again, there’s nothing ungenerous about 15% being the norm. At one time, it was considered quite nice. Restaurants already mark up prices substantially for libations, soft or hard, and already build in at least something for hourly pay for servers as a baseline. Any tip, therefore, comes on top of a premium mark-up.

Finally, note that these tip percentages are for full service. The standard for food ordered at a counter, or for pickup by the customer, is 10 percent. After all, if a server doesn’t need to take an order and deliver it to the kitchen correctly, or doesn’t need to take it to the table, the required skill level, such as it is, is cut in half.

A tip is a discretionary act of generosity, not an entitlement. Learn it, and live it.


Tags: ,