Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Here's a Tip for You

I switched on NPR the other day and listened to a bit of "Talk of the Nation". The topic was tipping being down at restaurants because of the economy.

Several waitstaff emailed in to complain about their tips. One said (paraphrased from memory)

"I'm a waitress at a fine dining restaurant, overall our business isn't down, but our tips are. From 20% down to 16-18%- which may not seem like a lot, but it is. I'd suggest that if you can't afford a tip, that you don't order that second glass of wine or dessert next time"

They had two other emails which basically said:

"If you can't afford to tip enough, you shouldn't go out to eat".

Now- that's brilliant. Of course there was NO reality check from either the host or his guest stating the obvious "But, if people stayed would have no tips, and most likely you'd have no job."

The underlying current was that "the rich" are still doing well enough to eat out and that mid-level restaurants are more hurting right now. Also that "the rich" were becoming selfish with their money and tipping less.

They did have a coffee "barista" call in to say that their tips have been "phenomenal lately" they have a wealthy, regular clientele who they treat very well. They know their drink orders and sometimes have them ready before they get to the counter. Imagine that- great attitude, great service equals great tips!

Todd and I tip 20% (after taxes) at restaurants. I never waited tables, but both of my sisters did to pay for school and Todd was a busboy in college. I worked as a hostess at a restaurant once and I know that waitstaff make minimum wage and depend on tips. My mom has a 63-year old "girlfriend" who has waited tables at a Minneapolis institution for 30 years, it's not easy work.

You have to be pretty bad to get lower than 20% from us- for mediocre service I go down to 15%. For superb service- we'll tip more than 20%. I don't normally tip at coffee shops, unless the staff is especially friendly. But, I don't consider getting a coffee at a counter anything different than fast-food and they don't get tips.

But- here's the thing: Etiquette has always said that 15% is an acceptable tip at restaurants. So the waitress at the fine dining restaurant really has some attitude. Assume a couple has a $100 meal (leaves out that second glass of wine and dessert as she wants) and tips 20%- that's $20 in her pocket. If they each have the wine and dessert- and it's a $150 bill- and they only tip 15%, that's $22.50 in her pocket. It's more money- but she had to work a little harder to get it. (How hard is it to have the bartender pour the wine and the chef plate the dessert and you walk them to the table?) The best waitstaff are good salespeople, they want to sell you that extra food and wine- knowing full-well they might only get a 15% tip.

At the end of a 40 hour work week- assuming that pattern continued for 10 tables a night- 5 days a week- the waitress would have an additional $125 in the bank- that's $500 a month!!

The listeners of NPR who wait tables mostly sounded like good liberals to me- wanting to work the same amount in a down-economy for the same amount of money- not willing to work harder for more. Bitching about customers who may tip a little less than they'd like and even saying that people shouldn't walk in the door.

I can tell you one thing, if I owned the restaurant that woman worked at- she'd be fired tomorrow.


Goose said...

Sent to me in an email...

In a local restaurant my server had on a "Obama 08" tie, again I laughed as he had given away his political preference--just imagine the coincidence. When the bill came I decided not to tip the server and explained to him that I was exploring the Obama redistribution of wealth concept.

He stood there in disbelief while I told him that I was going to redistribute his tip to someone who I deemed more in need--the homeless guy outside. The server angrily stormed from my sight. I went outside, gave the homeless guy $10 and told him to thank the server inside as I've decided he could use the money more. The homeless guy was grateful.

At the end of my rather unscientific redistribution experiment I realized the homeless guy was grateful for the money he did not earn, but the waiter was pretty angry that I gave away the money he did earn even though the actual recipient deserved money more. I guess redistribution of wealth is an easier thing to swallow in concept than in practical application.

Jeff Rosenberg said...

I really hate the tipping system. It's bad for customers, who wind up paying more than they bargained, and it's bad for the staff, who have undependable incomes.

My wife used to work as a Barista, and they really depend on their tips; they don't make nearly enough without them. On the other hand, you're completely right -- what have they done to earn the tip? It's just like fast food; you make an order and they give it to you.

So why have a tip jar at all? Can't we just pay them a decent wage in the first place?

Sheila said...

"A decent wage"- what is a decent wage for serving coffee?

That's not a full-time job or career unless you're at the very top of the coffee food chain. That's a job while you're in school.

I just paid a cleaner $30 an hour ...that's $62,000 a year to clean houses 40 hours a week. I'm confused.

Jim said...

The tips at Chipotle also seem unwarranted. Subway doesn't have a tip jar...

Your $30/hr cleaner isn't cleaning 40 hours a week (or maybe she is, or more!). She has to commute, buy supplies (unless you provide them), etc. In other words, even working 40 hours a week, she's probably not in people's houses 40 hours a week, and there's overhead to consider. 62k/yr sounds high, but whatever she actually makes is probably still a good gig for "unskilled" labor (cleaning well is a skill but doesn't require a degree). There's also plenty of tax evasion potential depending on how the payments are made.

And I must be sexist for assuming the cleaner is a "she." I could make other assumptions, but they aren't critical to the sentence structure, so I'll keep them to myself ;)

Now you made me look on craigslist to see the going rate for cleaners. Some charge less than yours, some are more. Some are dudes, but I don't think you'd want this guy in your house even though he's offering free service.

Sheila said...

Thanks Jeff- that was very good for a laugh! Eww!