Editorial: Is Tipping in America Excessive? An Englishman’s Take

(Photo: Fotolia)

(Photo: Fotolia)

The other night, bidding farewell to my guests following a meal, a heavy hand grabbed my shoulder from behind. It wasn’t an old friend who had spotted me from across the car park. It wasn’t an angry patron who I’d pushed in front of or someone whose girlfriend I’d chatted up.

It was a waiter who, after accosting me in this fashion, explained his angst: “Hey! You didn’t leave me enough tip!”

Now, we weren’t in a strip club in Lewisham. No, we were in an elegant restaurant in a posh part of Beverly Hills adjacent. Furthermore, we had left about seventeen percent, on the full $200 amount of a discounted check (it was half-price night), even though we received horrible service, which his actions outside only served to punctuate. Yes, we left $35 on top of a $100 check, effectively a 35 percent tip, and Dude still wasn’t happy.

It led me to thinking, would the same situation happen in the U.K.? There, a place where tipping happens but not in an excessive way, we tip for truly good service or in high-end places, where the experience allows for the gratitude. Certainly, if a waiter behaved this way in a place like that, they would be fired for misconduct. But here in America, tipping, though subtitled “optional,” is absolutely expected, thus giving the receivers a righteousness over my extra dollars.

The honorable level is something of hot topic, especially amongst service workers or expats, who debate amounts with the fervor of two delinquents over a video game score. Some say at least 15 percent—18 percent is fair, 20 percent is good. Others conclude that leaving a tip of 15 percent or less shows them the service was bad. If it was bad, why are we giving anything? If the new toaster you bought didn’t brown bread, you’d take it back for a refund. And you can always count on the high-rolling douchebag to ruin all equations with a palm-gracing equivalent of a small country’s GDP, setting new precedents in the waiting world.

I’ve noticed in America there are three species of tippers.

Guilt Tippers are the empathizers: they’ve “been there themselves” or “seen the struggle” or simply are uncomfortable with the extra cash that’s bulging out of their allowance. They sympathize with the server, knowing that their contribution will help the person get a step closer to that Lamborghini / yoga pose / Arbonne goalpost on his or her vision board.

Ego Tippers are those that loudly proclaim how much they’re putting in, or drop a hundy at the bar for a beer, and reconfirm to the bartender (usually a hottie) that they can keep the change, three or four times. These types should generally be avoided if you wear highly flammable clothes, as bottle service sparklers are often nearby.

Then, Fear Tippers follow trends reluctantly to secure their dignity, shun conflict, nurture relationships, or to avoid a bogey sandwich next time at their favorite eatery. These poor souls feel the further wrath of the modern payment app, requiring them to add tip and sign right in front of the intimidating employee.

Here’s what also strikes me as bizarre: if two people sit at the same restaurant, different tables, both have the lasagna and a bottle of wine, why does the guy with the expensive palate and job promotion pay more tip? It takes exactly the same effort and time to pop and pour the vintage Puligny Montrachet as it does the house Fetzer, yet the enjoyment of our hard-earned wealth is democratically shared with the cork-popper.

I have numerous friends that work in restaurants. I’m an actor in L.A.; it’s like having a Chihuahua in Beverly Hills. Many of them actually are well-compensated by their server jobs, often much more than nurses, doctors or other professionals back home. It’s an interesting conundrum, as these high potential earnings make it a somewhat aspirational position, with countless getting waylaid from their true goal. On the flipside, I think this optional/obligatory tipping equally encourages establishments to underpay their staff, expecting patrons to make up the deficit. Besides, if you’ve ever been to dinner with a server in America, you’ve probably seen them give back most of their wages in a ludicrously geared tip.

Where does it stop? Restaurants expect tips; that’s normal. Coffee shops now have a little pot, often with Guilt-Tipper-targeted taglines of “Karma” or “Tipping Makes You Sexy” inscribed. Hotels have various interaction points from valet, to bellboy, to cleaner to concierge that could wind up doubling your bill. Do you tip the guy that packs your grocery bag? The bank manager who approved your mortgage? The car mechanic that didn’t screw you (he said)? I’ve long thought it would be an interesting exercise to dedicate a week to over-tipping all these unsung heroes instead.

So what are my top tips for tipping? Well, whatever your stance, if you’re in another country and it’s customary to tip, then that’s what you should do. Find your point of comfort though and tip reasonably based on that. Factor it in before you decide where to go, rather than getting a shock when you get the check. If you’re in a group splitting the bill, calculate the average amount of tip before you leave someone else to pay. Don’t rely on discount vouchers or Groupons for a cheap night out—the tip will ensure it’s still pricey. Make more money, so giving gratuity doesn’t hurt as much.

Or just switch teams and follow your own patrons aggressively into the parking lot for that extra two percent.

What IS the correct amount to tip and to whom? Join @MindTheGap_BBCA and etiquette expert @DebbyMayne tomorrow (Wednesday, June 4) at 2 pm ET on Twitter to discuss using hashtag #MindTheChat for a chance to win a Ripper Street Season 2 download from iTunes.

See more:
Tipping in America: How To Do It and What To Expect If You Don’t
8 Stupid Mistakes Brits Make in America
Eating Out: 10 Differences Between Britain and America

  • welcometo1984

    American tipping isn’t tipping. It’s paying the waitstaff. In the UK it’s tipping. America would do better to add 15% to their prices and pay their staff properly. The tip should be extra for good service .

  • ExPat in Aurora

    As a Pizza delivery guy in Aurora, it’s not unusual not to get a tip (at least once a night), but when a patron paying by credit card only tipped 22c on a $7.78 pizza that took me 35 mins to delivery (round trip) at 1.30am, I thought that takes the biscuit !!

  • http://tonisummershargis.com/ Toni Hargis

    I have two young adult kids who are currently looking for summer jobs. I am steering them away from the food service industry because of this whole mess. I understand (though don’t necessarily agree) that we need to tip wait staff because they earn next to nothing, and frankly I’d rather they earned more and have it reflected in the bill. We pay anyway.

    • Robert

      If your children learned to work from the bottom to the top like in any job. They would learn like I did that the restaurant industry entails a lot i.e.; above average work ethic, multitasking, how to manage stress, teamwork, food knowledge, beer and wine knowledge, food preparations, food safety, guest’s alcohol intake limits (safety), and learn about business. This may land them with interests in Science, Biology, Viniculture, Beer making, Restaurant/Hospitality management, Culinary school, and or Business Marketing. It lead me into fine dining and making $73,000K by the time I was 23 years old and thanks to that job…ALL of my student loans got paid off after college. It also depends on where you live and if they even have great restaurants in your area i.e. Dallas compared to say a rural town out in the middle of nowhere that doesn’t have much opportunity (restaurants). Finally, if your kiddos ever get to a big city, I disagree with you in that the restaurant business isn’t all that bad! You can’t stereotype. I am sure that parents want independence for their kids and not tapping your bank account until they are 25 or 30 years old. It allowed me to pay off my student debt, learn how to cook, and I networked with a guest who gave me a job after college in the compound medical sales industry pulling in $200K a year. Cheers and blessings mam.

      • http://tonisummershargis.com/ Toni Hargis

        We live in a big city.

  • Cypressclimber

    Based on the account given, I’m surprised the waiter would complain about a $35 tip on a $200 bill, discounted to $100. (And credit to the author for realizing that the tip should be on the full value of the meal, rather than the bill after discounts, coupons, etc.) But Los Angeles and other big cities do aim to be “avant guard” in relation to the rest of the country; so maybe out there they claim tips should be a minimum of 20% or something.

    When I traveled to Europe earlier this year, I faced an opposite dilemma about tipping. I’d read so many things saying, in effect, listen up Americans, you really, really don’t have to tip like the U.S.

    And I kept thinking, OK, but am I really sure? I didn’t want to be unfair. Besides, they knew I was an American. Do I want to be that guy who stiffs someone in Europe?

    So I tipped less than in the U.S., but I still tipped around 10%. I was in Italy, Germany, Malta and Israel.

    I figured, even if it was too much, who can be offended? Better to be generous.

    • Skye Acker

      I had the same experience in England actually. The author can claim that tips are only for outstanding or posh service, but that definitely wasn’t my recent experience in London. It seemed to be just as expected there as here. There were tip jars in every restaurant and pub…

      • Jess

        I don’t know about London, but living in Brighton for the past 4 years, I have felt tipping is optional. Many people do tip, but there is just not the same social pressure going out with English people and tips tend to be a lot smaller. No one gets out a tip calculator on their phone at the end of the night or anything like that. A few pounds will usually be fine and appreciated. Staff would never come after you asking about a bigger tip. There are tip jars, but I regularly go to coffee houses with only giving occasional tips (mainly due to change being worth more here with pound coins and it being awkward to separate out the small coins from higher value ones) and I have never had any grief or bad service from staff who recognise me despite that.

        • Skye Acker

          I’ve never received grief here in America regarding a tip I left either. My point was that we have far more similarities in this than differences. Los Angeles just doesn’t represent the rest of America, but most of the authors on this site are either in New York or LA. They don’t represent the rest of the country…

          • Jess

            Ah, well, I do agree NYC and LA might not be the most representative places to have picked, but I disagree that the tipping cultures are similar. There is much more social pressure in the US to tip (for good reason, the staff aren’t paid enough in most cases), whereas that just doesn’t exist in the UK to anywhere near the same amount. Though the US and the UK have much in common, the tipping cultures are just night and day different and my English husband finds it as odd as this guy, and he’s been to various types of restaurants in small towns in Wisconsin and Minnesota, in addition to all the usual big touristy places that may not be typical of most of the country. It is one of the more noticeable cultural differences to the both of us. If anything, when my parents first came here when I moved here, they kept worrying about how much to tip and I just do not have that conversation with English people. They leave a few quid on the table without any serious math or conversation happening, whereas I had that conversation all the time living in the US.

          • http://tonisummershargis.com/ Toni Hargis

            I think you’ll find a few of us are in the mid-west, but never mind….

  • MaryTranLA

    Please read the article objectively: I believe in following a countries customs if you choose to live here…however we are putting the obligation on our patrons vs. the employers so as service industry people you are getting upset at the wrong people period. I tip regularly but I think it’s ludicrous w/ the inflation of tip & entitlement/expectations for the employers shortfall. Again, it’s a choice you make to work in the industry you do (I use to work in a restaurant too) if you don’t want it to be varied…choose another line of work. Also, I do not tip for bad service period! I know I’ve had arguments where they said well if the server was rude, it’s not the fault of chef or everyone partaking in it bussers, runners etc…I mean the “royal you” as a restaurant collectively as a team for my dining experience. Poor experience = no tip! I love this country but there is a lot we can progress in.

    • Traci

      “Again, it’s a choice you make to work in the industry you do (I use to
      work in a restaurant too) if you don’t want it to be varied…choose
      another line of work.”

      That’s easier said than done for many people. Lack of education, previous work experience, or just a stagnant job market make mean that it is most definitely NOT a choice for many people.

      • Skye Acker

        Then get really good at customer service.

        • Traci

          I don’t work in customer service, and I don’t live in the US.

      • redraider93

        Lack of education IS a choice. The only thing holding you back is YOU. Don’t give me that victimhood crap.

        • http://mangabotblog3000.popanime.net/ Brand

          Because it is so easy to get an education when you have no money?

          • Lisa Browning Maisel

            Actually, it is. Libraries are free. Most large colleges have free, or very low cost, online classes. iTunes University has loads of free classes. YouTube has numerous free lectures and classes. I know of at least 5 different free sites you can go to that post lectures from Harvard, Yale, Brown, etc. If you aren’t willing to put in the time to be an autodidact, then you certainly can’t complain about not being educated. I was raised in a small town, and had severe depression as a child/teen. I don’t remember a lot of what I learned in school, and have worked very hard to teach myself. I read Physics textbooks, science manuals, and anything I can get my hands on about history.

          • Jenny

            So you know a lot. Do think any employer is going to believe you without the sheepskin in your hand compared to someone who does have one? A college degree is a first cut criteria for most decent paying jobs. Not even great paying jobs, decent paying ones. Some companies you can’t even get into the mail room without one.

          • Jwb52z

            Educating yourself and such is good, but in this context, an education means a formal degree and that does require money. Interviewers, as you know, won’t take your word for it that you know something without a diploma.

          • MaryTranLA

            I couldn’t agree with you more.

          • The Denver Diamond

            Libraries dont give you degrees. In this world that is what being educated now means. You have to have degrees and official certifications to get lots of jobs. I have been turned down for hourly fast food management jobs (which I have job experience for) because I dont have a degree in business management marketing or accounting.

          • MaryTranLA

            There are many programs available out there for underprivileged or low-income people. And there are other informal ways of getting education as well such as libraries, internships, online courses etc… Anyhow, there are always choices & options if YOU truly strive for it.

          • The Denver Diamond

            You have to have a FORMAL education to get a really good job even an intern ship. I mean there are exceptions if you personally know a person but if you are low income most the people you know are low income. Also with the over load of people seeking the help of agencies that provide assistance many of us cant get assistance.

        • Jared Studelska

          because everyone know people in college or with college degrees *never* have to work in the service industry. it never happens. its not allowed. just doesn’t happen. never. nope. not at all.

        • Traci

          You chose where you lived and went to school as a child?

        • AJOHN151

          agreed cant help those who wont help themselves MANY comp including macdees have education ( training ) programmes for employees

    • The Denver Diamond

      Remind me to never serve you then. I dont want to lose out on a pay check because some one else screwed up. I mean I like paying rent. Not my fault if the host or chef messes up. So if you ever see me decline my service.

      • http://tonisummershargis.com/ Toni Hargis

        I can see your premiss, but as a paying customer I don’t want to know whose fault it is or isn’t. It’s like the other day when I had to phone one of my utility companies regarding an ongoing problem. The customer service rep seemed more intent on emphasizing that it wasn’t her fault than on actually getting me some resolution. As a company, if you fail to give me what I”m paying for, I’m holding the company responsible and I’m probably not going to be a repeat customer. That’s why the “it’s not my fault” line doesn’t always wash.

  • Bryan Bridges

    A large group of us went to dinner for a friend’s birthday at a restaurant that automatically adds a gratuity of 18% to large parties. We left more on top of the included tip, effectively leaving about 22%. The manager came up to us outside the restaurant and wanted to know why we “stiffed the waiter”. I told him that we had left an appropriate tip, but even if we hadn’t, it would be rude to confront us over the issue. Then, I spent several minutes trying to walk him through the math to demonstrate that we’d left a good tip. It was infuriating. I kind of wish we’d get rid of tipping altogether and restaurants would just pay their employees a fair wage.

    • MaryTranLA

      Also, how many times have you gotten to the end of your meal in a group situation and spent a lot more time trying to do the math to split the bill, the last thing you want from a good night out is ending it with how much to leave for tip and what everyone’s share should be of the bill. It brings the energy of the table down.

    • The Denver Diamond

      25 percent is a decent tip. 25-32. 32 is for excellent service. 22 that is a stiff tip. Just my opinion.

      • superbu

        Then you must be a waitress, because only a waitress or waiter would think 22% is a stiff tip. A standard tip is about 18% nowadays, and that’s fairly recent, young lady — less than 20 years ago, a standard tip was 15%.

  • Skye Acker

    Please quit judging all of America with what you experience in New York or Los Angeles…I tip but not out of guilt, or ego, or fear. I tip a fair amount for a job that pays almost nothing. That doesn’t stop me from not tipping for horrible service. If I had been approached by the waiter in your story, I would have asked for the rest of my tip to be returned to me. No where else in America would he be able to get away with that. While I usually love reading these posts, you have GOT to experience the other 99% of America before drawing conclusions about us.

  • jasoneff

    I’ve been a server for more than 15 years and I would never complain about a $35 tip on a $200 bill because it’s not a bad tip. If I did complain to a guest about how much they tipped, good or bad, I would get fired.

    • The Denver Diamond

      Depends on the restaurant. The places that I work a 200 dollar bill and 35 dollar tip would mean I only got paid like 6 dollars an hour. Be pissed. But there are restaurants where 200 would be a party of 2 and the 35 dollars would be fantastic because I will still be taking other tables. At the same time.

  • Leslie

    Maybe servers in California are compensated well, but the majority of servers only make approximately $2.13 an hour as their base pay. Tipping should be for wonderful service, but unfortunately, that isn’t reality with the way the American system is set up.

    • The Denver Diamond

      Right? Pay the servers a livable wage and let the tips be extra and used as an incentive for top of the line service.

  • morn1960

    if the service is good i always leave at least $5 no matter the amount, if the check is over $50 we leave at least $10. Have been know to leave $40 on a $100 dollar check. Servers remember you and if you tip well you get great service and have servers arguing on where to seat you, on the other hand if the service stinks I will leave $1 and if the server dares approach us they get a lecture on service. I worked in retail too many years to not see how some people struggle and try to be fair

  • stcy

    What about hairstylists?

    • http://tonisummershargis.com/ Toni Hargis

      I tipped about 18% the other day. (I ran out of change otherwise I might have done 20%.)

  • Jeff K.

    Please do not leave us (your readers) hanging! I can’t be the only one who is wondering how the rest of the conversation with the accosting waiter went. Please share.

  • Jess

    I’m American but have lived in the UK since 2010. I’d prefer the tipping system were replaced with proper wages for waiters. I don’t think someone having a bad day should equal less pay from judgemental patrons. The whole system is widely out of control too. When I was a kid (I’m 30) in Wisconsin, 15% was a good tip. Now it’s 20% in most of the country. I’d rather they just raised the prices to include that 20% than have to work out the amount after a meal and have it be on me to pay the person properly.

  • Amandina

    First off, congrats on knowing to base your tip on the full amount prior to discount! In this case the waiter was out of line saying he wasn’t left enough. In most restaurants around 5% would have probably covered the waiter’s share of the nightly tip out, so you left him enough. He sounds like he was just getting greedy, and maybe assumed that a non-American might not know the rules and be intimidated into forking over more money.

  • PEJR

    I think a lot of
    people don’t realize that in most restaurants in the USA servers don’t even
    make minimum wage. Where I work servers get paid $5 an hour, which let’s be
    honest that money goes away after tax. So essentially servers live on their
    tips, pay rent and bills with their tips. As a server, I believe that you get
    the tip that you worked for. If people give bad service they should not expect
    a good tip. Now I will say that I am appalled by the individuals who
    follow guests outside of a restaurant and demand to know why they got x amount
    for a tip, not only is that incredibly rude but it is also unprofessional. Yeah
    it sucks when someone leaves a bad tip and it can be really frustrating but
    that is no reason to be rude to people. It’s a hazard that comes with the job
    and it is something you need to learn to deal with as annoying as it can be.
    For me, right now, working in a restaurant is a temporary thing while I earn my
    Master degree but there are others who do this for a living. Now if you are a
    person who is getting bad tips then maybe you should evaluate the service that
    you are providing and take responsibility. I know some will say that there are
    people who are just bad tippers, and yes these people do exist but they are not
    the majority.

    • Waitress

      I’m a server at a bar and wing place, and I make $2.13 an hour.

    • Alex

      A waiter earns at least the minimum wage. If tips+wage don’t add up to 7.25/hr for that week, the restaurant has to make up the difference so waiter is always paid minimum wage of 7.25. If the restaurant doesn’t it is illegal.

      I tip more than good when the server gave me a good service, I’ve also known not to tip at all if the service was bad.

  • Keepitreal

    It is not just waiters who get under tipped. I work at an Event center and I work in the suites. I love my job, don’t get me wrong, but most people stiff me on a top probably because they don’t realize it is nice to do so. I once had a $120 bill and they didn’t tip at all. I was offended yes but I didn’t say anything about it because It would be very rude and unprofessional to go after the person and say ‘You didn’t tip me.’. For him to do that, he should have been fired. He should have been grateful for even being tipped. I once had a $50 bill and got paid a quarter as a tip and I didn’t complain at all even though he technically tipped, he basically stiffed me as well. It is nice to be tipped but do NOT expect it, if they under tip you, just be grateful they even tipped. My co-worker complains almost every time we work that he didn’t get tipped enough or people stiffed him. He even put a Tip jar on his cart because he wanted to guilt people into tipping him. Our boss shut that down instantly because it is unprofessional to basically say, you have to tip me. If there is a credit card on the room then they do not tip because they do not pull out their money. If they pay in cash or credit card, then they are most likely to tip but you should NEVER expect to be tipped, even in a restaurant.

  • Willa

    It would be great if restaurant workers were paid a decent wage from the start and didn’t have to rely on tips. The US Dept. of Labor sets the minimum wage rates for tipped workers so until they change these regulations that’s not likely to happen.
    It may not be customary to tip the wait staff in the UK but it IS in the United States. There are many local customs I’ve come across in my travels in other countries, including in the UK, that are not identical to how things are done in the US but I do them anyway because that is what is expected. To refuse to tip, or to intentionally under tip in order to prove a point about how things are done better ‘back home’ is non-productive and childish.

  • Tracy Lynn Young Gwynn

    Wait staff in our town only earn $2.13 an hour. If they actually were paid a real wage then we would not have to tip…but restaurant owners claim that the public would to be able to afford to eat out if they paid a decent wage to their staff because the costs would be reflected in the menu prices!!!!

    • AJOHN151

      most wait staff i know and that a lot earn more by tips then if they were paid 8/9 bucks a hour … full time wait staff 30 hours week earn as much as if they worked in a factory , retail; extablishment.
      no they wont earn as much as teachers .doctors accountants but i was in sales and earned as much as professionals i dealt with . some folks will never learn NOTHING IS FREE iF you want a goOd paying job earn it dont stay at home making babies

  • mint

    Wait staff or servers only make $2.50 an hr here in Alabama… so tipping someone is not a big deaI. I also hear the nonsense and rudeness wait staff put up with “especially” after church on a Sunday!!! It’s a shame so many “religious” people here in Al..USA tend to give all their monies to churches instead of helping out everyday joe..

    • frozen01

      I live in Illinois and have had a similar experience with church groups when I worked at the front desk of a hotel. They acted like they owned the place, demanded to be served ahead of everyone else (refusing to wait in line), stiffed the bell staff, left their rooms an absolute mess, and treated everyone like dirt.

  • College Waitress

    As a server in the US at a bar and wing place, I only make $2.13 an hour. If I do not make minimum wage one night, it does not matter as long as i meet the MINIMUM requirement of tips at the end of the week. I could make maybe $20 a night in tips, working 4 nights a week for 8 hours each time. This means that I would only make $77 dollars a week BEFORE taxes.

    I am in college trying to pay off loans, rent, and books for all of my classes. PLEASE tip your servers. Obviously if the service is horrible don’t tip, but if you are satisfied with the service you received, leave a tip.

    • DC451

      If those numbers are right, your boss would be in trouble. 32hrs at $2.13/hr = $68.16 base pay. Add $80 tips = $148.16. 32hrs of minimum wage $7.25 = $232. Your boss would need to pay an additional $83.84 to meet that amount. If you’re getting anything less than $232 pretax for 32hrs of work, it’s illegal.

      • AJOHN151

        thats correct

    • AJOHN151

      if you work 8 hours a night and only make $ 29 in tips there is something wrong one customer per hour with even only $5 tip is $ 40 must be a very slow bar change restuarants

  • Stu

    Most waitstaff positions in the U.S. make anywhere from 2.13-4.50 per hour. As a server, I wouldn’t mind the culture to change into something that is less obligatory and into a situation where we got paid fare wages, but only got tipped when the customers feel we’ve really earned it. But that may never happen here now.

  • Jax

    I find it hilarious that people think it rude to not leave a tip. Tipping, or not, is a reflection of how the services were. You didn’t get a tip? Your services sucked or they’re kids who don’t know how to tip or even what it is. I’m not leaving a tip if I have to -ask- for refills on my drink. The service should be excellent.

  • Jenny

    In the U.S. American waiters and waitresses make around 2 to 3$ an hour because of some funky law that allows restaurants to pay their workers less than minimum wage. If you don’t want to tip because you got crappy service that is one thing. If you don’t tip because you are a snob or cheap or making some kind of “statement against tipping,” you are just a jerk depriving someone of part their much needed pay. If we want to stop tipping, we have to change the law so restaurants are forced to pay their waitstaff a decent wage.

  • nhthinker

    So at a medium priced restaurant where a table of 4 spends 100$ per hour on food/drink and the server waits on 4 equivalent tables…That works out to $60-80/hour in tips for working hard for an hour. How is this being underpaid for lightly-skilled work?

    • MontanaRed

      That might be a “medium-priced restaurant” where you live, but in our area, it’s top of the price range. Good, friendly, knowledgable (I have special dietary needs) waitstaff work hard. I don’t mind tipping appropriately.

      • nhthinker

        So working reasonably hard for an hour on a lightly skilled job is deserving of $60-80/hour (and much of it unreported if paid in cash)?

        • MontanaRed

          You are working with SO many assumptions that do not necessarily apply.

          For instance, a restaurant in which one would spend about $25 per person does not have tables turning over at least once per hour. Based on personal experience, the more likely time per table is 1.5 to 2 hours. Well, that slashes the income in half. Furthermore, tips are shared with the busing and kitchen staff; so $30-$40/hr, less 30% for other staff, gives them $20 to $28/hr, TOPS. Tables are not likely to be full the whole shift, so it may very well be that top tip earnings are for a short (1 to 2 hours) period.

          For a five hour shift, waitstaff at this pricier-than-the-norm restaurant, serving four tables (per your premise) might make, including wages, all of $72 to $87 (rounded off), or $14.40 to $16.14 per hour, before taxes.

          One shift’s earnings might buy one tank of gas and buy enough groceries for a couple of days.

          Not all shifts are busy ones, and lunch shifts earn less in tips because the menu items are less expensive.

          Yes, it is not highly skilled work, but it IS work. My 16-year-old son made more than $16/hour working as unskilled, grunt labor with a landscaping company one summer.

          I can’t believe that waitstaff at Denny’s or Perkins earn anything even close to your numbers.

          Having said all this, I think what riles me about your comment is the dismissive attitude towards others who are not you. Hope I’m wrong.

          • nhthinker

            I obviously was not talking about Denny’s. I’m in NH where mid-price means you pay $12-24 for a entree with sides and about $10 for an appetizer and $7 for a 24oz decent beer. I’m saying the busy time its $60-80 dollars but the shift has slow and fast times. I always tip a higher percentage at the lower priced restaurants and generally never tip less than 16% anywhere.

          • superbu

            MontanaRed, I know college graduates working in white collar office jobs who don’t make the $20 to $28 an hour you cite. $20 an hour is pretty darn good salary for what is classified as unskilled labor. At the company I work for here in Los Angeles, starting salary for a job that requires an English degree, for someone with no experience in the field, is only $15 an hour. And my brother, a waiter for many years at a fairly upscale restaurant, told me he didn’t know ANY waiters who declared their tips on their taxes. So I’m not sure what the complaint is. It’s like a kid complaining that he doesn’t make enough money delivering newspapers and then never making an effort to get a better job.

            Understand, no one is saying we shouldn’t tip. It’s the fact that the “standard tip” percentage keeps creeping up and up (while the prices of the meals keep creeping up as well); the number of different situations where we’re expected to tip (for example, tipping for counter service was literally unheard of before the early 1980s); plus the attitude and sense of entitlement from servers when their personal view of an “acceptable” tip isn’t met… that’s what people are objecting to.

    • AJOHN151

      somehow i think she /he is not telling the truth

      NOBODY in wait service makes $77 a week for 32 hours work or in any other business

  • BrokenEgg

    If the service is poor, I don’t tip. I agree with what another person on here posted: don’t judge the industry based on NY or LA. My daughter is a waitress in our moderately sized city, and makes great tips because she is pleasant and focused on her customers. She has been blessed with notes and cards from customers about how much they appreciate her. If you do a good job, you should be rewarded. If not, then don’t try to guilt trip people into giving you money.

  • Mike English

    Servers earn next to nothing. Tips are in fact compensation.

  • Jake

    I tip for good service. If the service is really good, I will tip 20%, if the service is horrible, I will only tip maybe 5% if I even leave a tip.

    So maybe there should have been, 4 types of tippers in the US.

  • David Smith

    Annnd you just called people who play video games delinquents. I no longer care about anything else you might have to say.

  • Kileen A Tayla

    I waited tables at a nice restaurant in Hawaii. My hourly wage was less then $4. (this was 2006) the tips were vital to pay my rent.
    You tip on the original cost of the meal not the discounted price. The waiters are required to tip bar tenders, hosts, and cooks based on the total sales, not how much they made.

  • Desertmer

    One deals with the situation at hand not what we would prefer it to be. Servers are paid under minimum wage. They do a dirty mostly thankless job and often the ‘poor service’ is due to things completely out of the server’s control such as: the kitchen is slow or nderstaffed or they are given far too many tables to manage or have a bunch of complaining nasty customers like yourself to run around dealing with. They don’t have seven hands and read minds you know.
    This snarky unpleasant and downright nasty essay just belies your arrogance and stupidity dear author. Stay in the UK or cook your own meals while you are here.

    • MaryTranLA

      Have you actually read the article in it’s entirety & objectively? Personal issues aside & emotions…it’s a choice one makes to work as a server. There are many jobs out there despite all the previous comments about education & lack of jobs (that’s a whole other conversation altogether). It’s the nature of the business or industry you are in. I personally left it. I understand the whole industry and I can still be objective. The restaurant industry is geared towards the patrons. And I’m sorry as a diner, I do not care who’s fault it is at the time for my poor dining experience, it’s how my overall experience. I am very understanding but the experience collectively should be a positive one when I leave a restaurant. That way the restaurant & all those involve can work on what they need to improve on. Tips should never be mandatory. Like I said, I do tip as I believe in following a countries customs (I am American), however we are putting the obligation on our patrons vs. the employers for what you feel is a decent or fair wage, so as service industry people you are getting upset at the wrong people period. If you want a more stable income then look for other options. I tip regularly but I think it’s ludicrous w/ the inflation of tip & entitlement/expectations for the employers shortfall. I love America, but it doesn’t mean we can’t be objective & seek improvement & progression in an industry that is truly all over the place in terms of what is “standard” tipping practices. Some COHESION please!

      • Desertmer

        What utter drivel dear….

  • KW

    I think you are over generalizing. Most folks I’ve met tip accordingly based on service. A friend of mine once tipped a waitress a penny for miserable service, he was being kind that night. I am usually the nice guy out of the both of us and I tipped her nothing. I am also known to be a great tipper so you can imagine just how bad the service was. I find this trend of actually paying attention to the service you recieve to be the real determinate of tipping amount. This might be different in high population areas like NYC or LA but they aren’t the majority of America and shouldn’t be viewed as such.

  • The Denver Diamond

    Basically tipping goes as this. Any one who works for you you must pay. Servers are there for YOU. If you want to go out to eat but dont want to pay the server go to a self service place like a buffet or a fast food joint.

    If you go any where that there is a person who is there for YOU please tip them. They are in that moment YOUR employee and you must pay the people who work for you.

    Though I think min wages should not be 4 dollars an hour for tipped employees while the rest of every one in my area gets 8

    • DD

      In that case, everyone effectively works for you , from the car mechanic to the customer service rep in India handling your mobile phone account, to your doctor to your schoolteacher. Tip them all?

      • The Denver Diamond

        No not the same thing. The serverfollows YOUR orders. You say jump they say how high. In the case of the mechanic they work for the company and the company works for you. Servers thougb they are not necessary for the function of a restaurant. You are fully capable of walking to the counter and grabbing your own try. Fast food places and buffets operate that way. Servers only job is to wait on YOU and be YOUR servant and they are treated like slaves. If you expect them to drop everything and help you with something lime not letting your glass be empty then you tip them. If they carry stuff for you that you are capable of carrying yourself you tip them. That is an added luxury to make you feel special. If you do go out to eat and dont want to tip tell your server. They will bring you food and check but they will not wait on you.

        • Michelle

          Not always the case. Sometimes you go out, and that is all they do, bring the food and check, but nothing else. Yet they still expect a tip.

          • The Denver Diamond

            Then learn to get your own damn food if you dont l that. Seriously your lucky that these services even exist. It is a luxury for them to be there. If you are there for close to an hour leave something. You dont get to go to a hair salon and not pay for your hair cut.

  • Michelle

    Tipping in the United States is out of control and ridiculous. A tip is supposed to be for good service. Now, however, we have a society of entitlement, where servers expect you to tip, regardless of the service. I refuse to do so. When I walk in, I always have at least 20% in mind to tip. If the server deserves more, so be it. If the service is bad, it starts going down. I am not one of those that will tip no matter what. If the service is horrible, no tip. Those who argue that servers rely on tips, so they should ALWAYS be tipped, well, whose fault is that? Not mine. Get a job that pays at least minimum wage, but don’t get one that you KNOW pays a few dollars an hour and will have to rely on tips for, and then turn around and complain about it. You should take that responsibility on yourself, not blame others for your money woes. Also, for those that say “if you can’t afford to tip, stay home and eat”, or something along those lines, it’s not about being able to afford it or not, but about the level of service or lack thereof. Servers with those kinds of attitudes are probably the ones that provide horrible service and thus don’t make much on tips, so they complain about people not tipping because they expect it. How about you actually EARN your tips instead?

    • TheronC

      If you don’t want to tip, write your congresscritter and get the minimum for waiters raised over $2.13 per hour. Your food is cheaper than it would be because the assumption is most of the labor costs will be picked up by customers through tips. You can tip, or you can pay more for the food — if you are a decent human being. Or you can just stiff working class folks trying their best to earn a living.

  • bill reeves

    In 46 years of heavy travel in the US and abroad I have never experienced the behavior referenced at the beginning of your column anywhere. If I had I would have gone to the manager and retrieved 100% of my tip whilst flipping the so called ‘waiter’ off. What I wouldn’t do is run out and make this freak occurrence the centerpiece of a column used to generalize about the nature of tipping in America. Sir you beclown yourself. I’m surprised Mind the Gap would print such an obvious anti American sneer. I used to hear this sort of exaggerated baloney when I was forced to attend English schools. It always seemed to me as a child that English jealousy and resentment led to exaggerations, insults and invidious generalizations. It seems it still does.

    • Shel

      Perfectly worded retort.

  • Butch Knouse

    Fifteen percent for normal, 20% for exceptional. Two cents for lousy or surly service.

  • The Denver Diamond

    Either learn to tip or stop being fucking lazy and make your own damn food and deliver it to your own damn table.

  • Michele Deetlefs

    I’d like to see Darren live of $3.50 per hours, which is the standard wage for a waitress in most of the US before the tips. This site needs to implement a way for American readers to point out when a Brit’s essay is offensively tacky so it can be removed. And Darren needs to get his essay needs to get back to the otherside of the pond pronto. He doesn’t deserve to live here.

  • http://trueliberty.us icecycle66

    Yes, it is.

  • http://trueliberty.us icecycle66

    Wasn’t 10% the standard tip at one time?

  • Just A Bloke

    I don’t know how accurate this is, but it is my understanding that getting benefits, or welfare, is generally frowned upon in America. If that is the case, then this demanding of tips, & the generous giving of tips, seems to fly in the face of that. Ofcorse, many people like to give tips to say thanks etc. But if people are tipping cos they feel they have to, or it’s even being demanded by staff, how is it not a hand out, like welfare?
    Where I live, if tips were demanded, with staff even laying hands on people to demand a bigger tip, then the staff could expect a malkie. I dunno about posh resturants, but people here generally do tip in curry houses or when they get pizza delivered. But not everyone tips, & some people do sometimes. But it is pretty clear that you don’t have to tip, & suggesting that you must is frowned upon.
    Where did tipping come from? Was it a response to low pay?
    What I do know, is that for some people, tips are a vital part of their income.
    In some places you’re made to feel that tipping is completely up to you. In other places, whether you tip or not, seems to depend on which eatery you go to.

  • TheronC

    I guess I’m an empathizer, having waited tables long, long ago. It is important to note that while some waiters do indeed have incomes competitive with professionals, for most it is a decidedly working class job.

  • alkh3myst

    Wow, British people are cheapskates. What a surprise. Next, you’ll be telling us that there’s oil buried deep underground.

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