Tuesday, November 05, 2019
The importance of tipping well
The income of many who work as servers in restaurants in the United States still depends heavily on how much diners tip at the end of a meal.
While a few restaurants have experimented with raising wait staff wages to at least prevailing minimum wage, most staff members still earn less than minimum wage with the prospect that tips will make up the difference and, perhaps, then some. Some restaurants have also experimented with automatically adding tips to the final check amount. But the vast majority of dining establishments still rely on the customer to tip the server.
In a recent column in The New York Times, David Brooks makes clear he believes tipping is immoral and that waiters should be paid a living wage, but until the system changes he recommends the practice of always tipping 20 percent on meals costing more than $25, and 30 percent for meals costing less.
A reader we're calling Jamie has long shared the view that waiters and waitresses should be tipped well. He regularly tips more than 20 percent, often well above 30 percent. Jamie believes that servers work hard to provide a service he appreciates and often do so at a substandard basic wage.
Recently, however, Jamie who writes that he "eats out a lot" had a meal at a casual dining establishment and, while the waitress was pleasant, the service was worse than he had typically experienced.
"When I was seated, I waited for quite a while for the waitress to arrive," he writes. She took Jamie's order and left. While he was waiting, the waitress returned to his table to ask if she could get him anything while he was waiting. "Water," Jamie requested. The waitress acknowledged his request, indicated she'd bring the water right away, and left.
Twenty minutes or so later, Jamie's meal arrived. After the waitress placed it in front of him, she asked if there was anything else he would like. Again, he said, "water," and again she acknowledged him and left, only to return to leave him his check after he had finished eating.
"I feel like I did something wrong," Jamie writes. But he's not suggesting he did anything wrong to have received bad service. "I only tipped her 20 percent." He wonders if his decision to tip less than typical simply because he didn't receive his water was an overreaction that resulted in penalizing someone who works in a field he always believed he should support generously.
Jamie could have waved the server down, I suppose, to indicate that he really, really wanted some water. But it was her job to deliver the water as promised. She did not. He did the right thing by tipping based on his assessment of the service received. I am confident that quite a few other diners would not have come close to leaving a 20 percent gratuity.
Wait staff generally work hard and, as long as there is a tipping system in place, it seems good to expect that a tip will be part of the money paid for the meal and service. But if the service falters, it's not wrong to be as generous as you typically would be for good or excellent service.
Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business and The Good, the Bad, and Your Business: Choosing Right When Ethical Dilemmas Pull You Apart, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School.
Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin
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