The Secret Art of Tipping

Money On Table

Ok maybe it isn’t all that secret we all seem to have our own notions of what is and what is not acceptable when it comes to tipping. There are so many professions now that seem to “require” you to leave a tip that we are left wondering what is the magic number to make this guy not spit in my food or egg my house.

I spent 3 years working in the restaurant business doing everything like bussing tables, hosting, bartender, prep cook, expediter, dish washer, and waiter. Making money in as a waiter/bartender is completely dependent on tips. I made something like $2.13 an hour as a waiter, which isn’t much without tips. Depending on the time of day you worked and how well you interacted with the customers you could do good, or bomb horribly. Because of my experiences as a waiter I tend to tip extremely well for good service, like 30% +. If the service was ok they get 20%, if the service sucked they probably get 10%.

You may have seen the recent story in the news regarding the gentlemen who refused to pay the included 18% gratuity because their service sucked (Associated Press). They were actually arrested on charges of theft of service. I didn’t know you could get arrested for refusing to pay someone for crappy service. Essentially it was one of those where the tip was autmatically included and they refused to pay it. It amounted to all of $16.87. In an actually intelligent move the District Attorney has asked for the charges to be dropped. This brings us to the question of what is the generally accepted practice (GAP) for tipping. I have tried to outline below those “PC” amounts and my own philosophy for each of the services.

GAP: 15%
Mine: 10%-30% depending on service received, sometimes even more for exceptional service.

Hair Stylist/Barber
GAP: 10%-20%
Mine: $5 tip (around 50%) – I get my hair cut at lower cost stylists because it is basically just a clipper job but they are providing me an actual service not just putting a plate on a tray and bringing it to me. I make sure to tip well because I go to the same place for service month after month.

Pizza/Chinese Delivery Guy
GAP: 15%
Mine:15% Minus the Delivery fee. They are charging me to have them deliver food so I take that amount out of the tip seeing as the delivery fee is to help offset the cost of gas to the driver.

Taxi Driver:
GAP: 10%-15% of the Fare
Mine: I don’t know I have only rode in a cab once and someone else paid so I didnt’ have to tip. I took a cab from the airport yesterday and I paid $29.50 for the fare and gave $5.50 as a tip.

So that is my rundown on tipping. I tend to tip more than the average in most scenarios but in all scenarios the tip is dependent on the service I receive. If you give me crappy service you get a crappy tip. That is just the way the world should work. If you give me exceptionally crappy service you may not get a tip at all. What do you guys think/do when it comes time to leave the tip?

Photo: (emdot)


1 Aaron @ Clarifinancial December 8, 2009 at 9:52 am

I always find this discussion interesting. I worked in food service for a number of years too. One place, I started out as dish washer and wound up managing the place. I usually go from 30% – 0% and start at 15%. If you do nothing for me but are pleasant and do your job well, expect me to give 15%. If I am picking up take-out, I will scratch through the tip amount, write the total the same as the subtotal and sign away. On the other hand, I had a business meeting Sunday at an IHOP for a couple of hours, I paid for the valuable real-estate.

Something I haven’t figured out is valet. The only places I park with a valet are Charleston and Vegas (otherwise I will drive in circles for an hour trying to find a free spot), but I would love someone to demystify this process for me.

2 Kyle December 8, 2009 at 8:13 pm

Valet’s confound me as well. I only use valet at the hospital and at Flemings in both instances there is a no tipping policy in place so I don’t worry about it. The valet at Flemings is a joke though, they literally park the car 10 feet from the entrance.

3 Kevin@OutOfYourRut December 8, 2009 at 9:57 am

I tend to tip based entirely on the service and not based on any generally accepted guidelines. 15% if the service is average, 25-30% if it’s excellent, and zero if I get a sense the waiter(ess) is giving me the idea that my being on his/her rotation is just complicating the their day.

Another metric is the price of the meal. At lower priced restaurants, I’ll raise the percentages. A 30% tip for good service on a $10 meal is only $3, so I might give a $5 tip. The staff work just as hard providing the lower cost meal as the staff in a pricier place would so it’s only fair.

4 Kyle December 8, 2009 at 8:07 pm

That makes sense I guess, pay the smaller bills a higher percentage. I have never really thought of it like that but I think I inadvertently do that as well.

5 Jeff @deliverawaydebt December 8, 2009 at 10:08 am

One of my favorite topics, since part of my income comes from tips.

I deliver pizzas on the weekend to help my debt snowball. I make some great money by doing so, and without the tips I’d make crap. Here’s how I tip

Waiter/Bartender: 20%-30% adjusted by 5% based on service.

Hair Stylist/Barber: I cut my own hair now, but I use to tip 40% at the stylist

Pizza/Chinese delivery: 20%-50% again based on the speed of the delivery. Tipping more has always moved me to the front of the delivery runs. I know this because I ask the driver. I usually have the same driver and yes drivers talk about you. We know who orders, what they order, how much they usually tip. The delivery driver knows a ton about your habits 🙂 No we are not like those people in “Enemy of the State”, we just like to know our customers.

Taxi Driver: 15%-20%

Some may ask why I tip so much. It’s all about Karma. Treat people well and in turn they will treat you well. Yes it doesn’t work out all the time, but I receive good tips so I give them out.

Thanks for the article Kyle,

6 Kyle December 8, 2009 at 8:06 pm

I am curious to know if the “delivery fee” really does go straight to the driver? Are delivery guys paid minimum wage or sub minimum wage like waiters.

7 Thirtysomething Finance December 8, 2009 at 12:04 pm

Ah, tipping! Ah, humanity! (Bartleby the Scrivener — anyone?) I also worked in restaurants from when I was 13 to when I was 20 or so, and I know what it’s like to count on tips. In restaurants, I almost always go 20% — I’ll go as low as 15% for bad service and will stiff somebody for something egregious. I once didn’t tip a waitress at a bar because she wouldn’t take our orders and literally said our group was wasting her time (direct quote). Strange.

I like your methodology for tipping food delivery people, though I generally just give them a buck a bag (or $2, if it’s only one bag).

For cabbies, I usually just give them $1 and/or the change up to the next dollar of the fare (so if the fare is $4.50, I’ll give them $1.50 (don’t like waiting to deal with the 50 cents change) — or if it’s $7.80, I’ll give them $1.20). This is approximate but usually works out to 15-20% somewhere. I really hate tipping cabbies, though, especially where I wind up giving them a $1-2 tip on a $3-4 fare.

What do you think about tipping the owner of the business? For example, I get my hair cut by the owner of the barber shop, and I don’t tip him because he’s the owner. Agree or disagree?

8 Kyle December 8, 2009 at 8:01 pm

That is a tough one. I guess I would still tip him. The money he makes from the haircut goes directly to the business account. Portions of that money are then used to cover overhead, insurance, taxes, licensing and other intricacies of running a business. The tip is cash in his/her pocket and it is technically “under the table.”

9 MLR December 8, 2009 at 6:17 pm

Also a topic I enjoy… being as I have also been in food service and know a lot of people who were/are in food service, too.

I don’t have a minimum or a maximum. I baseline at around 18% and move up or down dependent on the service I get. I don’t think waiting is a hard job, especially based on what it pays. I’ve had jobs twice as hard that pay half as much as most of my friends make who still wait.

Thankfully, I only did that for a short while, but I’m glad I did because it allows me to dismiss the sense of entitlement a lot of service employees have.

10 Kyle December 8, 2009 at 7:58 pm

I hate that sense of entitlement too. The best thing about being a waiter in the past is you can understand where the waiter is coming from, or should be anyway. That extra gauge lets you know when the waiter is just being a shitty waiter or where they are just stretched to thin. My biggest pet peeve is waiters who are just being lazy and don’t apologize for delays that are a result of them sitting out back smoking a cigarette.

11 ctreit December 8, 2009 at 7:38 pm

Two things that annoy me about tipping. (1) Automatic tips for tables of 6 or more. (2) The tip jar at places like Starbucks.

(1) A few friends and I ate at Smith & Wollenskys in Las Vegas once. The service was terrible. For example, the waiter started cleaning the table and taking some of the food away while I was still eating! When the bill came, they had added 18% tip. I found that outrageous.
(2) Once we get used to the tip jar for the barristas at Starbucks, will we get a tip jar at the supermarket check-out since the cashier also provides a service for us? We may as well tip for that service, too, right?

As far as I am concerned, a good tip is meant to be an extra reward for service provided well. It should not be assumed automatically no matter how great or poor the service is.

12 Kyle December 8, 2009 at 8:03 pm

The tip jar is usually a gimmick by people who aren’t relying on tips for their income. I worked at a Baskin Robbins for a while and we were paid minimum wage or above and not technically supposed to ask for tips. When the boss left the tip jar went out, it was a good way to make some extra cash. I was never upset when someone didn’t put money in it, since I wasn’t supposed to get it anyway.

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