I used to think of myself as a generous tipper, which basically meant that I would leave more than my dad would in any given situation. I waitressed in small-town restaurants through high school and (partly due to the nature of small town restaurants and cheap tourists, and partly due (I’m sure) to my age and general lack of waitressing skills) never did all that well tip-wise. And by “all that well,” I mean that a $5 tip was pretty extraordinary, regardless of party size or bill amount. Admittedly, I never really had to support myself as a waitress, and any money I made was mine to spend on whatever I wanted… Still, it inspired a sympathy for waitstaff in general.
Now, however, I’m beginning to question the whole tipping scheme. I feel like a penny-pinching jerk if I leave less than 20%, or less than $2-3, even if my bill was about $7. This is all regardless of the service — at some point, tipping became compulsory, and the only relation it had to service was that extraordinary service begot an even larger tip. Last week, for example, my sister and I ate at an Indian buffet. Although the restaurant was nearly empty, we waited several minutes to be acknowledged and seated. The only thing the waiter brought to us was our wine, a pitcher of water, two glasses, and the check (which we actually had to flag him down for, even though we’d been sitting with empty plates watching a Bollywood film for what seemed like a really long time). 15% would have been about $3.75, and frankly I don’t think he even deserved that. But I felt guilty and left $5.
…And this is just restaurant tipping. What do you tip your hairstylist? Your cab driver? The guy who loads and unloads your carry-on suitcase on the RTD airport shuttle? Your hotel maid? Is 20% the new 15%? Is 35% the new 20% (as my generous but perhaps overtipping friend might argue)? Do I need to tip at a coffee shop when I take my drink to go? Does it make a difference if it’s tea or a complicated double skim something-or-other with extra foam? What about when you pick food up at a restaurant and take it home? Or when it’s basically high-quality fast food (like Chipotle, etc.)? How about at a video store? (Seriously, there’s one in town that does have a little VHS-case tip “jar”.)
I’m curious to know what the norm is, and what people in the service industry think is acceptable, good, and horrifically rude.
In Europe tips aren’t nearly as prevalent — you tip, don’t get me wrong, but in many cases just the spare change is plenty, and 10% is the norm (unless I misunderstood and made an ass out of my American self over there). On my first cab ride in York, the driver accepted my tip, but made a point to say that, “you’re a student, love [or “duck” or something]; you don’t need to tip taxi drivers.” I felt weird once in Estonia after eating a much-too-cheap, delicious meal and then leaving about 15% — the waitress positively glowed, and it was almost embarrassing to leave as much as I did (which was probably around a dollar). Of course I imagine that she was getting paid an actual living wage, and wasn’t as reliant on tip-income as our own $2.15/hour-earning waiters are.
Speaking of which, I think waitstaff wages are a major problem — it takes the responsibility of appropriate pay off the shoulders of restaurant owners and requires the already-paying customers to make up the difference. Really, is it our job to give them a raise? And why should it reflect on them if any number of things out of their control go wrong: food quality, wait time, kitchen problems, etc.?
Am I turning into my grandmother (who was thrifty to a fault, we could say), or do others take issue with this as well?