by Jay Kitterman, consultant, LLCC Culinary Institute
An issue that sometimes creates a little disagreement between Carol and me is how much to tip the server. Having spent most of my career in some aspect of the hospitality industry, I consider myself a good tipper. Some general guidelines are 15-20 percent, pre-tax of the bill for a sit- down restaurant. Host or maitre d’: no obligation for greeting you and showing you to your table, $5-$10 for going above and beyond to find you a special table or one on a busy night. Bartender: $1-2 per drink or 15-20 percent of the tab. Plus a dollar or two for the busser that chases after you with the glasses or umbrella that you left behind.
Professor Michael Lynn from Cornell University School of Hotel Administration has conducted numerous research studies on the science of tipping. One article authored by Prof. Lynn that I would distribute to my students in the hospitality program at Lincoln Land Community College was “Ways to Increase Servers’ Tips.” Here are some excerpts:
1. Server introduction According to Lynn’s research, servers that introduce themselves by name make the server seem friendlier, more polite, and make the customer feel more empathy for the server. The research showed that when the guest felt the server was genuine and professional in their introduction, the average tip was 15 percent larger.
2. Squatting next to the table Squatting does several positive things, according to Lynn. Primarily, it puts the server on the customer’s eye level and brings the server’s face closer to the customer’s face. This closeness, it turns out, is associated with rapport and liking, resulting in higher tips. Of course squatting may not be appropriate in some fine dining restaurants, and severs must exercise some judgment as to whether the guest will welcome this informality.
3. Smiling at customers Lynn’s research showed that smiling servers are perceived as more “attractive, sincere, sociable and compelling.”
4. Touching customers This one was interesting to me. In his study, the customers that were touched casually on the shoulder, once for about a second, or on the palm of the hand twice for about half a second when the server returned change to their customers at the end of the meal, left an average tip of 12 percent more touched once on the shoulder and 17 percent more when touched on the palm. The researchers found that subjects whose behavior was influenced by the touches were often unaware that they had been touched.
5. Writing thank you on checks and drawing happy faces on checks These expressions of gratitude increased the perceived friendliness and increased tips. Drawing a happy face had several effects. It personalized the server to the customer, indicated the server was happy to serve them, and made the customers smile and thereby improve their mood.
Tipping, according to some, may have originated in the taverns of 17th century England, where drinkers would slip money to the waiter “to insure promptitude” or T.I.P. for short. Tipping wasn’t embraced by all Americans when the custom began to make its way into our country’s taverns and dining halls. A movement against tipping began in the late 1890s. Many Americans believed that tipping went against the country’s ideals and allowed a clear “servile” class that would be financially dependent on a higher class.
According to an article that appeared in The New York Times in 1897, there was a movement brewing against tipping in America. The anti-tipping group believed that tipping was the “vilest of imported vices” because it created an aristocratic class in a country that fought hard to eliminate a class-driven society. In 1915 six state legislators from Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Tennessee and South Carolina attempted and failed to pass an anti-tipping bill that would make leaving gratuities unlawful.
To address the inequity in wages received by servers and cooks, some restaurants have attempted to eliminate tipping and add a service charge as is done in Europe. Servers in the U.S. receive the largest part of their income in the form of tips, not wages. Over the past few years, many restaurants have experimented with alternatives including Danny Meyers Union Square Hospitality Group (Gramercy Tavern, Union Square Café). Most have returned to accepting gratuities. Those that have included gratuity in the price of a meal have been high end such as the French Laundry in California and Alinea in Chicago. Restaurants that have eliminated tipping typically raise menu prices in order to cover the cost of paying their staff members a higher base wage. There has been resistance from both servers and customers when restaurants have tried the non-tipping policy. Servers claim they are making less income and customers are paying more for their meal.
The practice of “tip pooling” and “tip credits “is currently being reviewed by our federal government. Under minimum wage laws, all employees are entitled to full minimum wage as set by federal or state law. Currently, the federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. In Illinois it is $8.25 for employees working past 90 days. In Illinois as well as most states, employers may pay tipped employees less than the minimum wage as long as employees earn enough in tips to make up the difference. This is called a “tip credit.” Our state allows employers to use a tip credit of 40 percent or $4.95 an hour. The law requires if the tipped employee is not earning at least the minimum wage of $8.25 an hour, the employer must make up the difference. What is being reviewed by the government is the practice of” tip pooling.” Employers can require tipped employees to chip in a portion of their tips which is divided among a group of employees. The employer must still assure that the server is receiving at least the full minimum wage. There is much legal squabbling going on between the restaurant associations, unions and the federal government on the subjects of tip pooling and tip credit.
Another issue of contention between servers and their employers is that some restaurants will deduct the bank credit card service charge from the servers tip: one more reason that servers prefer to receive a cash tip. In a future article, I will update you on the government’s decision.
Carol and I, besides leaving a fair tip, try to tell the server if the service was great. It can make a server’s day to be told you thought their service wasn’t just good, but was impeccable. Better yet, call over the manager and tell the manager about the good job the server did. Most likely the server was there a couple of hours prior to the restaurant opening, setting up their stations and doing the same after the restaurant closed. Service jobs can be stressful especially when people take out their bad days on them. In summary, remember to reward and tip your server!
Carol (my official proofreader) suggested that I include an “App” that would compute the proper tip based on a percent and level of service. An easy and free one to download is “Gratuity.”
Some of you will remember the comedian Henny Youngman. I close with one of his famous lines.
Some people ask the secret of our long marriage. We take time to go to a restaurant two times a week. A little candlelight, dinner, soft music and dancing. She goes Tuesdays, I go Fridays. Henny Youngman