Social Question

rojo's avatar

Why do we use the cost of the meal as the basis for the tip?

Asked by rojo (24159points) January 29th, 2015

Why do we even tip at all? Why is it mainly only restaurants and bars that we feel this is a fair system for payment for services? Or if we don’t feel it is fair why do we, as a society, allow it? Does a waiter who spends 30 minutes waiting on you in “Chez Ooh La La” work any harder that the one that spends 30 minutes with you at IHOP? Does the waitress at IHOP work harder serving you from the more expensive dinner menu than the less expensive breakfast menu?

Would a system of tipping based on the time spent in the restaurant be any more fair? How would you account for multiple tables or what the base pay given to the wait staff is?

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23 Answers

ucme's avatar

I’m just going to plead Mister Pink on this one.

CWOTUS's avatar

It’s not only restaurants and bars that depend on tips. Try taking a taxi ride anywhere in North America and paying the exact fare as shown on the meter. If you live to tell the tale, we’d love to hear it.

I don’t have answers to your related questions. All I can say is that I would not attempt to “re-invent markets” with a whole new system of rules, but I would be happy to participate in a market that did not depend on tipping – and whose employees would not suffer as a result – but whose pricing was transparent. I would even appreciate pricing that was flexible, based on the level of service desired, expected or required.

Brian1946's avatar

GQ, rojo.

I think each table should be integrated with a scale, so that a server’s tips would be based on the total weight of what they brought to their customers. ;-)

Stinley's avatar

Controversial but I tend not to tip at all. I think people should be paid a fair wage for the work they do by their employers and that what I buy the price includes the service I get. It works for shops; -why should it be different for restaurants? Tipping should be for the exception, not the rule

JLeslie's avatar

It doesn’t make much sense to me. I’ve brought it up on other Q’s.

I do use basically the same system for nails, hair, and taxi.

At restaurants I do adjust a little if my meal is especially inexpensive and tip
more.

JLeslie's avatar

@Stinley I’m going to hope you don’t live in the USA.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Well, they figure the more you spent meant that you ordered a lot of food so the more the server had to work.

JLeslie's avatar

@Dutchess_III I think the OP means if you compare a meal at Denny’s and a meal at J. Alexander the meal costs double at the latter, but the waiter still has to come to your table, take the order, fill your glass with water, etc.

It is a little different in higher end restaurants than lower end. The service might include some more specialized things, possibly fewer tables per server. but not that much different.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

I like to tip so the server gets a decent living wage. If the food is cheaper the percentage goes up. I also once tipped $5.00 for a draft beer. The bartender held my change up, I pointed at the bar, meaning for her to set it there. She gave me a huge smile and pocketed the bill. At least I got excellent service the rest of the night.

Adagio's avatar

I don’t live in the US so tipping is only something I would do if the service has been good and the wait person has been helpful and accommodating, and I would still tip even if the meal has not been all I had hoped for, assuming that is that the person serving was not involved with the creation of the food. The amount I would tip would be dictated by what I could afford, nothing to do with the price of the meal.

johnpowell's avatar

You are right. The only real difference is that you look like a dick if you tip 3%.

I would rather that people don’t have to depend on tips to feed their children. The uncertainty must be horrible.

I know this will sound crazy, but pay enough that people can survive.

dappled_leaves's avatar

I’d rather see the elimination of tips and the payment of a decent wage to workers by their employer. I wouldn’t mind paying more for my food in exchange for that.

Haleth's avatar

I think tipping is a terrible system and almost anything we replace it would be better. How would you feel if your salary was up to the whims of the general public?

One restaurant has started paying servers $10 per hour or 20% of their food sales, whichever is higher. That’s such a great idea.

@rojo “Does a waiter who spends 30 minutes waiting on you in “Chez Ooh La La” work any harder that the one that spends 30 minutes with you at IHOP? Does the waitress at IHOP work harder serving you from the more expensive dinner menu than the less expensive breakfast menu?”

You could ask the same thing about, say, a doctor and a construction worker. It’s harder to become a doctor, so there are less of them, so their services are in high demand, so we pay them more.

The difference between a waiter at a fancy restaurant and a waiter at IHOP is smaller, but supply and demand are still at work. Almost anyone can walk into IHOP and get hired. The menu basically explains itself. If there’s a service issue, it doesn’t matter that much. The manager can just comp your meal (which is like $10), shrug their shoulders, and move on. It’s not like the reputation of IHOP is going to suffer. People know what it’s like.

The best restaurants are usually one single location and not chains. They have a lot more at stake if they upset someone or mess up, so it’s important for every customer to have a good experience. Waiters know they can make more money at a place like this, so there’s more competition for these jobs. The restaurant holds out for the best and most experienced applicants. The work may not be physically harder, but you have to be more knowledgeable and experienced to work in fine dining. Everyone who waits tables is a waiter, but working in a better restaurant is kind of like getting a promotion.

Breakfast vs. dinner has a seniority thing going on, too. The more experienced waiters take the dinner shift 1) because they can, and 2) so the restaurant puts its best face forward during the most important time of day. There are a lot of morons working in the service industry. People who are good move up in the ranks fast.

Haleth's avatar

This just showed up in my facebook feed. It answers most of the points in the question.

jca's avatar

In fancier restaurants, the service is definitely better and more plentiful. There may be a waiter and one or two other staff bustling around removing plates, bringing new silverware, filling glasses, bringing more wine. You don’t wait long when you request something because they’re right there and they’re running to get what you need.

In a regular restaurant, you may see the wait staff 5 times from start to finish. Greet/drinks, order, bringing food, 5 minute “is everything ok” check” and would you like coffee and dessert or just the bill? If you have additional requests, like appetizers or dessert, you may see them more, but basically you get your food and you’re left alone.

JLeslie's avatar

@jca I agree that’s true on the fancy schmancy restaurants. They’ll even clean the crumbs off the table between courses. But, when you think about very inexpensive to moderate restaurants? I don’t think they do much more in the moderate. Some places you can order on an iPad at the table. I don’t like that really, but I guess you have less potential of a waiter writing down something wrong. Plus some, you can pay at the table, so the waiter doesn’t deal with having to run the credit card.

The thing I have always thought made little sense is in the same restaurant, if you and I go out to eat, you have $32 steak, and I have $22 pasta. The server does the same amount of work tending to us at the table, yet you would be leaving $6 for her and I would be leaving $4. More or less.

jca's avatar

@JLeslie: Good points. Good points about the crumbs on the table, too. I’ve never been a waitress and never wanted to be one. I know some fancy restaurants you never see a female wait staff – just men. How they deal with that as far as gender discrimination in the hiring process, I have no idea.

JLeslie's avatar

It is rare to see women servers at expensive restaurants, but there are some. Probably if the restaurant is small enough they don’t have to worry about it. I don’t know the laws now, but when I was in college if you had less than 15 employees you didn’t have to comply to any sorts of quotas. You could have an all white 25–35 year old staff and it could not be scrutinized. Although, I have been to restaurants that must have more than 15 employees and the staff was not diverse, to your point, except that often there are men working there over 45 years old, which also is a protected group. Maybe the busboys and kitchen are minorities? The hostess a woman. My exboyfriend and his brother worked in restaurants and there definitely were minorities working in back. They were minorities themselves for that matter, his brother was a manager and my boyfriend a waiter.

When I was in NC last I was struck by the lack of diversity in the wait staff at the country club in Pinehurst. All the waiters were middle aged black men.

jca's avatar

“Waiters were middle aged black men” in a North Carolina country club – reminds me of a plantation.

JLeslie's avatar

Exactly. It made me uncomfortable. Ironically, those are probably well paying, coveted waiter jobs. White people might argue there is reverse discrimination there.

Sinqer's avatar

I’m going to avoid the discrimination issue, but as far as the tipping goes, I agree that it should be more like it used to be, more like Europe is now, no tipping except to show personal appreciation to the individual for service you consider warranting the reward.

I have worked in a restaurant and relied on tips. I didn’t like it then either, because we were paid less than minimum wage with tip calculation to put it on the level. It’s your government that moved it from a purely appreciative gesture to a necessary and economic standard by forcing service employees to declare the tips as income.

If my tips can be calculated by the government as income, then they can’t tell my employer not to calculate it likewise as part of my pay. I don’t blame the employer, I blame the government and its constant need for more money to such a degree that small gift/appreciation tips are going to be taxed. It’s in plain black and white under the income section of your tax filing forms: Tips and wages. I think it might even say it on your W2.

If anyone can find out who made that change, that would be interesting food for thought. But that is why we tip so much, and that is why it’s expected and rarely appreciated.

ibstubro's avatar

I think it has to do with your ability to pay.
If two of you eat at a restaurant and the bill is $20, you ate very modestly, and $4 is 20% of you being able to do it again.
If two of you eat at a restaurant and the bill is $200, you ate high on the hog and $40 probably won’t affect your spending ability.

Cheaper restaurants also tend to have a lot less wait-staff, meaning that few servers serve the same number if tables. They spend less time with you, but can collect from several tables at one. In a high end restaurant the wait-staff may only have 2 tables at a time.

To a large extent you are getting what you pay for. At the Mexican restaurant we visit locally, they are very busy all the time. The food is good and reasonable. It’s fairly large – 3 rooms – and there is a maximum wait-staff of two. They run their butts off and make very good tips. They just work in tandum…if one see you need something, they get it automatically.

JLeslie's avatar

@ibstubro They run their butts off. That’s the thing, they are working very hard, probably quite exhausting, and they might make good tips, but I doubt it’s as much as the waiter at Chez Fancy who is calm, rarely in the weeds, and has the time for pleasantries with their customers.

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