Thursday, August 11, 2005

Tipping: The debate continues

Of all the topics that I've written about in the 10-month run of Fried Rice Thoughts, I think the posts about tipping ("Tipping Points" and "Dear Ian") have stoked the most entertaining debate. So when I read Steven A. Shaw's Op-Ed piece in yesterday's New York Times, I couldn't resist revisiting the subject. The column was prompted by the announcement that Per Se restaurant in New York is opting instead for a flat rate/service charge (20%) attached to the bill, rather than leaving it to the customers' discretion.

I'm sure this isn't something that we'll be seeing soon in every restaurant near you. Per Se is some seriously frou-frou dining, after all. Maybe I'm making the mistake of projecting a possible New York trend onto the rest of the country, but what if this became the standard, even at that corner diner where you just get coffee and eggs while you read the paper? (Okay, maybe I'm speaking for myself.) And what about coffee shops? (I'm still conflicted on tipping baristas.)

Ultimately, who does this help more? Does this ease the burden for the server or the customer? Will we enjoy our meals more if we're not so concerned with whether or not the waiter brought another glass of water when we wanted it? Could restaurant gatherings with friends and co-workers be more enjoyable without deliberating 1) the tip and 2) who owes what? ("Well, you ordered the prime rib and two glasses of wine. I only had a Caesar salad and water.") Or would you resent having the opportunity to express your level of satisfaction with a particular server taken away from you?

And do many of us base our tips on likability, rather than service, as is mentioned in Shaw's column?

What about the waitstaff? Does such a policy protect them for bad tippers? Or would this take away the motivation to bust ass to do a good job, especially when you know the service charge will be evenly distributed among the restaurant staff? (The New York Post's "Page Six" says many Per Se servers plan on quitting once the new policy is instituted.) Would waiting tables become less demanding with the knowledge that your wage won't always be determined by the whims of a finicky customer? Is a flat rate that would increase in accordance with the bill fair enough compensation? Or does it fail to account for too many other factors, such as the size of the party or which night of the week it is?

Surely, there are some other questions and factors I'm not considering. That's where you guys come in. Some great points have been raised (from both sides) each time the tipping issue has been raised here. And with new (and more?) readers now on board, I'm hoping we can get a wider variety of viewpoints in the comments section. (And now that I'm not so cheap, those comments won't be going anywhere, either.) So where do you stand, waiters and consumers?

▪ Here's a page on tipping etiquette that could be helpful, along with some interesting statistics and trivia from Marginal Revolution.

▪ But I don't know if those are as much fun as WaiterRant, The Stained Apron, or bitterwaitress (and its Shitty Tipper Database).

▪ Speaking of the S.T.D., raises some interesting points against it.

▪ And after two tries, I've finally remembered to include Mr. Pink's thoughts on tipping from Reservoir Dogs. (Via