In the US, tipping is as American as apple pie.
As a kid I remember going to restaurants with my folks and figuring out the tip for Dad. And he obliged me almost every time simply because he knew I loved to do that sort of thing. His rule was 10% for poor to fair service, 15% for good service, and 20% for excellent service.
In fact, for as long as I can remember, the accepted tipping guideline for good restaurant service in America was 15%. Not any more. That standard decisively shifted around the turn of the 21st century. In fact, the standard moved so much so, that 20% has become the unspoken expectation today for merely average service.
Until recently, one restaurant I typically frequent offered a handy “tipping guideline” at the bottom of each meal receipt showing suggested tips of 15%, 18% and 20% — supposedly for fair, good and excellent service. However, my most recent bill from there now includes suggested tips at 15%, 20% and 25%. Ridiculous.
Yeah, Len, well you’re a pathetic cheapskate. Just like your dad.
Sorry, but I don’t think so.
I realize my opinion doesn’t endear me to the great majority of American servers — but my recollections regarding tipping standards are backed up by the Wall Street Journal. They report that the standard tip for servers was 10% in the 1950s before it climbed to 15% in the 1970s.
Unfortunately, that 50% raise in the standard wasn’t enough to arrest the tip inflation. In 2007, MSN proclaimed that “20% is the new 15%.” Then, in 2012 — only five short years later — the Huffington Post boldly suggested that restaurant tipping of 25% to 30% had become “the new normal.”
It makes me wonder if tip creep will ever end. If not, our great great grandchildren will be coughing up a 50% tip for average service (and 60% if it is excellent).
So why are tipping rates continuing to climb?
Well, the Wall Street Journal provides us with an intriguing clue, based upon a theory posited by a Cornell University professor who studies tipping: Most people give excessive gratuities to make a good impression on the server. Likewise, most people tend to leave average tips for poor service because they don’t want their server to dislike them.
Let me repeat the professor’s last point: Most people tend to leave average tips for poor service because they don’t want their server to dislike them. Really?
Talk about upside-down psychology.
Over the slow march of time, that attitude not only encourages tip inflation, but it also fosters an entitlement mentality in the restaurant staff. After all, why break your back to provide excellent service when you can slack off and still get a 15% tip from weak-kneed customers who are afraid of “insulting” their servers?
Never mind that it’s the customer who should be insulted after spending their hard-earned money, only to have it ruined by poor service.
The truth is, when it comes to tip inflation, we have nobody to blame but ourselves.
On second thought, I blame all of you because, frankly, I don’t think that way. I always provide 15% for good service, and 20% for excellent service — and if my server is truly extraordinary, then 25%. But for those very rare occasions when I get fair or poor service, I give 10%. Hopefully, the smaller tip will encourage him to do a better job next time. And if that happens to tick him off — well, I don’t really care. Neither should you.
Think about it: We usually patronize sit-down restaurants because we’re hungry and looking for a relaxing evening away from the kitchen, not because we’re trying to gain a few more “friends.”
So why worry about a server disliking you for dispensing a poor tip that properly reflects upon their lousy service?
Besides, don’t you have enough friends already? In the off chance that you don’t, drop me a line. I’ll be happy to friend you on Facebook.
Photo Credit: ralph and jenny
(This is an updated version of an article originally posted on October 27, 2010.)