Friday, November 04, 2011

The tipping point: part 1

Years ago, I was at dinner with a friend. After a good meal and a great chat, we got ready to settle the bill.

I don't remember how it happened, but I saw how much my friend added for the tip.

I know. It's as rude to watch a person pay their restaurant bill as it is to watch them enter their PIN at the ATM. But evidently I was just that rude.

And not only was I rude enough to look, I was rude enough to comment on it.

The tip seemed low. That surprised me, because my friend was a very sweet and considerate Christian woman, the type of person known for her gracious spirit and gentle demeanor.

She was the type of person I wanted to emulate, because I'm... well, I'm the type of person to watch someone pay a restaurant bill and then comment on the size of the tip. You might say I have a few rough edges.

When I asked her about the size of the tip she'd left, she replied, "Why would I give the waitress 15%* when I only give God 10%?"

* This was quite a few years back — I think 20% is customary for tipping now.

I knew my friend to be a wonderful person. I was sure she had heard that rationale somewhere, and just hadn't thought it through. So (because I'm helpful like that) I pointed out the logical flaw in her argument, explaining that her church offering of 10% was calculated on her entire income, and 15% was only based on the dinner check.

And then I followed up with another question (again, helpful!), asking if she'd ever worked in the food service industry. She said she hadn't, so (because I have, and I'm helpful) I explained how hard servers work, and how little they make in hourly wages. (In a typical restaurant, tips are what a server lives on, because the check is laughably tiny.) And moreover, I went on, in a midprice restaurant such as that one, the difference between a 10% tip and a 15% tip would be less than a dollar, and that dollar would make a bigger difference to the server than it would to my friend.

Now, it might seem the moral of this tale is "Ask Pam to dinner and you'll get a lecture." But that's only a sub-point.

Earlier this year, I read an excellent devotional article by my friend Tim Gustafson, tackling a sticky issue: the after-church crowd's reputation as poor tippers. In the article, Tim quotes his pastor: “You are representing Jesus. If you go out to eat, tip generously.” Would that all pastors would preach the same.

To further define that, I'd say "generously" means 20%, at least. I typically calculate 20% and round up to the next dollar. Why so much? A server's tips depend mainly on their tabs and their turnover. Since I usually order water, and I drink a lot of it, the server makes lots of trips to my table to refill my glass, but my drink doesn't show up on the bill. And if I'm involved in a lengthy conversation — which I often am — the table doesn't "turn" as quickly. Since my dining habits cut into both the tab and the turnover, I try to compensate. (Also, if I'm using a coupon, I tip on the amount before the coupon was subtracted, because the tip is on what the server brought, not on what I'm paying for.)

So, maybe being able to tip generously while staying within your budget means ordering the chicken Caesar salad instead of the steak. Do it.

But there's a bigger point to this. For that tip, you'll want to come back tomorrow.


(I still haven't figured out the tipping etiquette for coffee places. So if you ever run into me at Starbucks and you see me pass the tip jar as if I hadn't seen it, that's why. Maybe one of my readers is or has been a barista and can help me out?)


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