If We Absolutely Have To Tip Can We At Least Get It Right?

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There is so much to hate about the tipping culture we have in the US that I almost don’t know where to start.

I hate the credit card machines that ask me if I want to tip when all I’ve done is wait in line to order a coffee to go, I hate the modern-day expectation of a tip regardless of the service provided and I hate the holier-than-thou preachers that attempt to guilt everyone into tipping but do nothing about the underlying issue.

The underlying issue is one of businesses/corporations paying staff so badly that tipping has gone from being a way of showing thanks for good service to a charitable donation….but I’m not here to write about that.

What I’d like to address is the way tipping is done and how illogical it actually is.

I dined out twice last week and the eateries couldn’t have been more different. One was a diner in Santa Monica while the other was a high-end restaurant in West Hollywood.

While the two dining experiences were very different it was the surroundings, the atmosphere and the quality of food that were the differentiators between the two and not the style or quality of service…..so why was the tip at the upscale restaurant 10x that of the one at the diner?

The service at both establishments was fine but neither was in any way above and beyond what anyone should expect. The waiter at the upscale restaurant didn’t offer anything more than the server in the diner and yet he was tipped considerably more than his counterpart. Why?

The answer to that question lies in the illogical way we’re expected to tip.

Rather than tipping a set amount we’re expected to tip a percentage of our final bill/check and this makes no sense whatsoever. Why should the size of the check have anything to do with how much someone gets tipped?

More importantly, why does convention mean that a waiter at an upscale restaurant gets tipped more than someone working in a diner when there’s often nothing different in what they offer (please don’t write in to tell me that there is – I’ve done enough dining in both types of establishment to know that, most of the time, there’s no added value to a waiter at a high-end restaurant)? What makes the upscale restaurant waiter better?

Is there some kind of assumed notion that, because you’re dining out at a nice restaurant, you can afford to tip more? If so that’s nonsense.

Not all that long ago millions of people around the world celebrated Valentines Day and a lot of them probably went out for a meal that cost a lot more than they’re normally prepared to pay. Some may even have been saving for months just to be able to take a loved one out for a special meal they can only enjoy once or twice a year.

At the end of the night, if these people were having dinner in the US, they will have been presented with a check with number of “suggested tips” probably ranging between 18% and 30%.

Why? What justification can there possibly be for asking someone to pay between 18% and 30% on top of the check?

A nice meal for two with a good bottle of wine can easily cost north of $300 and, if convention is followed, there will be at least another $54 to pay on top of that just to subsidize the restaurant owner.

Are you kidding me?!

There’s absolutely no logic here whatsoever.

Let’s take the example of two imaginary couples:

  • Both couples order exactly the same meals except that couple #1 orders a good bottle of wine while couple #2 orders tap water.
  • Couple #1 takes up next to none of the waiter’s time (they’re low maintenance) and leave after an hour and a half while couple #2 need to have every single item on the menu explained to them, take an age to order and then linger after the meal is over.

In this scenario convention would have couple #1 pay a considerably larger tip than couple #2 and, at the risk of repeating myself over and over again, I have to ask why?

Why should couple #1 be penalised for ordering a bottle of wine when, effectively, they actually got less service than couple #2 and took up less of the restaurant’s time?

We need a more sensible convention.

A convention that accounts for the number of people being served or the time spent in an establishment would make a lot more sense than one that penalizes spending.

We could even combine the two. How about $x per person + $x per hour spent dining?

Yes, it’s marginally more complicated than what we have now but it’s a considerably fairer way to work out how much to tip (from a customer’s point of view) and, if you feel you’ve had above average service, there’s always the option to add more on top.

Shockingly that last bit would actually be what tipping was designed for…but heaven forbid that should ever happen!

This will clearly be bad news for wait-staff at high-end restaurants because it will be their tips that will probably go down….but that’s not really my problem (nor should it be any patron’s problem) – believe it or not I don’t work all hours of the day just so that I can then subsidise business owners who are underpaying their employees.

Bottom Line

I’m fed up of being expected to tip ridiculous amounts of money on the rare occasions I choose to splash out a little just because convention says I should.

Ideally tipping for anything other than as a thank you for good service would be a thing of the past but, while the majority of people are happy to continue to subsidize corporations and businesses while turning a blind eye to the major issue at hand, that’s not going to happen.

So, if we’re stuck with the tipping culture we’ve created can we at least do something about the truly ridiculous way we’re expected to work out how much to tip?

Sure, my suggested form of tipping wouldn’t work in all scenarios where we’re expected to tip…but at least it would be a start.


  1. That’s why I almost never go out to eat, and for casual dining go out of my way to eat at limited service restaurants or where tipping is under $3-4. If everyone voted with their wallets instead of taking it in the a$$, this practice would end quickly.

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