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Stiffing the Sopranos
September 13, 2004 11:02 AM   Subscribe

Restaurant Customer Arrested For Tipping Under 18%. Now, we've had discussions about tipping. But I'm not sure that any of us envisioned this.
posted by dejah420 (103 comments total)

 
18% ? That's just criminal !
posted by troutfishing at 11:07 AM on September 13, 2004


Does this swing both ways? Because I'd seriously like to punch out the Starbucks barista when she smirks at me because I refuse to tip her for pouring a cup of coffee.
posted by Stan Chin at 11:08 AM on September 13, 2004


I loathe the American tipping situation, but I have to say that a lot of places have a minimum on large groups, and if they didn't pay it then they were in the wrong.
posted by twine42 at 11:10 AM on September 13, 2004


Oh my - it was under 10% *gulps*
posted by troutfishing at 11:10 AM on September 13, 2004


He wasn't really arrested for tipping less than 18%, he was arrested for not paying the 18% tip which was required by that restraunt for large groups. It's still dumb, if I were a restraunt owner I'd never call the cops over a customers failure to tip but I might tell them not to come back, take their picture and make sure everybody knows not to serve him.

My gripe with the customer is that he didn't tip because the food was bad, not because the service was bad. If your food isn't good complain to the manager don't take it out on the person serving the food.
posted by substrate at 11:15 AM on September 13, 2004


Well, and for being an asshole.

Large parties are a pain in the ass and they get alot worse when they're populated by some loud mouthed assholes.
posted by fenriq at 11:16 AM on September 13, 2004


I'm on the fence on this one since the obligratuity is on the menu.

What I don't understand, however, is why a large group mandates a large gratuity. Can someone explain the theory behind this? Is somelike less likely to tip, say, 15% of a $200 bill than a $50 bill--is that it?
posted by ParisParamus at 11:16 AM on September 13, 2004


Reading the article, it sounds more like a case of "asshole brings a big group to a restaurant, acts like a cock, won't pay the full amount written on the bill, gets arrested." Somehow, I lack sympathy for him, and I doubt the precedence set by the case will affect those who bother to act like civilized human beings when they're in restaurants.
posted by vorfeed at 11:16 AM on September 13, 2004


I can't see any court ruling that a restaurant can make tips mandatory. That would mean that customers must leave a tip regardless of how poor the service was, and that's wrong.
posted by orange swan at 11:17 AM on September 13, 2004


I suspect that the reason I frequently get bad or awful service when in large groups is that the waiter/waitress has little incentive to treat me well... This customer sounds like a real jerk, however.

I find that "punishing" waitstaff for bad service with low tips rarely gets the message across - it just makes me seem like a cheapskate. I prefer to air my concerns to a manager instead, and only if the service is really bad. I usually tip 20% for good service. I tip 15% for bad service and then just don't come back to the restaurant again.
posted by kahboom at 11:20 AM on September 13, 2004


IANAL, but...The problem is this: this isn't "tipping". "Tipping" is optional--everyone knows that--and if they called it a tip I wouldn't be surprised if a judge throws this thing out. This is a "surcharge".
posted by jpoulos at 11:20 AM on September 13, 2004


A friend tells a story where he was one of a party of six that was getting really horrible service (a jerk/inattentive waiter) at a restaurant. When a member of the party complained to the waiter and mentioned how continued behavior would hurt their tip, they were told that it didn't matter as they'd have to tip 20% regardless because they were a party of six or more. So the friend spoke up and asked for a seperate check saying, that now we're a party of five and a party of one. Service then improved.

I don't like mandatory tipping, even though people who talk about waitstaff being underpaid are completely right. There are jerks out there that will shaft waitstaff on tips, which mandatory tipping prevents, but I've also had experiences of really poor service for a mandatory 20% tip (even to the point where they tried to charge us 40% after screwing up the check, forgetting side dishes, and getting at least one entre wrong - we don't eat there anymore).

"It's unfortunate it has come to this, but this guy was rude and abrasive. They practically threw food at us," Soprano said.

But if the story about the customer in the link being a jerk is true, then they got what they deserved! If I was at the next table over and saw an obnoxious table get served like that, then I'd gladly make up the tip difference!
posted by robocop is bleeding at 11:20 AM on September 13, 2004


"They practically threw food at us."

What the hell does that even mean? They either threw food at you or they didn't...
posted by banished at 11:23 AM on September 13, 2004


I'll grant everyone's point that the guy sounds like a true pain...but orange swan touches on the point that I find most interesting. I'd like to see how the court rules on this one as well.

on preview...exactly jpoulos
posted by dejah420 at 11:24 AM on September 13, 2004


True moral of the story? Don't mess with the Sopranos!

(the owner's name was "Soprano") But, seriously, it sounds like these cusomers were probably a little beyond the pale. For really hateful behavior, I would probably be tempted to do something similar.
posted by taz at 11:25 AM on September 13, 2004


Question: for the restaruant's business, is this, overall, good or bad?
posted by ParisParamus at 11:28 AM on September 13, 2004


A group of six is large?
posted by mr_crash_davis at 11:30 AM on September 13, 2004


I just wanted to mention that I live in the area and have eaten there several times (under duress after the first time). The food sucks, the service sucks and the manager is a dick. This is a pizza joint and adding an 18% gratuity for throwing a pitcher of soda and a pie on the table is just crazy -- I don't care how large the party is.

Lake George is an ugly little seasonal shithole, full of drunken yahoos, bikers and obnoxious kiddie toting soccer moms who haven't the sense just to go to the beach. They should probably be used to having food thrown at them.
posted by cedar at 11:32 AM on September 13, 2004


Not a waiter, never have been but...

What I don't understand, however, is why a large group mandates a large gratuity. Can someone explain the theory behind this? Is somelike less likely to tip, say, 15% of a $200 bill than a $50 bill--is that it?



To deal with a large group will probably take up a lot more of your time, forcing you to focus on helping them rather than your other tables. Therefor, since it's more work- the tip should be bigger. Apparently, a family is the worst possible situation for people who tip on the price of the meal, because kids meals are far cheaper, but require far more work than the average adult.
posted by drezdn at 11:33 AM on September 13, 2004


I have some issues with that story...

If there is a mandatory 18% gratuity shouldn't it be included in the final bill? it's not said as such. On the contrary the story left me with the impression that the customer was left to figure out whatever the hell 18% of the bill was.

Also, couldn't the local reporter actually verify that the tip bit was indicated on the menu? What both sides say will probably be self-serving.

And WTF is up with "practically threw food at us"? Again, what's said by both sides will be self-serving.

Sure, wait staff is underpaid. However, having seen many an instance of bad, absent-minded and even rude behaviour from that type of personnel I'm sure there is more to the story than what's said either in the story or in this thread...
posted by clevershark at 11:34 AM on September 13, 2004


Cedar, that's a funny remark. However, there is a beach on Lake George, which is, like five or six hours from the ocean. But it is a pretty has-been place....
posted by ParisParamus at 11:40 AM on September 13, 2004


why a large group mandates a large gratuity. Can someone explain the theory behind this?

Because people generally don't understand how to behave in a restaurant. If everyone ordered their apps at the same time, then entrees, and weren't demanding more bread, or water refilled, and generally making you run your ass off for them because "Hey, we're a big group and very important," it would be different. And while a lot of these things are supposed to be taken care of by the busboy, most of the time they've got their own plates full.

In my experience, a large group of, say, 8 are far worse than two separate 4-tops. Not just for the waitstaff, but also for the cooks, who are busy handling everyone else's orders and just trying to get everything out while it's still hot. Remember, folks, there are other people in the restaurant besides yourself.

I wouldn't be surprised if a judge throws this thing out. This is a "surcharge".

Tough shit. If it's stated on the menu, you have to pay it. There's a reason why there's mandatory gratuity: because some people are asshole cheapskates. I once had a 12-top, sold them 10 bottles of wine, all 12 had salads, apps, and ordered the specials. This was at a high-end Italian restaurant. There were no fuckups, everyone seemed to like my service just fine, yet I got $30 for all my efforts and bending over backwards for them.

Fuck that. If you plan on dropping $800 on a meal to show off in front of your friends, an extra $160 for tips shouldn't be any problem, either. If you're a cheapskate, just let your waiter know in advance so they're not breaking their backs to make sure your plates come out hot.

It's not like all this money is going into the waiter's pocket, you know. Oh, you didn't know that? After you tip out the busboy(s), the bartender, and host, what you're left with equates to a little more than $15 / hour on a good night. On slow nights, which you obviously can't factor for, you'll be lucky to make half that. The good nights are what end up paying your bills and get you through the bad nights, but asshole customers never see the bigger picture. Where I worked, (and this applies to just about every restaurant in the North End, Boston) waiters don't get paid. No, not even a measly $2.00/hr. Everything you made was from tips.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 11:41 AM on September 13, 2004


How much money should wait staff make? If I have a $50 dinner, and I tip 20% - that means that on my table alone the wait person was making $10 an hour. I lived practically my whole life getting paid less than that. I'm just saying...
posted by ewkpates at 11:43 AM on September 13, 2004


Question: for the restaruant's business, is this, overall, good or bad?

Indeed. If this were a restaurant in my town, I don't care how good it was or how "justified" they thought they were, I'd never go back. The customer may have been an ass, but having him arrested is beyond petty.

Any resident lawyers care to comment on the binding nature of these kind of tips?

Re: Why restaurants have them. Big parties are a huge pain in the ass, because they're a huge order all happening at once. Two tables of four, for example, will have staggered orders, even if they sit at the same time. A table of eight, however, will slam the kitchen with a huge order and the server will have to deliver eight plates all at once. Many restaurants try to pressure large groups into pre-fixe "special menus" for this reason.
posted by mkultra at 11:44 AM on September 13, 2004


I don't know when it originally aired, by there was this great piece on This American Life a few weeks ago in which two waitresses' tips were compared. Conclusion: it doesn't pay to be particularly nice/helpful as a waiter/waitress
posted by ParisParamus at 11:46 AM on September 13, 2004


waiters don't get paid. No, not even a measly $2.00/hr. Everything you made was from tips.

Not disagreeing with your point, but that's a little misleading. Wherever I worked, some waiters got a check for $0.00 because their salary didn't cover the taxes they owed on their tips.
posted by yerfatma at 11:50 AM on September 13, 2004


I just plain don't eat in restaurants any more if I can possibly help it. Eating at home is cheaper and a lot of times way tastier. And I'm not even a very good cook.
posted by JanetLand at 11:51 AM on September 13, 2004


"Any resident lawyers care to comment on the binding nature of these kind of tips?"

Since it's on the menu, I suppose it comes down to whether it was printed large enough. If it is, it's essentially as if the 18% is part of the price.

Somehow I suspect there''s no valid notice.
posted by ParisParamus at 11:52 AM on September 13, 2004


This raises a question (maybe AskMe'able, but since we're talking tips anyways) I've had for awhile:

As waitstaff/barstaff, when a patron pays with a credit/debit card, would you prefer your tip to be included on the credit card or paid seperately in cash? How many "Good Customer" points does one get for doing it the Right Way?
posted by robocop is bleeding at 11:56 AM on September 13, 2004


PP, I probably should have been clearer.

There are probably a dozen beaches on Lake George aside from the village beach. But I'm from Long Island and up here people have a different concept of the word 'beach'. Lake George is also blessed with the cheesiest amusement park north of South of the Border.

Don't get me wrong, we love those soccer moms (except when we hate them). They pay the bills and enable us to survive months of bitterly cold darkness and have decent schools.
posted by cedar at 11:57 AM on September 13, 2004


What jpoulos and clevershark said.

If it's mandatory it's not a "tip" - calling it a tip might be considered confusing, since it implies volition - since it's compulsory it's a service charge.

And, if the service charge isn't on the bill already, this further re-enforces the impression that it's a regular discretionary tip, not a compulsory surcharge.
posted by Blue Stone at 11:59 AM on September 13, 2004


There is one more legitimate reason for a "surcharge" for large groups - having nothing to do with the waitstaff.

Volume and table turnover. You are going to make more money if you have some sort of reasonable table turnover - large groups frankly tend to be loud, obnoxious and take a very long time to leave.
posted by jkaczor at 12:00 PM on September 13, 2004


The good nights are what end up paying your bills and get you through the bad nights, but asshole customers never see the bigger picture.

You chose to be a damn waiter. I'll never understand waiters who moan about "cheap" "asshole" customers. Tips are optional, and that's the way it should be. It's a gratuity. Moaning because some guy didn't give you $100+ for waiting a damn table is stupid.
posted by reklaw at 12:02 PM on September 13, 2004


the people at soprano's are brainless ... thanks to their arresting someone who was unhappy with their service, the whole country knows that someone thought their service sucked ... whether the guy's right or not

this reminds me of a local pizza restaurant in which the health department allegedly found frozen puppies wrapped up in the freezer ... the owner was cited and denied it ... i'm not sure of the eventual legal outcome ... but he went out of business so fast it wasn't funny

everyone kept making jokes about pupperoni ... and no one wanted to eat there anymore

this could cost them a lot more than 18% of the order
posted by pyramid termite at 12:03 PM on September 13, 2004


Arrested ? So I can call police in N.Y , say that somebody didn't tip me and have his freedom taken away even if momentarly ?

Can't believe that , it must have been some charge detailed in the menu that must be shown outside the restaurant ; the guy refused to pay, some punch flew and the policeman arrested him for assult.

Either that or we got a new value for freedom in Land of Freedom : 18% of restaurant tip. I'd rather take french fries .
posted by elpapacito at 12:17 PM on September 13, 2004


You chose to be a damn waiter. I'll never understand waiters who moan about "cheap" "asshole" customers. Tips are optional, and that's the way it should be. It's a gratuity. Moaning because some guy didn't give you $100+ for waiting a damn table is stupid.

I'm going to chalk up the utter ignorance of this comment to your being in England rather than an asshole.

First of all, most people don't choose to be waiters. Generally, people (often artists) do it to pay the bills en route to a more fulfilling career.

Second, here in the U.S., tips are generally considered mandatory, as reflected in the below-minimum-wage salaries of waitstaffs. It's a perversion of labor law, yeah, but that's the way it is and it's not going to change any time soon.

Third, what people perceive as "poor service" rarely has anything to do with the waiter. Your waiter takes your order and delivers your food, that's it. Slow food is the kitchen's fault. And your waiter not attending to your every micro-need, not wanting to be called "Hon", and not wanting to hear about your personal problems is the fault of your overblown sense of entitlement.
posted by mkultra at 12:18 PM on September 13, 2004


Here's an amusing or horrifying personal story about torturing restaurants. My grandparents had ten children. Their best friends had 11 children. To my surprise, they ate out together regularly. How many in your party? Twenty five. They'd go to the local Ground Round, back when they served peanuts and popcorn and encouraged you to litter all over the floor. They required several waitstaff to take their orders and a small army of servers to bring their orders, to set the tables up and clean up afterwards. I had been to the same Ground Round, prior to their huge reorganization as a more adult bar and grill. They hadn't a table that could fit more than four people. They'd line up 10 of these tables, sitting 12 on each side and two on the ends. It must have been quite the site. Now, some restaurants won't even sit parties of larger than six without a reservation.

Paris, that aired last weekend here. Their conclusion, as far as I gathered, was that people tip the way they intend to tip no matter the service. There are some social engineering techiniques that work, especially the playing aloof with the poor tipping guy at the bar. However, for the most part, people have clearly defined tipping patterns.
posted by sequential at 12:20 PM on September 13, 2004


Just raise the prices on the fucking menu, dipshits.
posted by Space Coyote at 12:20 PM on September 13, 2004


this reminds me of a local pizza restaurant in which the health department allegedly found frozen puppies wrapped up in the freezer

Puppies... it's what's for dinner!
posted by clevershark at 12:20 PM on September 13, 2004


The idea that somebody deserves a tip because they did their job properly is very strange. And the explanation that a server's pay takes tips into account is wrong - they deserve to be paid a decent wage regardless of any tips they may receive. But I live in my own little world...

That said, in this instance it appears that a mandatory tip was in place, and this has nothing to do with tipping per se. If you don't like mandatory tipping (and the possibility of poor service without recourse), then avoid those restaurants.

C_D: Agree completely regarding large groups. We used to celebrate events with a large group. It's no fun for the large group, either, having to wait while the kitchen is putting together over a dozen orders, all hot at the same time. And there's inevitably one or two whose orders aren't quite steaming, and they complain about it, not realizing just how difficult it is for an often small kitchen to prepare that much food at one time. It's simply a disaster waiting to happen, dining in a large group. It didn't help that many of the people we were with are incredible cheapskates or of an age where a pile of coins is still considered a good tip. We don't dine with large groups or cheapskates anymore, and enjoy the experience much, much more.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 12:20 PM on September 13, 2004


I saw his on the local news and the owner played the sanctimonious ass and said "The girls need the tip money to pay their bills". I say give them a raise if you're really concerned about their finances.

Just because you CAN pay them less than minimum wage doesn't mean you CAN'T pay them a livable wage.
posted by DBAPaul at 12:22 PM on September 13, 2004


In Europe they add the gratuity to your bill automatically, and tell you up front what it's going to be (it's written on the menus). I think that works out better generally.
posted by clevershark at 12:25 PM on September 13, 2004


No, clevershark. In Europe, tips that are required are not tips. Plus, in my experience, service in stores/restaurants in Europe is uniformly awful. The American model is much better.
posted by ParisParamus at 12:27 PM on September 13, 2004


I find that "punishing" waitstaff for bad service with low tips

No, but what DOES work is to write on the CC slip - Bad service no tip, yet you hand $5 to the waterboy for keeping your water glass filled. That gets the management to follow YOU out into the street to ask about correcting the problems.

Putting your pennies in a frownie face. Alternative, put $1 coins as eyes and make a smiley.

I got hit in a party of 2 with a 15% upcharge once. I explained in a louder and louder voice how I would not pay the upcharge. They backdown once I started asking if EVERY customer there was getting the upcharge and then was leaving a tip....
posted by rough ashlar at 12:28 PM on September 13, 2004


this is disturbing...not paying for your service is about to be made as illegal as not paying for your meal. To Monday-morning quarterback a little, I think if I were going to try to stiff a waitperson when the tip was already considered mandatory, I'd want to talk it over with the manager first.


Taveras and eight others had pizza at the restaurant in this resort village Sunday night. He told the Glens Falls Post-Star they weren't completely satisfied with the food and left a tip of under 10 percent. Taveras said they also were not told of a mandatory 18 percent gratuity for parties of six or more and did not see notice of it on their menus.

Restaurant owner Joe Soprano said all the menus have the notice, and the waitress informed the group. He said he did not choose to pursue charges because of the money, but because Taveras' group was obnoxious.


That might make it a little hard to prosecute unless the judge is obnoxious too. I don't know about how things are typically done in New York, but in South Carolina this would've wound up with the cop telling the restaurant owner not to serve those customers anymore and not to waste law enforcement's time with this sort of petty complaint -- we don't have a lot of common sense down here, but we're a little ahead of New Yorkers when it comes to these sorts of pissing matches.


"It's not a black-and-white issue," Cleveland said. "It will be very interesting to see where it goes in court."

Indeed.

dejah420, I hope you (or somebody) will post a follow-up FPP when this thing gets settled. If it does.
posted by alumshubby at 12:33 PM on September 13, 2004


(Imagines rough ashlar standing on table and shouting to fellow dinners: "ARE WE GOING TO TAKE THIS? HELL NO!")
posted by ParisParamus at 12:33 PM on September 13, 2004


the whole concept of 'wait staff' is bullshit, tipping is an asinine mechanism that allows business owners to continue to underpay employees. i walk into an establishment to get fed. i expect to deal with all employees of that establishment as a package deal - why should i enter into transactions with more than one entity? if i choose to dine, drink and use the restroom at Establishment X, why am i also then expected to seperately deal with the food toters, drink dispensors, and mopper of the bathroom floor? pay those damn people what they are worth, you couldn't operate your business without them.
posted by quonsar at 12:50 PM on September 13, 2004


As an actual european living in europe I can say that

1. Service is not unformly bad. Maybe the poor ParisP is uniformly mistreated by a cadre of angry mefites AND by waiters and store clerks. I don't agree with this, let's call PETA.

2. Tips are not mandatory and written on bill -all over- europe. At least in italy it isn't, but exactly like in U.S. the waiter will spit in your soup if you show your cheapass face next time without leaving -some- tip before.

on preview: quonsar , yeah the tipping scheme is asinine, offloads restauran owners costs to customer in order to show lower menu prices.
posted by elpapacito at 12:53 PM on September 13, 2004


Plus, in my experience, service in stores/restaurants in Europe is uniformly awful. The American model is much better.

In Japan, tipping is not expected, and service is uniformly excellent. Quality of service probably has more to do with the culture than with the model of payment.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:56 PM on September 13, 2004


First of all, most people don't choose to be waiters. Generally, people (often artists) do it to pay the bills en route to a more fulfilling career.

Uh? Even at minimum wage, you have plenty of options. Waiting tables is never the only thing you can do.

Second, here in the U.S., tips are generally considered mandatory, as reflected in the below-minimum-wage salaries of waitstaffs.

So the restaurant gets to shaft the waitstaff, and you get upset with the customers about it?

And your waiter not attending to your every micro-need, not wanting to be called "Hon", and not wanting to hear about your personal problems is the fault of your overblown sense of entitlement.

My sense of entitlement!? You're the one who seems to think tips are mandatory regardless of service.

Seriously, if waitstaff have an issue with the tipping situation, they should take it up with their employers. If their employers refuse to listen, they should get a job where they aren't being exploited. Why all the hatred for customers?
posted by reklaw at 1:07 PM on September 13, 2004


Why all the hatred for customers?

working with the public can really suck ... i'm glad i don't do it anymore
posted by pyramid termite at 1:15 PM on September 13, 2004


I have lots of experience with the U.S. style tips thing, and lots with the European built-in tips thing, and I far prefer seeing the whole price of the meal, with tip, and with tax, on the menu, as it is where I am. The waiters and waitresses here do a fine job, and don't ever have to feel like they need to prostrate themselves before customers who are indicating that they are going to be spending a lot of money. As a customer, I don't have to prove to the wait-staff, by how I dress, or by my arrogant attitude, that I am worthy of spending time on. In my experience, this has all worked out wonderfully well. As far as I am concerned, this is one area where the U.S. has created an antiproductive, particularly nasty bit of sociodynamic.
posted by taz at 1:15 PM on September 13, 2004


The man didn't fulfill the contract he entered into with the restaurant. If he didn't want to pay a mandatory 18% service charge, as outlined in print on the menu, he should have taken his business elsewhere.

However, being arrested for this seems a bit much.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:16 PM on September 13, 2004


There is a distinct difference between what Europeans would call good service, and what Americans would call good service.

Americans (of course, I'm generalizing here but it's a fair generalization) value the speed at which the food is presented far more than Europeans do. So put an American in a typical European restaurant, and they feel ignored and forgotten. Put a European in a typical American restaurant, and they feel rushed and hustled like cattle. Neither one is wrong, they're just different. As long as you understand this when you go into either, you're OK.

As a Canadian, I hate getting my food fast, and I hate getting my bill slow. We're weird like that.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 1:17 PM on September 13, 2004


reklaw: why hate for customer ? I guess because many waiters expect customer to pay for a better service, because they consider their salary insufficient to bust their ass off for every customer that enters the door.

Obviously the customer doesn't always know or care that they get paid badly, so some waiter chose to do what they're supposed to do : take order, bring order and you better be decided or I'll go take some other order and don't expect me to smile or be polite with you, I'm not paid to smile or be servile.

The restaurant owner, allowing such a system to exists, shows that he doesn't give a flying fuck about how the customer is treated and should run a self-service, not a restaurant. But of course if the customer doesn't care to be treated more or less like cattle, everything goes fine.
posted by elpapacito at 1:25 PM on September 13, 2004


I'm going to chime in as a(nother) European. Most of my restaurant experience has been in the UK, and I've only encountered a mandatory service charge a few times here - and all in cheap crappy establishments. I haven't seen it in france, germany or poland.

I don't see what the fuss is about large groups. I seriously doubt it takes longer to deal with one group of 8 than it does with two groups of 4 - there's less walking to and fro, you don't have to repeat the specials so many times, and larger groups usually order more stuff - which means their bill is bigger so your tip is probably bigger too.

I tip a higher percentage when I eat alone, because then there really is a disproportionate amount of effort going on to get a 10-15% tip on a meal that probably cost less than £10.

I agree with reklaw and quonsar (not that I'm implying they agree with each-other). Minimum wage should be just that, whatever your profession. The tipping culture in the US seems insane.

When you go to a restaurant, what are you really paying for? The food? No, that's a negligable proportion of the bill. You're paying for the space, the people doing the cooking, and the people doing the serving. (And whatever profit the owners are creaming off.) If the staff need tips in order to survive that's a problem with the sytem or a problem with the owners.

Also, I never tip on a card. Leave cash on the table, then you can be more sure the serving staff will actually get it.

On preview: I'm not Canadian but I agree with GhostintheMachine about getting the bill slowly. If I tip low it's usually because I've been sitting there for 15 minutes after asking for it.
posted by cell at 1:28 PM on September 13, 2004


I'm a bit jet-laaged and have only scanned the thread but would a "tip" (or call it a surcharge if you like) be added for large parties simply because a large party is not likely to leave a fair tip? A party of two or four might (gulp) breazily calcualte their tip as a percentage of their total bill but when a large group does it -- and sees that the tip appears to be an outrageous amount, they might then dial back the percentage -- not realizing that what they are doing is completely out of line with the effort applied to serve them...
posted by Dick Paris at 1:29 PM on September 13, 2004


My experience in Canada has always been tipping 15% if the service is ordinary/adequate, more if it's exemplary, and less right down to $0 if it's lousy. Mandatory tipping is an idiotic concept, although I know people who consider it the height of rudeness to not tip at all, not matter how bad the service is.

I should add that dining in Australia a few years ago, where tipping was not expected and (I've heard this is no longer true) there was no sales tax, was a heavenly experience.
posted by The Card Cheat at 1:30 PM on September 13, 2004


Reklaw, I say "you" and "your" not to you directly, but to the general populace of crappy customers.

You're "if you don't like this job, find another" attitude is pretty baffling, though, and belies a real ignorance about the state of the employer-employee dynamic these days in America. I would like to live in your dream country, though, where minimum wage workers have their pick of jobs and can take on management freely- where can I apply for citizenship?
posted by mkultra at 1:35 PM on September 13, 2004


On a related note, I love sites like this one and this one that compile lists of which celebrities are good tippers and which ones are lousy. There are also some general bad-celebrity-behavior stories; to wit:

"Last Super Bowl, Tara Ried came into the Starbucks where I use to work. She was as drunk as a skunk and hanging out with four or five slutty girls wearing next to nothing. She asked if we could blend her a drink and add a few splashes of vokda (which she pulled out of her fake Fendi purse...eww). I told her we werent a bar and there were no margaritas on our menu and she lunged over the counter screaming "DONT YOU KNOW WHO THE FUCK I AM?!?!" I told her that I knew who she was and still could not help her. She then did the most horribly embarassing thing I could imagine. She turned to a male co worker of mine, lifted up her skanky tank top and said "ARE MY TITS BETTER AT CONVINCING YOU?!?!"

I told her to put her funbags away and leave."

(Heh...Tara Reid funbags.)
posted by ChrisTN at 1:37 PM on September 13, 2004


christn: and when the jaw of your male coworker close , did it snap ? I would have made her the margarita to comfort the poor funbags attached to a whore. I'd take care of these mistreated funbags :D
posted by elpapacito at 1:43 PM on September 13, 2004


Well, Having worked in the foodservice industry, and being a patron of restaurants worldwide, I feel qualified to comment on this.

Most waitpersons are great and enjoy their job. Others are rude nasty people that feel the world owes them something. Generally, though, the bad waitperson doesn't know the difference and they will complain of "asshole customers" every time they get stiffed. Their Co-workers know what is going on and ignore them when they bitch, or just nod and say umm humm, sure. Busboys will avoid working with these people due to their tendency to rip the busperson a new one over things not in their control, then stiff them on their share of the tip in retaliation. In other words, if you seem to get a larger share than your co-workers of jerky customers, Maybe its time to look in the mirror. You might be the real problem.

Rest assured, due to my work in the industry, I am about the easiest most polite customer there is. I usually won't even stiff a bad server, can't do it. I never go back though if treated too poorly. In other words, to tick me off you really have to be ungodly bad at your job.

The world does not owe you a living. Being a waitperson requires you to be nice to people that often don't deserve it. Don't like that, then quit. I did. There are plenty of manual labor jobs for men and women. That is what I did until I found an office job.
posted by jester69 at 1:47 PM on September 13, 2004


Is somelike less likely to tip, say, 15% of a $200 bill than a $50 bill--is that it?

In my years of serving/bartending, absolutely, YES. Especially when they each get individual checks, people often times only time $1 on a $10 check in large parties. Don't ask me why, they just do. Additionally, in large one-check parties, people will throw in money and inevitably the final pot will end up short-changed for anything remotely resembling a decent tip. If you don't believe me, serve the bussiness clientel during the lunch rush.
And, as a customer, if you don't plan on tipping, DON'T GO. Do one is forcing you to go out and eat, so if you get good service, don't be an asshole about it. If you don't, be clear you did NOT get good service. When I have 7 tables, I can't tell if I did a crappy job or you're cheap because that many people do stiff waiters. My service can only improve if I'm told I suck. Or, best yet, be NICE and talk to the manager- chances are you'll get something free out of it. Otherwise, stay home and cook or go get fast food.
That said, where the heck do servers get less than $2.00 an hour? I thought the minumum wage was $2.13/hour in the states?
Also, the restaurant owner were dicks. When we chose to add on the 18%, the manager would personally go up to the table and make it very clear what the situation was. We started doing that exactly because of problems this story reports and we haven't had a problem since.
Though, I did have a 30-top leave once without leaving a tip. At all. It was from a day-care and I think the person didn't know you were supposed to tip. Her lack of English kind of gave it away. I almost went over the the day-care to raise some hell, but my need for a job thought better of it.
Oh yea, and I hate tipping fickin' Starbucks people. $7-$8 you need a tip, my ass.

I'm not bitter, just sick. I swear.
posted by jmd82 at 1:48 PM on September 13, 2004


jmd82: I don't damn get it dude.

Also, the restaurant owner were dicks.

So far no wonder.

When we chose to add on the 18%, the manager would personally go up to the table and make it very clear what the situation was. We started doing that exactly because of problems this story reports and we haven't had a problem since.

So the waiters decided "get 18% on the bill dammit so we get what we want and you get less complaining" if I got it right.

If I got it right, if I order one portion of expensive caviar that takes you one friggin minute to bring me while thinking about molecules or tapdance I gotta pay you 18% out of that dish ? What , somebody wrote "moron" on my face when I was drunk ?

What makes you guys think , in the long term, that customers will accept such a racket ? The waiters will end up being "the unionized racket" while the problem is the restaurant owner who's a dick that doesn't want to pay for your job !
posted by elpapacito at 2:12 PM on September 13, 2004


I just plain don't eat in restaurants any more if I can possibly help it. Eating at home is cheaper and a lot of times way tastier. And I'm not even a very good cook.
posted by JanetLand at 8:51 PM CET on September 13


There is an enormous difference in what can be prepared in an professional kitchen and what can be prepepared on a $500 electric range.

Secondly, you really should eat at Dorsia.
posted by the fire you left me at 2:13 PM on September 13, 2004


be added for large parties simply because a large party is not likely to leave a fair tip?
When did this start, the 90's? Seems a way restaurants makes the wait staff happier when serving a larger table in my opinion.
posted by thomcatspike at 2:39 PM on September 13, 2004


elpapacito, if it's that easy to have caviar, why the fuck are you going out to a restaurant? Have it at home, ya drunk moron.

Jesus, this thread is really exposing the cheapskates here.
posted by solistrato at 2:41 PM on September 13, 2004


Cedar, sorry if my tangential humor is not that clear--actually, it's not supposed to be!

And you always thought no one would ever know that you were a bad tipper...
posted by ParisParamus at 2:43 PM on September 13, 2004


what taz and others have said. tipping in america is hellish. there are people like mkultra and Civil_Disobedient who have experience with the way waitpeople get shafted and with asshole customers, and it makes them angry and a little bit scary for those of us who go out to eat ever. what they say makes sense, and as people have said inthread, the problem is with wage laws. it's inexcusable that waitstaff can end up getting nothing at the end of the night because their wages are so dependent on tips. many of us are indeed aware of the absence of the minimum wage for waitstaff, and also aware of the fact waiters pay taxes on tips and often have to share them with the rest of the workers. there needs to be legal reform. at the same time, though, it's gotten so that angry waitstaff take it completely out on customers, and ALL customers, because they think we don't know this. it's gotten so that yes, if i the customer am not supernice and try my best not to worry the waiter with any problem and promote myself as one who will tip well, i have to worry the person's going to freaking spit in my food. and as stan chin mentions, we are expected to tip people everywhere now, even if we're just offering a coffe of the day with no extras. this is ridiculous. i agree with quonsar and at the same time i worry that it is true that without any optional tipping system service will be bad...it seems a mess.
posted by ifjuly at 2:52 PM on September 13, 2004


This is truly the ultimate Conservative v. Liberal thread. Some of you want some minimum remuneration to go to servers; others prefer to let market forces prevail.

I think anyone who wants a guaranteed hourly wage should find another job. Tips, both for the waitstaff, and for bar tenders, are a great, motivating, fun part of the job. Especially since, IRS be damned, a good deal of tip money is never declared, and, therefore, more valuable than an hourly wage.

Most people, the overwelming majority of people, tip at least 15%, if not 20%, and most people are accutely aware of the importance of tips to the waitstaff.

Tips at Starbucks? Only when I'm feeling generous/happy.

Vive tips!
posted by ParisParamus at 3:00 PM on September 13, 2004


"How much money should wait staff make? If I have a $50 dinner, and I tip 20% - that means that on my table alone the wait person was making $10 an hour. I lived practically my whole life getting paid less than that. I'm just saying..."

I don't *think* anyone addressed this comment, but the thread has been so all over the place I'm not 100% sure.

If it hasn't: ewkpates, you might not realize that for every busy dinner hour where they made tips, that waiter has spent another hour either doing sidework, cleaning up, setting up tables, learning specials, or breaking things down at the end of the night. That might be $5 an hour when all is said and done. It might even be less.
posted by bcwinters at 3:02 PM on September 13, 2004


These threads inevitably devolve into people who've worked as waiters getting really, really annoyed, slagging off customers as "cheapskates" and the rest of it. Why? It's the restaurant owners and managers that are screwing you guys over. Why aren't you annoyed with them?
posted by reklaw at 3:07 PM on September 13, 2004


bitch about the one guy, disregard the majority! FUCKIN USA MAN
posted by Satapher at 3:10 PM on September 13, 2004


There's no way the restaurant owner is getting that tip. The defence is just going to argue there was a lack of service, and therefore, a lack of payment.

You know, the same way if the cable guy comes 3 weeks late and you're 3 weeks late paying it, everything works out.

Oh, and yes, I deal with the public every day. I'm what old terminology would say is a "shopkeep" (I love calling myself that). When I do a poor job, people don't buy anything. I don't get compensated *AT ALL* for spending 30 minutes chatting with the customer about products.

The fact a tip was offered at all was generous enough. Arresting these people was just over the line. I've had customers whom I've installed satellite dishes for and when I ask for payment, they've stiffed me. The police won't even come out to solve the problem, never mind arrest anyone. That's insane.
posted by shepd at 3:16 PM on September 13, 2004


Secondly, you really should eat at Dorsia.
posted by the fire you left me


Dorsia? Where's that?
posted by JanetLand at 3:17 PM on September 13, 2004


reklaw: These threads inevitably devolve into into people who've worked as waiters getting really, really annoyed ...

Maybe because they've been in the situation mkultra describes: "Generally, people (often artists) do it to pay the bills en route to a more fulfilling career". Having been there (working as a shop assistant for that reason) I think it's fairly conducive to a chip-on-shoulder attitude to customers - always the irritation at being treated like a minion when you're really a professional destined for higher things.
posted by raygirvan at 3:34 PM on September 13, 2004


reklaw- Waiters generally are pissed at management. Unfortunately, the economy is rarely "good" at that level of employment- there's always going to be someone to take your place, and waitstaff aren't unionized, so where's your leverage?

To the "tipping is something you should work and be thankful for" crowd- I'd buy your argument if tipping were $base = $wages and $tip = $bonus, rather than $base = $wages - $tip. The tip is not a reward to the waiter, it's a requirement. And that's where unfortunate aspects of power and human nature come in to play.

(I'm not saying "you" you, but people in general here...)

People equate the money their job earns with its value. Therefore, if you can afford to eat at a restaurant, odds are you're going to think that your job is more important than some servant bringing you your food. Which is going to bring out your desire to express power (multiply when drunk). You're going to dangle the tip like a carrot, and make your servant dance for it.

That, my friends, is why the tipping system here is so fucked. It enables the basest impulses in a simple interaction between strangers.

I eat out a lot, and have a lot of waiter friends. I hear it a lot from their side, and I see it all the time from mine. People get upset if their waiter isn't "nice" enough to them, or if they don't accomodate their requests. Your waiter isn't supposed to be your friend, your waiter is supposed to be efficient and unobtrusive. Your waiter is not responsible for the quality of your food. The restaurant has a menu, not a checklist of ingredients. Your chef has used his skill and experience to put together a menu that tastes good; to refuse that and ask for your own special dish is not only an insult, but disrupts the entire process that runs the business.

ok, I'm done ranting...
posted by mkultra at 3:37 PM on September 13, 2004


solistrato: if it's that easy to have caviar, why the fuck are you going out to a restaurant? Have it at home, ya drunk moron.

Oh Jesus tapdancing Christ ! That was an example of expensive dish , do I need to tell you there's stuff one either doesn't know or want or have time to cook and THAT'S why people go to restaurant ? I wanna pay the good cook and pay the waiter to serve me so I don't have to go serve myself and cook myself ; if I do all myself at home, I will not pay them.

By following this reasoning of "then do it yourself moron !" you'll see a decrese of jobs because you choose a stupid binary attitude "either like it or shove it" ; fine, I'll cook at home, the restaurant owner blames the waiter for being an ass and making customers angry (if they reasons like you) he looses the job and another more subservient one gets his place. You're soooo fired.

Oh no but the customer must be charged 20% over bringing him a bottle of water and see on the bill that he's paying 20% for things being transported from point A to point B...ooohh the customer will be soooo happy, the waiter gets the blame and the restaurant owners laughs his ass off as he sees the binary morons firing themselves out of their job, for not being able to SEE that their main problem is the restaurant owner , not the customer.
posted by elpapacito at 4:08 PM on September 13, 2004


Shepd, it's not a "tip"--it's a mandatory service charge. If the guy didn't want to pay it, he should have eaten elsewhere.

Basically, the guy gets a bill and argues about the amount of the bill. It isn't that he didn't leave "enough" extra money on the table--it's that he refused to pay the bill he contracted for food he consumed.

Again, I think that being arrested for this is a little extreme, but he's as much in violation of the law as anyone else who doesn't want to pay a bill.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:52 PM on September 13, 2004


"How much money should wait staff make? If I have a $50 dinner, and I tip 20% - that means that on my table alone the wait person was making $10 an hour. I lived practically my whole life getting paid less than that. I'm just saying..."

Most 'wait people' (pc-lol) have to tip-out both the bus-boys and the bar-staff out of that money as well.

And as Reservoir Dogs taught us all, waitressing is the number one occupation for female noncollege graduates in this country. It's the one job basically any woman can get and make a living on. The reason is because of their tips.
posted by uftheory at 5:01 PM on September 13, 2004


"Binary Morons" could be a good name for a rock band.

I don't think anybody answered the tip on the tab vs. tip on the table question. Inquiring minds want to know.
posted by mote at 5:01 PM on September 13, 2004


A lot of what I see in this thread is waiters (or former waiters) referring to customers as "assholes" and "pains in the ass"... somehow I doubt that service in Europe would be much worse than encountering those people as waiters.
posted by clevershark at 5:11 PM on September 13, 2004


This is truly the ultimate Conservative v. Liberal thread.

Bull. I think it's more what reklaw described, former waitstaff v. everyone else. As a former busboy, whenever I pick up the bill at dinner, I tip from whatever cash my friends give me. Let the waiter decide whether Uncle Sam ever hears about it.
posted by yerfatma at 5:16 PM on September 13, 2004


tip on table..actually, when the waiter is good I even take the pain of finding him/her and giving the money directly
posted by elpapacito at 5:17 PM on September 13, 2004


It does not sound as if he was even arrested really for not paying the service charge. Two assholes in a resturaunt get into a fight about the bill. Guess what, the owner always wins in that case.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 5:45 PM on September 13, 2004


I think tipping is a practice that should stop. Let's have restaurant owners pay fair wages, and leave it at that. Ditto the hairdresser, carpet cleaners, housecleaning staff, and whores.

Set a product price, do a good job, and make a fair wage. To hell with this rewards-and-punishments system.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:13 PM on September 13, 2004


I hate it when restaurants call a service charge a "gratuity", but if they want to add it, they need to make certain the customer knows about it.

And what substrate said.

Here in Hong Kong, tipping is more complicated*.

*Apologies for the self-link.
posted by bwg at 7:18 PM on September 13, 2004


and I hate getting my bill slow

I hear ya there. When I was in Germany with a friend, I remember it seemingly took forever after we were obviously finished with our meal, our coffee, and everything else before we got the bill. The first time this happened, our waitperson was nowhere to be seen. My friend suggested we use the "universal sign of 'bring us the bill'": putting our coats on and standing up. We stood for a good 20 minutes. Finally I got another waitperson's attention and made check-writing gestures (I don't speak German).

I recall another incident in Brussels, Belgium. We'd just arrived and were tired and hungry. We had dinner at a small restaurant, and when we were done neither of us could remember if the menu had stated that service was included. Deciding to err on the side of caution, we paid the bill and left 20% on the table. As we were leaving, the waiter came running after us, shouting. I thought something was wrong, but he was yelling "merci! merci!" (I do speak French) and asking us to please come again. Anytime. Please! Out in the parking lot, my friend and I looked at each other and said in unison "we overtipped."

In Rome the waiter brought us a plate with two slices of garlic toast on it as we were eating our pasta. I started to tell him that we hadn't ordered it, but he smiled and said "a gift, a gift for you" and left it on the table. Of course, when we got the check, the garlic toast was on it.

Back in Germany, the tables had baskets with giant soft pretzels in them, much like American restaurants would have dinner rolls or an assortment of crackers. Soft pretzels being a favorite of mine, we made short work of the basket. The waitperson, when taking our order, arched an eyebrow, pointed to the empty basket and asked "how many?" "Excuse me?" "How many pretzels did you eat?" I hadn't counted, and it turned out the pretzels weren't free. She ended up charging us for something like half a dozen of them, even though on my best day I don't think I could snarf that much.

At a lovely cafe in Amsterdam, a smiling waitress who didn't speak English brought me a glass of water I hadn't asked for. Before I could question it, she gestured to the pills I'd just set down on the table (I had certain meds I had to take with food) and made drinking motions.

In England, we found that whether it was McDonald's or the Hard Rock, if there are empty seats at your table, total strangers will plop down without so much as asking "is this seat taken?"

Anyway, yeah, averaging everything out I'd agree that surly-ish service was more common in Europe than in the US, and I wonder if part of it is due to the fact that the service charge is mandatory, and waitstaff don't rely on tips.
posted by Oriole Adams at 8:09 PM on September 13, 2004


God, the level of bullshit in here is stifling. Wait staff in America ALWAYS make at least the full minimum wage:
If an employee's tips combined with the employer's direct wages of at least $2.13 an hour do not equal the minimum hourly wage -- $5.15 an hour effective 9/1/97 -- the employer must make up the difference.
Federal law, folks. Also:
Service Charges: A compulsory charge for service, for example, 15 percent of the bill, is not a tip. Such charges are part of the employer's gross receipts. Where service charges are imposed and the employee receives no tips, the employer must pay the entire minimum wage and overtime required by the Act.
This means the fight was about the owner's money, not the waiter's tip.

Are we done now?
posted by NortonDC at 8:11 PM on September 13, 2004


That might be $5 an hour when all is said and done. It might even be less.

Uh huh. And that's before taxes. So someone making tip minimum and relying upon being bumped up to $5.15 then diminished by taxes on their alleged tips and then bridging the gap with expected gratuities in order to pay their living expenses is almost assured to be better off getting a $7.00/hr. straight pay job shelving books at the library, filing at a law firm or insurance company or even slinging burgers at McDonald's, all jobs which -- like waitstaffing at any casual establishment -- have very high turnover and available jobs at almost any point in time.

That those who wait tables and claim to hate their work don't go seek other low-paying but not tip-reliant jobs would indicate that on some level they do think that they are doing better where they are. In which case, yes, it's a choice. And that eliminates a lot of justification for griping.
posted by Dreama at 8:43 PM on September 13, 2004


I hear ya there. When I was in Germany with a friend, I remember it seemingly took forever after we were obviously finished with our meal, our coffee, and everything else before we got the bill. The first time this happened, our waitperson was nowhere to be seen.

The way it ought to be! You want the bill, ask for it! Otherwise you can sit undisturbed as long as you like.

Though when I got lunch alone at a non-takeout place in Germany and couldn't remember how to ask for the bill I did feel a little silly.
posted by kenko at 9:07 PM on September 13, 2004


(Disclaimer: I'm a server.)

PP: What I don't understand, however, is why a large group mandates a large gratuity. Can someone explain the theory behind this? Is somelike less likely to tip, say, 15% of a $200 bill than a $50 bill--is that it?

Because of the law that NortonDC correctly quoted above (but didn't read.) The owner of the restaurant pays me $2.13/hr. If I don't average $3.02/hr in tips, the owner makes up the difference. Normally, I run 4 tables, with pretty good turnover, so this isn't too difficult to do. However, if we jam the 4 tables together and everybody hangs out for a few hours, THEN get completely stiffed, the owner needs to pay to get me up to min wage.

It's company policy in order to save the company money, not some altruistic concern that I may not be fairly remunerated.

NortonDC: Wait staff in America ALWAYS make at least the full minimum wage:

Server A is the opener, who shows up at 10. Server B shows up at 11, when the restaurant opens. Both get one table, and a $10 tip on that table.

Server A (2 hrs, 10-12) : 2*2.13+10 = $14.26.
Server B (1 hr, 11-12) : 1*2.13+10 =$12.13.
Server A made $2.13/hr between 10 and 11. It only needs to AVERAGE OUT to minimum wage.

This is an overly simplified example - however, about 1/2 to 1/3 of the time, we're opening/closing/doing sidework for "$2.13/hr+tips" when we aren't taking tables.

I'm not complaining - it averages out better than slinging burgers or working retail, and I like the work ok.

ewkpates:How much money should wait staff make? If I have a $50 dinner, and I tip 20% - that means that on my table alone the wait person was making $10 an hour. I lived practically my whole life getting paid less than that. I'm just saying...

Excellent point. If I extrapolate from what I made between 7 and 8 last Friday night, I make about $200K a year! So, all we gotta do is find a restaurant where it's always between 7 and 8 on a Friday, the saltshakers fill themselves, the napkins magically wrap themselves around the silver, etc.
posted by swell at 11:42 PM on September 13, 2004


So the friend spoke up and asked for a seperate check saying, that now we're a party of five and a party of one. Service then improved.

Wouldn't fly in any restaurant I've heard of. (Or, more likely, the improvement in service was coincidental to the splitting of the check.) The issue is coordinating the timing - if you've got 6 entrees that are supposed to come out at once, you're a party of 6.

thanks to their arresting someone who was unhappy with their service, the whole country knows that someone thought their service sucked

RTFA. He told the Glens Falls Post-Star they weren't completely satisfied with the food and left a tip of under 10 percent. He tried to screw the server because he wasn't happy with the food. It's the owner that's pressing charges (theft of services). I can't imagine a scenario where the owner actually lost money on this, so I suspect the butthead factor's pretty high on both sides.

FWIW, the places I've worked leave the grat up to the server. (by this, I mean that I can choose to add the 18% or not, not that I can choose to add a lesser amount.) If invoked, it's broken out seperately and clearly labeled. I've only heard of it being complained about once, and then it was taken off with no further ado. Personally, I don't invoke it often, since I figure the gamble usually works out in my favor. (The exception is split checks. For some reason, people don't believe it takes 10 times as long to run 10 CCs as it does to run one. It does.)
posted by swell at 12:34 AM on September 14, 2004


Wow. Allow me to set everyone in this thread straight on this matter. We'll take the issues one at a time.

US waitstaff wages: there's a federal minimum hourly wage required for people that earn tips. It's a lot less than regular minimum wage. Used to be $2 and something. Because tipped employees are legally required to declare all their tips as income, and because the employer is required to withhold taxes from the paychecks on the basis of that reported income, it's often the case that the net is a $0 paycheck (or less) for the waitperson.

US waitpeople, taxes, and cash vs. credit tips: lots of waitpeople prefer to be tipped case because they underreport their tip income. The IRS audits and won't allow less than 10% (or so, I can't recall that exact percentage) of reported tips on gross sales. And of course in an audit all of the credit card tips must be reported. Many waitpeople report only their credit card tips even if it puts them below 10%. If they haven't been audited, they've been lucky. The IRS periodically gets serious about this. Others report all their credit tips and some set amount (10%+) as cash tips. Others just report it all, as they're supposed to. That's what I did. Many waitpeople feel their "entitled" to avoid paying the taxes they're legally obligated to pay...something which always baffled me.

US waitpeople and tipping out other employees: whether the waitperson is required (or expected) to "share" a portion of their tips with other employees like buspeople, hosts/hostesses, bartenders, etc. varies from restaurant to restaurant. The amount they have to give others is not considered income and isn't taxable.

Large parties: for a variety of reasons (that will become apparent if those at home want to role play it), parties of six or more are more work, person for person, than smaller parties are. This is counter-intuitive, I admit—one would expect a scaling efficiency instead. As it happens, though, in terms of the table service, large parties are more trouble (per person) because they tend to monopolize the server in a way that seperate smaller parties do not. Part of the reason for this is that large parties are usually not paying much attention to what they're doing—they're impossible to coordinate. Think of taking a photograph with a large number of people. And the problem is that a large party together implicitly needs to be coordinated because they (rightly) expect to be served together. So you've got the competing priorities of coordinating taking the order and serving drinks and everything along with the fact that every visit to the table is greeted by a request by someone to do something that they only just then thought of (even if you just did that for the table a minute ago). Believe me, large tables are more difficult, person for person, than smaller tables.

And because this is true, and because they don't expect that it's true, large tables are almost always a losing proposition for the waiter. It's very difficult to give the quality of service to a large table that you can give to a smaller table (even if you have the same total number of people in your section), so large tables tip less because the service is more impersonal. They also tip less because the diffused reponsibility (or large bill) works against a higher tip. And, as has been said, they're more trouble for the entire restaurant: from seating them to cooking for them. A mandatory tip of a certain amount is not the ideal solution to the problem, but it's better than the alternative. Really. For me, the mandatory tip for a large table is actually more incentive to me to provide good service because, otherwise, I'd be inclined to simply most write it off and concentrate on my other tables.

It's always been my understanding that where the large party tip is mandatory, it's legally required to be stated as such on the menu and is then a service charge. Not paying it is like not paying the bill. There is no ambiguity about this. On the other hand, contrary to NortonDC's point, in actual practice, mandatory large party service charges are not, in my experience, treated differently, accounting and tax wise, from other gratuities. Probably they should be.

Resentment against customers and vice-verse: last thread was dominated by resentful waitpeople. But I mostly disagreed with them there, and agree with jester here. It's mostly the bad waitpeople that complain about customers the most. Most of those of us that were (are) good at it, like our customers and we made lots of money. Those of us that were good at it probably continued to do it by choice. But lots of people wait tables because that's realistically the only job they can have that will pay their bills. For various reasons, some things under their control and some things not. (Also, I should mention that I only did fine-dining, which is a hell of a lot different than a pizza joint or chain restaurant. Those jobs undoudtedly suck.)

Does the system make sense? I don't know. It certainly is partly a scam for business owners to move off-books part of their finances. Certainly people seem to really misunderstand it. PP comment seemed odd to me because this really is a (sort of) market operating, and I like that. I learned a lot by making my living directly from the satisfaction of my customers and have strongly believed that anyone and everyone who works in any customer service capacity should have had that experience. It makes one responsible for the job one performs; and it reminds you who it is that is really and truly paying your salary (the customer). But PP and others here seem to be confused about whether it's mandatory or not. It is mandatory in the sense that it's not, in the US, "above and beyond". You're paying a fee for your service. It's a sort of negotiated fee, but you're still liable for it.

Career waitstaff in a Manhattan high-end restaurant can make upwards of 100K a year. A Denny's waitress is probably making not much more than she could make at a fast-food joint. It can be a profession—a very skilled profession at which one takes much pride. Or not. If you think that you're paying someone a bunch of money just to move cavier from point A to point B, then you must be going to the wrong restaurants. That is, if I just brought you a bottle of Dom Perignon or Cristal, then you don't mind tipping me $50 for doing so because you're very aware that you're getting service that's worth that amount.

A common complaint against the system is the subservience etc. I personally don't think there's anything wrong with subservience if one is getting paid for it. I also think that one should always, everywhere, treat other people with respect and as people. So I do resent the customers who are, in a word, sadistic (or whatever). But, sadist customers aside, as long as people are treated with dignity and fairly, then there's nothing wrong with paying for service and being paid for service.

On Preview: the law as I understood it back in my waiting days, was that if you're not actually doing gratuity work (such as sidework, especially before opening or after closing) then, legally, you're supposed to be paid a regular hourly minimum wage. I could be wrong about that. You're right about it being an average through the whole time that one is doing gratuity work. But, in any event, I pretty much never saw a restaurant keep seperate time cards or whatever to account for what I'm disputing. That doesn't mean they're not supposed to, though.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 12:36 AM on September 14, 2004


Sidhedevil, that's the problem. The entire article talks about it as some sort of "mandatory tip". The two words don't belong together. It's like "mandatory volunteer community service". It's either mandatory, or volunteer.

If it's mandatory, it's "18% surcharge on final bill for large groups" on the menu, shortened in a news article to "18% surcharge".

If it's optional, it's "18% group tip".

At my store, I charge $30 if you want work done overnight. It's listed as "$30 - Emegency work surcharge". I don't have it listed as "$30 - Tip for overnight service" because then it would look voluntary and very confusing. It would definately lead to constant questioning from customers, mostly "I don't think it should be that much" (already get that from cheap rushed customers, at least as a surcharge I show them the door) to the occasional "You got it done so quickly, I think you deserve more" (HA).
posted by shepd at 12:58 AM on September 14, 2004


EB - "Also, I should mention that I only did fine-dining, which is a hell of a lot different than a pizza joint or chain restaurant. Those jobs undoubtedly suck."

This was always one of my (many) reservations with the whole tipping concept. The waiter bringing me a $10 entree works just as hard as the waiter bringing me a $30 entree. Why should the second one get paid 3 times as much?

"The IRS audits and won't allow less than 10%..."

One of my favorite local music venues seems to attract customers who leave minimal tips for the waitresses. I've heard the owner griping how the IRS wouldn't believe the reported tip income and demanded on more being withheld. Since I've more than once witnessed a table of ten leave without leaving any tip at all, I've got to believe the IRS was wrong on this one. In general, certain establishments seem to attract different levels of average tipping, regardless of the service quality of the waitstaff.
posted by tdismukes at 8:36 AM on September 14, 2004


Several people here have said that waitstaff can be legally paid less than minimum wage. But, if the wages + tips come to less than minimum wage, doesn't the restaurant have to make up the difference?

And does anybody here think they should be paid more than minimum wage? Well... everyone should, I suppose, but are they more deserving than other lowly paid workers? I don't think carrying food to a table is worse than working in McDonalds or scrubbing toilets. If anything, it's better than other bottom-rung, unskilled jobs.
posted by MarkC at 9:05 AM on September 14, 2004


...it's often the case that the net is a $0 paycheck (or less) for the waitperson.

So they're working for free? How farkin' stupid do you have to be to remain in that sort of job?! A damn squeegee kid makes better money than that!
posted by five fresh fish at 9:36 AM on September 14, 2004


UPDATE, the DA dropped the charges due to the fact that the menu said gratuity and existing law requires that any "mandatory gratuity" be labled as service or surcharge on the menu.
posted by page404 at 2:55 PM on September 14, 2004


Amazing, the bile about helping people earn a decent living. Save your theoretical outrage about the social structure for your college classes and/or blog rants; give the waiter a good tip because that's how things work in this country and your stiffing a hapless waiter is not going to help change things. Jesus, does it feel good to stiff a waiter? And yes, large groups are notoriously bad tippers, for reasons that have been explained above and that I would have thought were blindingly obvious to the most cursory thought.

EB: Great comment.
posted by languagehat at 4:12 PM on September 14, 2004


This was always one of my (many) reservations with the whole tipping concept. The waiter bringing me a $10 entree works just as hard as the waiter bringing me a $30 entree. Why should the second one get paid 3 times as much?

To wait tables correctly, even in lower-end service but without a doubt in high-end service, one needs quite a few talents and learned skills. From tableside stuff to properly presenting, opening, and pouring a bottle of wine, there are skills involved. But that's only the flashy stuff. The true skills are a combination of having a very strong intuition about what your customers want (in every sense: a quiet efficient, waiter or a gregarious waiter, an "experience", help with deciding what to order...whatever) and having a very strong intuition about what's happening with every customer at every table at all times. Time and people management makes all the difference between a success and a disaster, and it's hard. That's worth paying for.

I've got to believe the IRS was wrong on this one.

When they started getting tough on this, they at first just had a universal percentage. Which, as you point out, is inevitably going to be unfair. Later, I heard that they did regional surveys (somehow). Either way, though, there's a minimum they'll believe and below that you're still liable for taxes. Doesn't seem fair. But for a very long time, waitpeople were getting away with paying zero taxes on their income. Which wasn't fair, either.

But, if the wages + tips come to less than minimum wage, doesn't the restaurant have to make up the difference?

Yes. But that was never necessary anywhere I ever worked. It takes very little to make it over the real minimum wage.

So they're working for free? How farkin' stupid do you have to be to remain in that sort of job?! A damn squeegee kid makes better money than that!

Remember that when we say that the paycheck is zero, we're not saying the server isn't going home with cash every night from their tips. But the IRS requires employers to withhold taxes from wages including tips, and in so doing, there's often not enough pay at $2 an hour to cover it.

Again, I don't know how it goes at the crappier jobs. I've always sort of thought the people there still make decent money merely by virtue of greater quantity of customers. But the whole seven or so years I was waiting tables, at nice restaurants, I and my fellow waitpeople made good money. It's a job with almost no future and limited longevity, usually no benefits and no job security. But you can make a lot of money. So it's easy to get stuck doing it longer than you should.

LH: thanks.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 6:32 PM on September 14, 2004


EB - That's one long explanation that was well worth every paragraph. Waiting tables is a lot more than just "take plate from point A to point B."

Gratuitously ripped off from my own site:
Being a waiter is far, far harder than it appears from the other side of the table. "How could they forget to fill the water? How could you not know that my salad needs pepper?"

Well, because all those details that you take for granted are the little things that slip your mind while you're trying to cash out a check while making sure you have the right Merlot for the four-top downstairs and not forgetting that a table of 6 just sat down and doesn't even have menus yet.

Half your time you spend trying to egg the chefs to cook your table's food before the next waiter's. Even though you clearly were before him, and "look, I even wrote the time on the check like you asked." For the client, the pattern to the order of events is long eroded into their minds. The simple fact is, most people have been served food for a lot longer than they've been serving it.

Then there's the fact that you are constantly standing. Either shifting back and forth while a party decides what their appetizer will be, or running up and down stairs, usually with extremely hot dishes or worse, bowls of anything liquid.

By the end of the night, sitting down doesn't make the pain go away like when you've been walking around town shopping for a couple of hours. The pain is still there, it's just not getting any worse while you sit.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:45 PM on September 14, 2004


A Mandatory Gratuity Is Just a Tip, and Thus Not Mandatory, a Prosecutor Says

As it turns out, a tip is just a tip, even if you put "mandatory" in front of it.

Charges were dropped yesterday against a Long Island man who was arrested last week for failing to leave a required 18 percent gratuity at Soprano's Italian and American Grill in Lake George, N.Y.

The Warren County district attorney, Kathleen B. Hogan, said that she had determined that the man, Humberto A. Taveras, could not be forced to pay a gratuity.

Ms. Hogan said, "A tip or gratuity is discretionary, and that's what the courts have found."

But the dispute over a tip of a few dollars still cost Mr. Taveras, 41, of Roslyn Heights, several hundred dollars in legal fees.

"Basically, they stated that you can't enforce a gratuity; it's voluntary," said Mr. Taveras, who was on a train going home from Manhattan yesterday evening while his lawyer completed paperwork in Lake George, 60 miles north of Albany...


Incidentally, the following Melbourne Herald Sun story has one of the worst typos I've ever seen:

Small tip, big row

CHARGES have been dropped against a man arrested in an American restaurant for not leaving a big enough tip.

After researching the case against Humberto Taveras, authorities said yesterday that he could be forced to pay a gratuity.


(Emphasis added. Those little words will get you every time.)
posted by languagehat at 6:01 PM on September 15, 2004


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