Service of Miserly Tips

June 1st, 2017

Categories: Etiquette, Restaurant, Tips

Washington Post columnist Carolyn Hax reprimanded a couple who complained about their daughter and son-in-law. They meet for a meal once a month at a restaurant halfway between them and their son-in-law embarrassed them when they caught him giving an additional tip to their waiter and apologizing for the table.

The incident resonated when Erica Martell sent me the column because I’ve been there, though I was never caught; I didn’t apologize to the waiter and it didn’t involve my parents. Either my husband or I would slip our waiter extra money to adjust miserly tips left by a generations-old family friend.

Back to the mother who described to Hax her conversation with her daughter the next day: “She told me….[that] our restaurant habits are not very thoughtful. I demanded specifics, and she told me that we split an entree and order water only, so the bill is really low. She also said we are demanding of the wait staff, which is especially bad because we aren’t giving the establishment much money to make up for it.”

The mother said they normally tip 10 percent, 15 if the service is good “maybe 20 percent” [the amount her daughter recommended] “if they washed our car while we were eating or something.” She concluded that she didn’t feel like she was “dining incorrectly,” thought it was rude to “correct our behavior behind our backs” and no longer wanted to meet her kids for dinner.

Hax told the complainants that they were “bad restaurant guests,” noting that a 10 percent tip was decades outdated. “And, hereafter: Always be mindful of the price point and service level of a restaurant before making demands of the staff. You can send back an order that was somehow botched at any level, from Mickey D’s on up, but you don’t fuss over the garnish on a $7.99 entree.”

About the daughter and son-in-law, Hax also suggested that the mother “take a moment to appreciate their sensitivity both to the staff and to your feelings.”

Have you dined with others who leave stingy tips or in other ways embarrass you either by drilling waitstaff or by being far too picky and demanding, making the life of restaurant workers a misery? Do you side with the parents or the adult kids in this instance?

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23 Responses to “Service of Miserly Tips”

  1. Hank Goldman Said:

    Wow. You sure know how to bring up controversial topics!

    There are some friends that insist on splitting 50-50, no matter who orders what! Other friends calculate down to the penny who had what. Some tip 15% no matter how much the service was really worth; others do 20%. Very few are stingy.

    Incidentally, the term, tip, really stands for, I am told, to ensure promptness! And it used to be given prior to the meal for service! Isn’t that weird? To be served first you would put money in the tip jar!

    In many European countries the tip is automatically placed on the check for the meal. I have noticed that now there are suggestions, of the percentage to tip, with the amount clearly written on the check.

    I think the fairest is to split the bill at a large table, and let everyone tip as they might want to.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Hank,

    I knew a woman who hated going to restaurants with her uncle because he greased palms all over the place before they sat down. She thought it was crass, but clearly, he believed he was ensuring good service and no doubt he was if the amounts were big enough which it sounded like they were.

    When I split the bill I ask the others what they are planning to give. If I think it is too much or too little, I adjust accordingly. Usually, though, it sounds just right.

  3. ASK Said:

    Generally, when I dine out with friends, we just share the check evenly. If one person eats or drinks significantly more, he or she covers the tip alone. If one person insists that each pay their own way to the penny, that person is not really going to be invited again — too much of a hassle. The whole point is to enjoy each other’s company, not to quibble over a few dollars and/or cents.

    This mother sounds like a real pain…she is no longer going to dine out with her daughter and son-in-law over a disagreement about restaurant behavior? Her defensive posture sounds as if she’s already aware of her skinflint habits.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:

    ASK,

    Some people are never happy and this mother sounds like one of those….she’d have complaints about the plate of food she divided with her husband just as she whined about her children’s advice turning it into a gripe.

    I remember the reaction of a friend to another friend’s grumble that she’d not heard from her daughter on Mother’s Day until 10 pm when the kid FINALLY called. He said, “We’re happy to hear from the kids whenever they call.” Seems like that attitude and approach would make life happier for all concerned!

  5. EAM Said:

    Hank, a controversial topic indeed! People are entitled to leave what they choose but my former co-worker moonlighted as a waitress and she told me often that she had to supplement her tips with her own money to pay other staff (bus boys etc.) because of poor tips or on nights when pasta was half price. And, this is an upscale NJ restaurant. I remember sitting down at Josie’s, and I had a coupon. I handed it to her and told her “Don’t worry, I’ll tip you on the full price.” Waitresses still have to work just as hard when there are promotions, they deserve a decent tip. I think the European way is better because it’s included in the price and you don’t need to fuss over it.

  6. ASK Said:

    Just as an aside, I had a friend whose father was a tightwad and whose mother loved to eat out. When Mom insisted, he would go out to eat with her, BUT he would order a glass of water and a bowl of soup while Mom would order an appetizer, salad, and entrée with a lobster tail, asking the waiter to bring everything at once with an extra plate. Then while he ate his soup, she would serve her meal to both. Both were happy…

  7. Lucrezia Said:

    Under tipping and causing grief to the staff, equal bad manners, and usually have consequences at the diners expense, should he/she revisit the premises. I have been fortunate not having to dine with anyone fitting that description in recent memory, and swiftly learned to avoid such company in the distant past.

    The situation works two ways. While the “guest” has obligations, so does the “host.” Bad service deserves a minuscule tip, which points out that one has not forgotten, but is displeased with treatment received.

    Condolences to the children in the above story, and congratulations for their refusal to follow so miserable an example.

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:

    EAM,

    You point to a disconnect that many people overlook: With specials on the menu your bargain is another person’s big loss–the waitstaff’s as well as the business owner’s. The hope is that some don’t buy the special and that regardless, they order a few drinks, dessert and coffee to up the tab. I admit it doesn’t occur to me to tip based on the usual price of a dish.

    What a great friend you have which doesn’t surprise me as birds of a feather….! She works to make extra money and digs in to her money to share with others at the restaurant to make up for a shortfall in tips while you tip according to the original price. Admirable.

  9. Jeanne Byington Said:

    ASK,

    The mother balanced things so it was a win-win…Any extreme is irritating. Sharing a meal with someone who orders everything in sight, leaving most to take home in various doggy bags–that is also annoying.

  10. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Lucrezia,

    That was what happened, I think, with the family in question: They’d meet at the same place so they were known, which is one more reason, along with the fact that they knew better, that the younger couple tried to make up for the parents.

    If the service is lousy, the tip should reflect it. The recipient in many cases doesn’t get it or he/she would change attitude or jobs.

  11. Hank Goldman Said:

    Oh boy. Now you bring up another topic, Jeanne. With other couples dining out with us, one doesn’t want to feel cheap though! But tips should be voluntary. Just the other day in a low-cost Chinese restaurant the other couple’s husband yelled out to me what he thought was right. F—k him! I will give what I think is right… In this case he was way too low. The service was very, very, very attentive. Plus it was a neighborhood joint, where I am known, and I like the crew there, and I guess somehow they do remember who leaves more on the table!

  12. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Hank,

    Of course people know who does and doesn’t tip them–regulars like you especially! Amazing how some take for granted that people serve them at a restaurant forgetting that this is how the servers make a living.

  13. Hank Goldman Said:

    Dear EAM.

    I couldn’t agree more that tipping nicely for good service is the correct way to go… The busboys and girls work HARD in lots of places and I realize that tips are spiraled down to other staff. I’d rather be generous, except if the service is lacking. Lately I have not found that to be so. STAFFS are extra friendly. Maybe because I am now a senior???

  14. ASK Said:

    @Hank Goldman

    According to a recent article in WSJ, restaurant dining is way down, which may explain the extra-friendly staffs.

  15. Jeanne Byington Said:

    ASK,

    I think you’ve hit on the reason. In fact, I saw that article and was thinking of writing a post about it.

    If anything, in my experience Hank, I’ve found that some people are often NOT very welcoming to older people, which is nothing new. I have lists of stories starting in the 80s and 90s when we’d go out to dinner with my mother.

  16. EAM Said:

    Jeanne,
    My friend was required to pay them out of HER tips. I think for a reputable and well-known establishment, the restaurant should pay the lower wait staff better so it doesn’t fall to the waitress. I don’t remember her hourly but it was low and she was required to work Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s or her job would’ve been in jeopardy. Anyone who thinks being a waiter is easy should try it for a day. I’d be done within 2 hours. But I digress…

  17. Jeanne Byington Said:

    EAM,

    The entire financial structure of a restaurant would have to change, which wouldn’t be a bad thing. Very expensive restaurants have more wiggle room. I don’t remember the precise charge I reported in a previous post that a friend’s son paid–in the $350/pp range not counting liquid refreshment and if it hadn’t been for multiple requests for rolls they would have left hungry–but such a restaurant could pay more to low level help. But where margins are tighter it would be harder.

    I bet your adrenalin would carry you along for more than a few hours if you were busy but simply hanging around…the time just standing still… would drag you down. I could never do the giant tray on my shoulder that held five plates bit….it wouldn’t make it to the holding station. Next, I wouldn’t remember if you ordered the pancakes or the kippers. The work is Very hard and to succeed, you can’t let your personal life or aches and pains show for one second.

  18. JBS Said:

    We’ve had a couple who left such a stingy tip when we dined with them that my husband went back to the table and left some more money for the waiter.

    With our son, he has raised our tips significantly from the 15 percent that my father suggested (when I left for college), to 20 percent, which he insists we leave even in the most casual restaurant. While we occasionally left 20 percent in the past when the service was extraordinary, we now leave 20 percent for even regular service. I’d be interested to know whether others have found this percentage to be “normal.”

  19. Jeanne Byington Said:

    JBS,

    I don’t know about others, but I end up giving 20 percent these days–twice the 8.875% NYC tax plus some–unless I am displeased with the service. If at an inexpensive place where I’ve overstayed I give more even if I’ve had only a grilled cheese sandwich.

    For years 15 percent was the norm. I’m not sure when that changed.

  20. hb Said:

    You pricked one of my soft spots here. I tip selectively. If service is good, I’m generous – over 20%. If service is bad, I’m stingy – as low as 0% and a comment to the manager. However, unfortunately, I’m also prejudiced.

    I do not tolerate people who are stingy by nature or in practice, and can become quite unpleasant in their company. This has caused disruptions to our domestic tranquility, and occasionally, our foreign as well, as I seldom care to give such people a second chance. Once around, and that’s it for me. Of course, this makes me difficult to include in meals out.

  21. Jeanne Byington Said:

    hb,

    I must have selective memory as with rare exceptions–the one I mention in the post being it, pretty sure–my friends and colleagues are generous. It appears that over years the amount people tip has increased. The folks I fault the most are those who happily pay $hundreds for a meal and balk at paying an appropriate tip.

  22. JBS Said:

    My grandson got a job at an expensive Twin Cities restaurant after his senior year of high school as a host, later graduating to waiter. His tips are extraordinary, at least to my mind, although he does have to share small portions of it with other staff, such as the bus persons, hosts, etc.

    He’s now working during the school year at an equally nice restaurant in the town where he goes to college. (He graduates next year, do you believe that???) Anyway, he earns as much as $200 in a single shift, especially on special days, like the Mother’s Day brunch for example. If nothing else, that has brought home the importance of tips to waiters, especially for college students. (Of course, I tend to believe he is an extraordinary waiter, and I’ll bet I’m right.)

  23. Jeanne Byington Said:

    JBS,

    You are SO RIGHT that a great waiter often benefits by better tips. Although this doesn’t have to do precisely with waitstaff, it is related to service and how it affects a customer’s mood and desire to part with additional funds.

    This morning we had no electricity at the house so we couldn’t make coffee or tea or toast…I went to a nearby deli that I usually avoid as staff attitude is usually grumpy, service slow and prices sky high. Today was no different. And it didn’t appear to be a “town and gown” situation as the grouch behind the counter had the same blank, unwelcoming stare for the people ahead of me, who were clearly locals, and the man behind me, who looked like an affluent weekender. The muffins and coffee I brought home were tasty, but I said to Homer, “Unless in an emergency as today, in a million years I wouldn’t suggest returning there for a treat, which is a shame.” The new owners remodeled the place and added tables outside. I did not give anything to the tip jar. The cashier moved at the speed of a slug, I had to pour my own coffees and the muffins were in a basket by the cash register. Like hb, I refuse to reward an unwelcoming attitude–it’s not my fault that she’s having a bad day– and sour behavior.

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