Service of Tips

May 13th, 2010

Categories: Accommodation, Appreciation, Gratitude, Restaurant, Service, Tips


I’ve wanted to touch on the topic of tips since April when Susannah Cahalan wrote about them in The New York Post. In “Tip-jar madness takes city,” she pointed out that tip cups are cropping up all over the place where we’d not before seen them-at hot dog stands at baseball games, in movie theatres by the popcorn, soda and candy counter, even at stores with grocery baggers. Nobody takes bags to a car for customers because most city people don’t have or use cars for grocery shopping. And in the suburbs, people bring their heavy bags to their car in carts.

I began to look for tip cups and notice them now on deli counters all year long. We’d see them only at holiday time before.

Cahalan wrote “New Yorkers are typically more generous than the rest of the nation-paying an average gratuity of 18 percent, versus the nationwide 15 percent.” At the end of the article, she provided an estimate of tips that New Yorkers give a year–$3,333.79. I haven’t totaled mine, but I disagree with some of the figures on which her total is based-which is a demographic issue. I don’t hire a nanny so the $777 allocated doesn’t apply but there is no money listed for a cleaning person.

doormanWe give far more than $30 to our building superintendent and each doorman at holiday time, but we don’t eat out three times a week anymore so I doubt that we give $1,170 to restaurant wait staff. I prefer walking and taking the subway–the fastest way to get around town–so I doubt I tip cab drivers $308.88 in 12 months. And I never go to the hairdresser for a haircut only, so it’s hard to tell what part of the tip I give relates to the $34.23 Cahalan allocated, but this seems on the low side. In fact, the proportion of tips for waiters vs. say, a doorman you see daily appears out of whack and points to another reason the population is becoming increasingly fat.

winecasesThere are times when I enjoy giving a tip. One is when I buy a case or two of wine at Trader Joe on East 14th Street [which is easy to do as you can pay $36 for a dozen pretty amazing bottles]. There are volunteer staffers with hand trucks to walk the cases–cheerfully–to your car even if it’s parked a few blocks away. They won’t even let you load the boxes into the trunk.

Another is when the store has kitty litter only in 50 lb bags, not the usual 20 lb ones I prefer. I’m grateful for help lugging the bag to my car and pleased to thank with more than a smile.

A former boss told me that she left a restaurant near Lincoln Center that had the worst service she’d ever encountered and as she walked up Broadway, the offending waiter raced after her to tell her she’d forgotten to add a tip on her credit card receipt. She was outspoken and you can imagine what her response was.

taxiWhat about cab or ambulette drivers who provide harrowing rides?


On the other side of the coin, I was appalled by an overstuffed 20-something brat who complained about the tip rule that’s clearly marked on menus at most restaurants in the city. For parties over six or eight, management automatically adds 15 percent to the bill. His gripe: “I paid $100 for my meal” [and given this was some years ago, make that $150 today]. “Why should I pay any more than that?” Guess this miser thought waiters in expensive restaurants work for free. The rule was made due to such stingy, self-indulgent people.

apartmenthouseMy mother’s next door neighbor was constantly annoyed because the super at their apartment building dragged his feet when she called him to fix something. She noticed that the same man came in a trice when my mom asked for help. Mom told her a million times to give the super a tip when he’d worked at her place and she’d say, “I only tip at Christmas.” No wonder she often had to wait until then to get action.

For a haircut, meal or manicure, what percentage do you tip? Have you noticed tip cups in new places where you work and live? Do you feel intimidated into give tips when you see a cup or even when service is poor?


13 Responses to “Service of Tips”

  1. Ann L Said:

    Hair, nails usually 10% of total. Meals generally 20% of total. However, only 10% of total if the service has been awful. I figure the tip has to be divided and I don’t want to go totally cheap if the bartender is expecting something.

    At one point in my life, I spent a lot of time in Japan. The one big wonderful thing I liked….tipping is considered an insult…no tipping anywhere at any time. It was really neat. Yes, we could do it here too but it would be built into the service somehow..whoops a cup of coffe is four dollars instead of two….and so on and so forth.

    I remember when I decided to live in the country full time, what a joy it was to have extra money during the holiday season…no doormen, no super, no this one or that one. In the country, you give little gifts to the hairdresser, the art instructor, the administrative assistant…it is delightful and more in the spirit of the holiday.

  2. JBS Said:

    No tin cups anywhere in the Twin Cities–except for beggars, or occasionally for musicians at Target Center…where they play basketball or have rock concerts or circuses…or near the theaters downtown.

    We tip musicians only if they play something just for us, but not otherwise. There used to be a favorite nice restaurant… now closed, due to the economy … with a great piano player, and we always tipped him because he always played music we loved and the Michigan fight song for me … he went there too. We never give money to beggars, but we give a lot to charity.

    We tip 20 percent in nice restaurants and that’s about what I give my manicurist and hairdresser.

    We tip 15-17 percent in less expensive restaurants, like Perkins (do you have that around there?) It’s a pancake house that has branched out beyond pancakes into hamburgers, sandwiches, salads, omelets, etc.

  3. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Ann L, Know what you mean about the holiday tip budget in the city. We keep a chart so as to remember what we gave each person last year and the year before to determine if we should increase the amount.

    Doormen consider tips as part of their compensation and the deal is that if you can afford to live in a building with a doorman, you give him/her a tip before you go out for dinner or buy another pair of shoes. Trouble is, there are far too many people who don’t understand that or care.

    JBS: Music, of course! What a wonderful person to tip–the pianist at a favorite restaurant that provides live music. I am so sorry that such a lovely place is out of business.

  4. ASK Said:

    I never put money in tip cups…anywhere. And the outdoor food cart near my office has finally removed theirs, and I guess not just because of me.

    We do overtip the waiter in our favorite restaurant where my husband and I eat brunch almost every Saturday; he’s friendly and a great source of local gossip. I also tend to tip 20% to my hairdresser.

    We have a communal holiday tipping “pot” in our co-op (contributions based on apartment size), but for special building people who do special favors (like unclog a drain 10 minutes after we call down to request help) we always give extra. I know too many residents who have had to wait longer to get their drains done.

  5. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I know a young couple who after buying their first co-op boasted about giving homemade pound cake as a holiday gift to the apt. staff, noting, when told that the staff counted on cash, that they couldn’t afford that. I wonder how long they waited to get attention when things went wrong in their apt.

    Now co-ops in the city, anyway, require so much in cash reserves that my guess is that money is not an issue with new tenants but also that many of the people who live in these co-ops today couldn’t buy even a studio apartment with such requirements in combination with the prices, even deeply discounted.


    I forgot to answer your question: I am not familiar with the Perkins chain. Sounds like my kind of place!

  6. ASK Said:

    Once upon a time, there was a Perkins pancake house in Asbury Park, NJ; they made the best potato pancakes served with applesauce, sour cream, and bacon. Yum! Wonder if the restaurant is still there?

  7. Horace Pennysworth Said:


    I enthusiastically endorse tipping as a custom, but with the caveat that a tip should be for service rendered cheerfully in a superior manner. We live in an egalitarian, but equally well, a capitalist society. If one wants something better than egalitarian service, which I most definitely do, then one has to pay for it. That is what capitalism and tipping is all about.

    I try, not always successfully, either because of intimidation (by a cab driver, for example) or disagreement with others, to vary the amount of my tip in proportion to the quality of the service I have received. On fortunately rare occasions, I have even left no tip at all.

    My pet tipping peeves are:

    People who are cheap and don’t tip properly. More that once, I have upped my tip well beyond 20% to compensate for the 10% friends had thought was sufficient in a restaurant.

    Fellow guests who are difficult and demanding in a restaurant and don’t tip extra for having imposed on the people serving them. Sometimes I’ve been so embarrassed by their behavior, that I’ve even avoided going back to an establishment for that reason alone.

    Thanks for writing about this controversial subject.


  8. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I have been with people whose dietary restrictions give extra work for wait staff and kitchen, which I understand, but sometimes instead of being grateful, they are whiney– as though it is the restaurant’s fault that a dish contains, say, garlic or salt. A sauce that takes hours to make can’t be whipped together at prime time without such basic ingredients but you can just hear them complain, can’t you?

    I also hate sitting at a table while someone who is trying to show off—and can eat everything—asks to know every single ingredient in several dishes and then asks the waiter to repeat the information.

    Ordering waiters around isn’t an American custom, but it is perfectly acceptable in certain countries. Sitting in a US restaurant with someone from one of those countries while they point, and in military fashion, yell, “Bring water,” or “More butter,” makes me both cringe and decide to give extra at tip time.

  9. David Reich Said:

    Tipping can be such a slippery slope. In restaurants, if the service (not the food) is especially bad, I’ll leave a small tip — 5% — and then have a chat with the manager on the way out. If the manager doesn’t seem to care, that’s my last visit to that place.

    Overtipping can be a problem too. Some friends of ours are teachers who used to work as waiters during the summer break, so I can understand their empathy with the wait staff. But to add a 25% tip to a $175 – $200 tab for 4 gets pricey. I found a solution. Rather than give my half in cash, I now use my credit card. This way I can put my own tip (18 – 20%) and my friends can do whatever they want.

  10. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I like the idea of using two credit cards, whether I want to compensate the staff for an ugly performance by the other couple or reflect my dissatisfaction with the service when the restaurant choice wasn’t mine and I don’t want to make a big deal and cause the people who recommended the place feel uncomfortable.

  11. NenaghGal Said:

    We don’t tip in Ireland so I’m completely out of touch with this in the last three years. It’s kind of nice in a way but difficult when I get back stateside. I’m sure I end up overtipping!

  12. EAM Said:

    I always tip 20% for cosmetic services and I bring my manicurist (every other week I’ve gone to her for almost 18 years) a cup of coffee since I know she’s always backed up and cannot leave. I also now go to my hair stylist’s home for haircuts because it’s cheaper and then I don’t tip her.

    I’ve noticed tip cups almost EVERYWHERE and I don’t really like to tip at Starbucks and other coffee places where they’re being paid to get you drinks etc. I occasionally give a tip when I feel like it but no I don’t tip when the service is sub par.

  13. Lucrezia Said:

    Lucky me, no doorman! If I had to worry about it, I feel a fat tip for the holidays makes a better impact than a couple of dollars strewn here and there over a long period of time – and a larger package if the service has been above average. My super has saved my bacon over the years, and is remembered accordingly. Since I live in a building notorious for its stinginess with the help, I get treated like visiting royalty most of the tme. A stay in Egypt made me a firm believer in Baksheesh. The interest dwarfs that offered by banks.

    I rarely go by percentages in restaurants other than 20% or more for a pleasant stay. I am not averse to seriously undertipping when ignored and/or made to wait for no reason. Some people are in favor of leaving nothing. They may be right, and should I ever be offended, may go that route if for no better reason than to see what happens. I can count on one hand the times I have not been well treated either here or abroad. The first time resulted in decibels heard all around the room. Got lazy the second time & took revenge by leaving a minuscule amount on the table, thus saving both money and temper.

    I am happy to help fill the tin cup at the local Starbucks. It’s surprising they and similar establishments haven’t thought of this sooner. It’s an ill paying job and a wonder that anyone can live off the salary. The hours are horrific as well.

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