Vickroy: Tipping point: Do servers deserve 25 percent?
By Donna Vickroy email@example.com Twitter: @dvickroy October 31, 2012 2:34PM
Emily Bohn, 28, tends bar at Maple Tree Inn in Blue Island Thursday, October 23, 2012. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media
Topping out tips
About 21 million Americans eat at full-service restaurants every day, according to Michael Lynn, professor of consumer behavior and marketing at the Cornell School of Hotel Administration. Ninety-eight percent of those diners leave a tip. The tips amount to more than $20 billion a year, writes Lynn, the nation’s leading authority on tipping.
In addition to compiling all kinds of data on why people tip and how they do it, Lynn has put together a booklet advising the nation’s servers of ways to boost tips. Here’s the short list:
1: Use makeup (for waitresses)
2: Wear something unusual
3: Introduce yourself by name
4: Squat down next to the table
5: Stand physically close to the customer
6: Touch the customer
8: Compliment the customers’ food choices
9: Repeat the order back to the customer
10: Build the check with suggestive selling
11: Entertain the customer
12: Forecast good weather
13: Write “Thank You” on the check
14: Write a patriotic message on the check
15: Draw a picture on the check
16: Call the customer by name
17: Use tip trays with credit card insignia
18: Give the customer candy
19: Provide tipping guidelines
20: Play songs with pro-social lyrics
Updated: December 2, 2012 6:15AM
No, that’s not a “Criminal Minds” character. It refers to the upwardly crawling standard for tipping restaurant servers.
Time was, a 15 percent tip was considered fair and decent. Then the standard climbed to 20 percent.
Now, word is, a good tip is 25 percent of the tab.
We’re also reading that there are movements to ensure this new standard takes hold. According to news reports, most of the campaigning is taking place in New York and California. But it’s hardly news to some diners in these parts.
I recently asked Facebook friends what their tipping point is. As expected, many said 15 to 20 percent. But I was surprised by the number who said they easily tip 25, even 30 percent on a restaurant bill — if they feel the service was good. Some said they tip on takeout orders, too.
Granted, not all restaurant patrons are so generous. Many commented that with the rising cost of restaurant meals, the tips already have been boosted.
I decided to ask some servers what they think about working a job that requires them to be dependent on the benevolence of their customers. They don’t seem to see it that way. To many servers, their livelihood is dependent on the kind of service they deliver.
Emily Bohn, a waitress and bar manager at the Maple Tree Inn in Blue Island, said there is a perception among the public that waitressing is a stopgap job.
“But a lot of us consider this our career. We really strive to hone our craft,” she said.
Do they deserve a tip that is one-fourth of the tab?
“Absolutely,” she said. “If you can afford to go out and pay for a meal, you should be able to tip.”
Many, she added, already tip 25 percent and more.
Bohn said Chicago is a good city for servers.
“It’s a tribute to our blue-collar roots. People who work hard for their money appreciate others who do the same,” she said.
What a lot of people don’t realize is that waiters and waitresses don’t get to keep the entire tip. They have to share with bussers and bartenders, Bohn said. Some restaurants deduct the fee a credit card company charges from the servers’ tips.
Servers also are expected to claim a certain percentage for tips on their taxes. So when a diner gives less than 15 percent, a server actually takes a loss on the meal, she said.
Wouldn’t it be easier to simply collect a standard wage instead of having to rely on other people’s generosity?
No, she said, because tipping is a motivator.
“It encourages servers to excel at their craft,” she said.
Plus, she said, the practice of tipping is so entrenched in society that changing the system would lead to chaos and confusion.
Nancy Hunter has been a waitress at Capri restaurant in Palos Heights since it opened nine years ago. Before that, she worked for 30 years at Dunlap’s restaurant in Palos Heights.
Waitressing, she said, is a tough job. It’s physically demanding and requires you to always be on your game.
“You have to love people to do this job well,” she said.
For the most part, she said, waitresses at Capri see 20 percent tips. Occasionally, someone will receive 25 percent or more.
“We get a lot of regulars who really appreciate what we do,” she said. “People like it when you remember what they like to drink, what they like to eat. It personalizes the experience for them.”
But there are also those diners who tip less than 20 percent, sometimes less than 15 percent.
“You can’t take it personally; you just have to move on,” Hunter said.
Being able to read a customer is an important part of the job. A good server, she said, can tell which customer wants conversation and attention and which would prefer to be left alone, with minimal contact.
She said servers at Capri give 15 percent of their tips to the bus help and 5 percent to the bartender.
Andrea Bailey, business professor at Moraine Valley Community College in Palos Hills, said she is not surprised to learn that many consumers are becoming more generous with tips, despite the struggling economy.
“Americans are more generous than we’re often given credit for,” she said. “We donate a lot to charity, and when we can help people, we do. Giving a tip is a nice, easy way to help someone.”
Bailey, who often tips more than 20 percent for good service, posed the question to her Introduction to Business class. The majority said if good service is provided, they will leave a good tip, she said.
“Many recognize that a lot of people survive on tips,” she said. “A tip is a small way to show appreciation for hard work.”
Bailey said while she is not a fan of tips jars at fast-food restaurants because of the expressed expectation, many of her students said they contribute regularly.
Some of her students who also are servers said they prefer receiving tips to earning the standard minimum wage, even if their income is uncertain. Most of the time, they told her, they come out ahead.