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Anna G. Larson, Published December 11 2013

Tip-top: Tipping service workers can be confusing

Fargo - Alyssa Hanson doesn’t mind complicated orders and special requests. It’s all worth it, usually, when she sees her tip.

Hanson works part time as a server in Fargo and makes $4.86 an hour before tips. Like more than 700,000 Americans who work as bartenders and servers, the 22-year-old Minnesota State University Moorhead student relies on tips for the bulk of her income.

“I think tipping changes with every person. One table might leave you a generous tip, while another will leave whatever change they found in their pocket,” Hanson says.

The minimum wage for tipped employees in North Dakota is $4.86. In Minnesota, it’s between $5.25 and $6.15, depending on the size of the employer. Tipped employees are usually people who regularly receive more than $30 per month in tips, according to the United States Department of Labor.

From servers and bartenders to baristas and housekeepers, the list of who to tip is endless, and it’s often confusing for people, says Peggy Post, the director of the Emily Post Institute.

“It’s part of our culture to tip at a lot of places,” she says. “A tip is part of a restaurant worker’s income. In this country, tipping in a restaurant is really part of the deal.”

One theory about how the word tip came to be dates back hundreds of years ago. Stagecoaches in Britain would send someone ahead to a pub to leave money before the service “To Insure Promptness,” a tip, Post says.

“It’s morphed over the years. It’s generally a way to say thank you,” she says.

Not everyone agrees that servers and the like should be tipped. To people who ask why restaurants can’t just pay their staff more, Post says prices at restaurants would likely go up, and “it’d probably come out the same anyway.”

“Employees are taxed on their tips and wages. Unless the system changes, those tips are pretty well expected and hopefully well earned,” she says.

Ali Doele, a 25-year-old server in Minneapolis, says she earns every penny that’s left to her. She was a server in the Fargo-Moorhead area for four years before making the move to Minneapolis a little more than a year ago. She currently serves at a restaurant in the Uptown area.

On top of typical duties like taking food orders and refilling drinks, Doele says some patrons have peculiar demands that they expect will be fulfilled. She recalls an especially difficult mother who, among other things, requested that no cheese be visible on her son’s plate.

“I was unaware there was invisible cheese,” Doele jokes. “I don’t mind a challenging table. It can be a fun change of pace, just as long as you tip me.”

Her goal is typically a 20 percent tip, which falls in line with Post’s suggestion of tipping 15 to 20 percent at restaurants. If the service is extraordinary, she says people can tip even more. If service is sub-par, Post says people can cut back on the tip, but they should think twice about totally stiffing the server.

She points out that tips are often split among the server and other restaurant staff and advises people to first think about why they’re upset. For instance, the kitchen could be short-staffed, so the food takes longer. If the server is gracious and attentive, their tip shouldn’t be cut, Post says.

If a server is indifferent, rude or ungracious, Post says it’s acceptable to cut back on the tip but drastic to totally omit it. Although awkward, it’s more constructive to talk to the server and let them know why the tip is small, she says.

“Whatever you do, don’t make a scene. Some people like to make a big scene for various reasons. Say or do whatever as discreetly as you can,” Post says.

If people have a major complaint, it’s best to calmly talk with a manager so they can fix the problem, she says.

Above all, Post urges people to be kind to servers and other people who are making sure they enjoy their meal.

“A thank you is so important,” she says.

Some customers Hanson serves will personally thank her as they leave the restaurant, and it’s one of the kindest things they can do for her.

“I will get a few people that come up to me if they see me when they are leaving and say thank you. For the most part, they also leave an accurate tip,” she says.

Since she started serving a year and a half ago, Hanson says her compassion has increased toward other servers and people in similar jobs.

“I know what it’s like and how it’s difficult when four different tables want something all at the same time,” she says.

Doele, too, says she’s extra generous when she’s dining out, at a bar or getting a manicure.

“I always tip well, and it probably comes from a selfish place, but I do keep my tipping karma on point,” she says.

While she’s had “sweet angels” who’ve left her extraordinary tips like $100 on a $62 tab, Doele says some people don’t appear to understand that tips are most of her income. The worst, she says, is when someone tries to show off by paying for a whole table, only to leave her a very small tip. But, any tip is better than no tip, Doele says.

“I respect my tables. They respect me. They can tell I’m genuine, and I like what I do,” she says.

Some people might not know how much to tip and therefore don’t tip as well as they should, Post says. If it’s a close friend who’s under tipping, she says it’s acceptable to discreetly mention something to them if you’re comfortable doing so, but otherwise, say nothing.

“Some people just don’t know, you might enlighten them,” Post says.

Another option is leaving extra money at the table, “especially if you’ve been there (as a server) and had that happen. Do it out of the kindness of your heart,” she says.

Of course, budget comes into play when tipping. Post says to make choices that work within a budget. For example, instead of tipping your hairstylist with money, you could bring him or her a homemade gift.

“It doesn’t always have to be money. Telling the person’s boss how much you appreciate their service is another really nice thing to do,” Post says.

Servers Doele and Hanson say they appreciate kind words from patrons and always hope for a tip that matches the sentiment. Doele sees it as continuing a cycle of prompt, friendly service and tips that echo it.

“If you receive outstanding service, tip accordingly,” she says. “It will keep the good service going to other tables.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Anna G. Larson at (701) 241-5525

How much to tip

FARGO – Knowing how much and who to tip can be confusing.

Etiquette experts at the Emily Post Institute compiled tipping guidelines to take the guesswork out of giving.

The guidelines are merely suggestions, and Peggy Post, director of the Emily Post Institute, urges people to use their judgment.

• Servers at sit-down restaurants: 15 to 20 percent of the pre-tax bill amount

• Buffet servers: 10 percent

• Take out: No obligation; tip 10 percent for extra service like curb delivery or for a large, complicated order.

• Home delivery: 10 to 15 percent of the bill, $2 to $5 for pizza delivery depending on the size of the order and difficulty of delivery

• Bartenders: $1 to $2 per drink or 15 to 20 percent of the tab

• Tip jars: No obligation. Tip occasionally if your server or barista provides a little something extra or if you’re a regular customer.

• Valet: $2 to $5 when the car is returned to you

• Bellhop: $2 for the first bag, $1 per additional bag, and $2 to $3 for each additional service, such as room delivery

• Housekeeper at a hotel: $2 to $5 daily marked with a note that reads “Housekeeping – thank you.”

• Taxi driver: 15 to 20 percent of the fare, minimally $1; $2 for the first bag, $1 for the second

• Salon services (haircut, manicure, etc.): 15 to 20 percent of the bill

Source: The Emily Post Institute