Omnivore - Do you tip worth a damn?

Tammy Joyner had an interesting front-page article about tipping in yesterday's Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

By now, it's pretty clear the economic good times have fizzled. Just ask any of the estimated 96,360 workers in Georgia who relied on the generosity of high-rolling customers when the money was flowing and the economy was flourishing.

The national cash crunch has put the kibosh on tipping, forcing many of these workers to put in longer hours, take multiple jobs and make cutbacks of their own.

Belt-tightening helps waitress Ebony Thomas pay for groceries and other essentials. She used to earn $300 to $500 a week in tips working at the Depeaux restaurant in Decatur. Not anymore.

Read the entire article here. I'm e-mailing it to several friends who never seem to understand the need to tip good service generously. I admit that when I first started reviewing restaurants, more than 20 years ago, I infrequently tipped more than 15 percent on the bill before sales tax.

But after years of seeing how much difference good service makes, I rarely tip less than 20 percent on the bill, including sales tax. I never punish a server by leaving under 15 percent, as I've seen many people do. Service foul-ups are rare and usually have a rational explanation.

There have been many studies of tipping. Here's one summary of the usual findings, from the blog Marginal Revolution:

What do we know about tipping?

1. Two studies show little relationship between quality of waiter service and size of tip.

2. Hotel bellboys can double the size of their tips, on average, by showing guests how the TV and air conditioning work.

3. Tipping is less prevalent in countries where unease about inequality is especially strong.

4. The more a culture values status and prestige, the more likely that culture will use tipping to reward service.

5. Tips are higher in sunny weather.

6. Servers can increase their tips by giving their names to customers, squatting next to tables, touching their customers, and giving their customers after-dinner mints. (query: how do lap dances fit into this equation?)

7. Drawing a smiley face on the check increases a waitress's tips by 18 percent but decreases a waiter's tips by 9 percent.

8. In one study, waitresses increased their tips by 17 percent by wearing flowers in their hair. In general it pays to look distinctive albeit not freaky.

I'm wondering, especially with the current financial crunch, if American restaurants should go the way of European ones and include service in the cost of the food itself. Many restaurants already add as much as 20 percent for large parties, which seems fair to me.


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