Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Inside Tip?

Abby published a letter on tipping this morning--I always read these with great interest, because I am an awkward and unsure tipper and am afraid of doing it wrong and offending someone. The one place I thought I had tipping down was in restaurants, where the rules are (as in Legally Blonde) "simple and finite." Right? Hmmm...maybe not. Can someone let me know if you agree with Abby or not? If so, I've unwittingly wronged hundreds of servers in my life....

DEAR ABBY: When dining out at an establishment where you order your food at the counter and then they bring your food to the table, is a tip necessary?

Also, when going to coffee shops, tip jars frequently sit on the counter. How obligated should I feel to tip the people behind the counter? -- JAMI IN NASHUA, N.H.

DEAR JAMI: Food servers often earn minimum wage, which they supplement with the tips they receive. If your server is efficient and pleasant, you should leave a tip. The usual amount is between 10 and 20 percent.

At a coffee shop where there is a tip jar, assuming that you did not sit down to be served, you should put your spare change into the jar.

Coffee shops I'm fairly comfortable with and often drop my change in the cup. But these counter restaurants--I'm picturing Culver's, Noodles and Co., or some Paneras (rare--they usually use pagers for pickup), where you order and pay at the register, get your own drink, bus your own mess, but sometimes take a number to your table and your food gets dropped off. I don't usually (OK, ever) tip in these don't have the face time to tell if your server is "efficient and pleasant" because they don't actually interact with you--just drop the food (I'm not complaining about this--just suggesting that their job is not the same as "serving").

I also don't typically think of them as "my server," but as someone who works the register, answers the phones, mans the drive-through, mops the floor--and sometimes brings trays over to tables. For example, if there was a problem with my order, I would not go looking for the person who brought my food to me, but would probably go back to the cashier, or whoever was immediately available. If I wanted something additional, I wouldn't ask the person who brought my food, but would go up to the counter and order it--at which point an entirely different person might bring it out a few minutes later.

Of course Abby is right that SERVERS depend on tips because they receive such a low wage. But am I right in distinguishing this kind of broad, hourly service-industry work from that of a person whose ONLY job is waiting tables, and who is only paid (a low hourly wage) to do that task, and therefore expects to make ends meet from tips? Or am I in the wrong here?


Anonymous said...

I agree with you and I disagree with Abbey. To me, at a restaurant, you are paying for the food plus the service of the waiter/waitress and busboy.

At a Noodles or Panera, you are paying for the food. The cooking/preparation/pick up are included in the price (which to me, is usually a little extra anyway to make up for the fact that you aren't making it yourself).

But that's it. This is also an issue that bugs me, and i'm surprised to hear that that's not the correct stance according to Abbey. Even though I do understand that those people in the service industry can depend on tips for their wages, it doesn't seem like the same thing to me at all.

Anonymous said...

At Noodles, they almost always explicitly say no tipping, and I highly doubt that anybody there gets tips on any sort of regular basis. In places like these that are set up to avoid table service, nobody makes below minimum wage, so tips are usually not necessary. I think the grey area is restaurants that offer table service AND take-out or counter service. I waitressed at a restaurant that did take out, for example, and sometimes if nobody was at the register it would fall to the nearest waitress to get the order together, get condiments and sides, etc. Sometimes you'd even have to make something, like a salad or a milkshake. In these situations I never expected a tip, because usually part of the benefit of take-out is that you save some money. But sometimes people would give me a dollar or two if what I did went beyond bringing the food from the kitchen to the register and I was nice about it. That's always super appreciated, but definitely not necessary. It's especially nice if the restaurant is busy and helping might've taken me away from my actual tables. However, the majority of places where you get take-out fits the Panera/Noodles, model.