Not Just the Tip
An (unpopular) opinion piece on tipping in the North American service industry.
I recently found an old article I wrote in 2015 about a very unpopular opinion I have regarding the service industry. It would seem that my opinion has not changed – but the expectations have only gone up. Let’s review this together, while I continue to explore my old thoughts with the new realizations.
Now, I’ve always been known to be an opinionated person, and lately that’s also extended to bitter; even to the point of cynicism, but this is something I deal with (almost) every day and I know it isn’t a popular opinion yet I feel it is important to shed light on the matter.
As you know, or as you are about to find out I have many jobs but at the moment my “main” job, if you will, is bar-tending. (Since I have written this I have continued to work in service including managing a restaurant while serving and bar-tending there. Now, while I recover from an injury I received in a car accident I still work in the restaurant industry as a host). Lately many of my guests have asked me if 18% is the new 15% in regards to serving and the service industry because they’ve read it somewhere (supposedly) online.
(Moving forward a few years, after having horrific serving experience at one restaurant after another – I often find that the first prompted tip amount has changed to somewhere between 20 and 25% which is [in my opinion] audacious - there is already a 70% increase on the cost of food; and, yes, I do understand that 70% is meant for staffing costs, buildings cost, profit margin and the like but that’s just it – it accounts for staffing; and when a server signs their employee contract they knowingly agreed to work at that lesser wage (which these days is almost reasonable).
Now I have seen these headlines myself but I always find myself in an awkward position answering the question, for a few reasons; firstly because I truly believe a tip should be an accurate representation of the service the guest feel they received – so there is no regular – it’s what they feel is appropriate.
[However it only seems fair to me if I share with you my own practices. I may be contradicting myself, but truly I tip approximately 5% more than I did years ago. If you’re service was okay, but not above and beyond; meets expectations I tip around 15%, great service is 18%, and a truly wonderful experience is 20%. Shout out to the wonderful woman who served my date and I at Medieval Times – when we want to make a statement about poor service we leave 13-14% and I truly think this is hardly ever even realized by the server. (I also almost always round up to the nearest dollar)]
Secondly, and this is the less popular opinion is that no tip should be expected. That’s what they are – tips: a bonus for doing good work. (Official online dictionary definition: sum of money given to someone as a reward for their services.)
I can certainly say that this is a somewhat hypocritical. Because I myself have in the past complained about lousy tips, and no tips (especially when I feel I truly went above and beyond for a table, but I am also aware of when I’ve done a poor job and completely understand and even expect it to be reflected in the potential tip). However more and more I am hearing people complaining, be it in my own workplace or eavesdropping when out at a restaurant (and how awful it is to hear servers complaining about guests when you’re dining at their workplace) or even many status’ on Facebook about usually containing the words “you’re supposed to tip your server (x) amount”, “WTF people”, “what’s wrong with people” or even “If you can’t afford to tip don’t go out to dinner”. Now I can understand the frustration, but if someone can’t afford the tip – going out for dinner is likely a luxury for them and you should be happy to provide them with an experience that could potentially be quite special for them. I know that I myself love to work in the restaurant industry because not only because I believe that flavour, food, and pairing with the right beverage can help tell a story but because of the overall experience you give to people. Strangers just helping to give strangers what they desire and celebrating in their happiness. I always do my best to work somewhere where I am proud of what I am serving to my/the restaurant’s guests.
What bothers me the most about this situation is that these servers complain often adding the fact that we get paid at a lower minimum wage. Here is my issue with that: you agreed to take the job at a lesser wage. You. Agreed. You knew what you were stepping into and tips are never guaranteed. They are a bonus and I believe they should be treated as such. (I suppose I got to my point much earlier this time. But it still stands. Plus, minimum wage for servers now is more than regular minimum wage was when I originally wrote this opinion piece. Know what you’re signing, know what you’re agreeing to. Do the job you want to do. If you can’t stand the heat get out of the kitchen and all those several other clichés.)