Friday, May 19, 2006

Tip Top

I’ve been reading another blog fairly often lately – It’s written by a waiter in a fairly high-class New York restaurant, who has some of the most amazingly rude and clueless customers. Of course, he also touches on events from his personal life, and his political opinions. He’s a pretty good read, definitely worth going back through the archives.

But reading that reminded me of something that has bothered me for years. Why is a tip always a percentage of the bill? My wife waited tables at Pizza Hut, once upon a time. A check there runs in the $10-$30 range, more or less and depending on the size of the party, so her tips should be average around three or four bucks a table. A friend of ours worked the tables at Bob Evans for a little while, where the checks are probably about that same range, maybe a little higher. Meanwhile, a waiter at Applebee’s, or Friday’s, or Red Lobster is getting tipped on checks in the $30-$100 range – call it an average tip around $10. Is he really working any harder than Rita, or our friend at Bob Evans? “Waiter,” the author of Waiter Rant, is getting tips on checks that probably range from $50 to $500…though that top end probably includes an expensive wine, and one does not usually tip for the full value of an expensive vintage. Still, he’s probably pulling in $25 or higher tips on a regular basis, and sometimes MUCH higher. Is it that much harder to carry a plateful of more expensive food?

While I’m at it, why am I tipping so high, anyway? Let’s go back to Rita and our friend at Bob Evans. A good waiter or waitress can probably handle 6 tables or more at a time. If they all tip correctly (15%-20% for normal good service, more for something special), that means they should be pocketing around 20 bucks an hour in tips. Of course, they don’t always have full tables…and not everyone tips at all, let alone correctly. That cuts into their average a lot – they’re probably lucky to get a quarter of that, which doesn’t quite meet minimum wage.

On the other hand, using those same guesses, the guy at Macaroni Grill is probably making $15 an hour, and Waiter is bringing down $35. And if people really did tip properly, you could double those numbers. Why am I tipping people at a rate that would be more than my own paycheck? And if anybody currently waiting tables is reading…how much do you REALLY make an hour? You can leave your answer anonymously – I’m not the IRS, I’m just curious.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m a firm believer in tipping waitpersons. They really have to be bad to make me drop the tip to 10%...and it takes active rudeness to make me not leave a tip. I have no plans to change that, either. But it sure adds a chunk to the cost of the meal – enough to keep me eating at home more often…unfortunately for Rita, who has to cook!

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