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Nicci King is an unabashed foodie and the Lifestyle/Food editor in The Enquirer's features department. She loves to discover new food faves, and she's on a daily quest to answer one burning question: What's for dinner? E-mail her at nking@enquirer.com.

Enquirer Weekend editor Julie Gaw tends to order the same dish every time she eats at a restaurant, but periodically ventures out to discover something new and fabulous. After living in China, Hong Kong, the Philippines and Thailand for more than 8 years, she craves tasty Asian food. E-mail her at jgaw@enquirer.com.

Food/dining writer Polly Campbell loves every quirk and secret of Cincinnati's food personality, and is on a constant lookout for something good to eat. Keep an eye out for her restaurant picks, or see how she's progressing toward becoming famous for her apple pie. E-mail her at pcampbell@enquirer.com.

Communities reporter Rachel Richardson is on a mission to prove vegetarians eat more than lettuce. She shares both her graduate work on American food culture and food-related news.. E-mail her at rrichardson@enquirer.com.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

What the heck: Tipping

I tip, of course I tip, it is willfully misunderstanding me to say I don't. I understand how it works. I would never take advantage of the system by not tipping because I know servers depend on it. I'm not cheap. (I'm not even spending my own money most of the time.) If I've ever under-tipped, it's probably because my arithmetic skills failed me. (Why would servers like a system that depended on the arithmetic skills of people like me who've just finished a couple of bottles of wine?)

I realize that changing the system would be like suddenly having everyone drive on the left side of the road. It won't change. (Service compris didn't last long at Pigall's) Therefore I will continue to tip--I'm not trying to start a movement or anything and I'm not going to call you names for having a different view. But my opinion has nothing to do with being cheap.

The tone of some people who have commented here proves its dangers: that we go out to eat and are waited on by people who judge us and think we owe them, and going by the kind of comments on server's websites, often despise us. I would rather be waited on by someone who is doing their job and being paid and evaluated by their employer, who should be motivated to make sure everyone in their establishment gets good service. Service in general would be better if it depended on a restaurants' attention to it than on the skills of individual servers.

I see the advantage of giving a direct motivation to servers. But I don't tip the nice lady at the Gap who helps me find my size. I don't tip the cheerful, accurate cashier at the grocery store. No one ever sends me a tip in the mail for a well-written story. (and when I cooked in a restaurant, I made far less than the servers made.) I think restaurant owners should pay servers a wage that makes sense, and then train them in service. It's a valuable job, and therefore servers should be paid the wage that it deserves. I don't see why servers like a system that puts them at the mercy of customers' whims.
Why should the people who can afford to tip lavishly be the ones being treated nicely? Why shouldn't the person I once was (and many of my readers are), someone who loved to eat out but could only afford it on special occasions, not be treated just as well as some fancy rich person who throws money around? Eponanymous's comment describing why tipping is good demonstrates to me the opposite: a system where you're sitting getting free drinks and i'm being given the once-over by the server who thinks my hesitancy or my clothes or my gender mark me as a potential bad tipper. It creates people who call me names and tell me they're going to spit in my food. Nice. The whole thing is like a caste system and seems very un-American to me.

Obviously, the price of dinner would go up. (My goodness, people must think I'm stupid!) But personally, I'd prefer prices to be upfront: the price of the evening's special, the price of the fancy cocktail, the price of the bottled water. You tell me what it costs, I'll pay it.


at 11:45 AM Anonymous Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more. I think tipping has gotten way out of control. Even aside from servers (who I understand because of their pay structure) it seems you're expected to tip everyone for doing nothing more than their job. I'm going to catch the ire of many for this, but why do we expected to tip barbers/hairdressers? or taxi drivers? I go to a barber/hairdresser because they cut my hair the way I like. Do I have to tip them for the conversation, which I prefer to skip anyway, or just because they didn't butcher my hair? You can't tell me they get paid $2/hour to cut my hair and are expecting the tip to make it up like servers. In most cases they get a percentage of the already exorbitant fee. Should you still have to tip the bartender/hairdresser when you know they're the owner of the shop and are taking 100% of the fee?

Cab drivers are similar. Are you tipping them for getting you to your destination safely? I thought that's what the fare was for.

There are plenty of other examples and I could go on forever on this subject, but let the beatings begin...

at 11:46 AM Blogger Rachel said...

I understand your objections, Polly, and to an extend, I agree with you. The practice of restaurant tipping as it is creates an atmosphere where different patrons can be treated differently simply on the assumption of superficial qualities. And I do think it somewhat unfair to make servers dependent on the whims of customers or amount of patronage.

But, I also have to uphold the practice. My husband works on commission. He makes more money on commission than he does with his base salary. Resultingly, he is encouraged to work hard and do a good job. Of course, it also stinks when we want to go on an extended vacation, because he is loathe to miss out on the commission money he would have made if working.

My husband and I tip heartily for good service and we tip accordingly for bad service. I think - or would hope - this would encourage servers to do a better job with the expectation of being compensated thusly. If all servers were paid the same amount regardless of the service they provide, what incentive would there to provide good service?

at 11:47 AM Blogger Rachel said...

That being said, I don't understand why we are expected to tip at buffet-style restaurants in which I get my own food and generally do all of the work, save for clearing the table.

at 12:02 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

"If all servers were paid the same amount regardless of the service they provide, what incentive would there to provide good service?"

I don't think that's a very good point at all. I work on a salary as do many of my co-workers. We are all paid similar amounts regardless of how hard any of us works on a given day.

What is my incentive to do a good job? My incentive is the fact that I can keep my job. What more incentive need there be?

at 12:52 PM Blogger RadioCarla said...

I spent six weeks in Australia way back in 1987. No tipping there... At first, I thought the service would be bad because of it. Instead, it was fine. In fact, it was more like how I'd like to think things should be: if I treat you well, you will treat me well. I call it the Disney principle. Smile and a "please" goes much farther than yelling and other forms of rudeness.

Do I tip at restaurants? Heck yeah! More than 20% if the server treats me well. Less if I have to ask for things several times or wait forever for the check (why do they always mess up the part where you want to give them money?).

But, I'm tired of tips jars turning up everywhere. It's getting out of hand!

at 1:19 PM Blogger Polly Campbell said...

P.S. I just wanted to say, I had recently read some old posts on the blog and was thinking of them in some of my comments, if you don't see what I'm referring to.

at 1:30 PM Blogger Duke Danbury said...

What I don't understand is why we tip on price. Are you telling me the server deserves more because I bought the $29.95 filet mignon instead of the $14 pasta? That's why every server *always* pushes the higher priced items.

If we have bad service at a locally owned restaurant I may tell the owner/manager quietly. But if we go to a chain (rarely, usually a friend request) I don't bother because I don't expect great service at a chain or anyone to care if we didn't get good service.

I prefer Europe where it's practically an insult to tip at a restaurant. And they don't rush you through dinner so they can clear the table for the next patron (another topic I guess).


at 2:28 PM Blogger Sam said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

at 3:30 PM Anonymous soozycue said...

I am a server/bartender, and I take offense to the assumption that we all treat customers differently on our own presumption of whether we think you will tip big or not. Some servers may do this, but most of us know that assuming "makes an ass of u & me."

I, personally, strive to treat everyone the same, and to try to make your dining experience enjoyable. Anything less is unprofessional.

It is customers like you that give customers a bad name. Although I would never spit in a customers food {only a small percentage even think about it, in my experience}, comments like the ones stated herewithin are what makes servers consider it.

Always remember that your server is a human being that has a family to support and bills to pay {and, yes, Polly, I understand that servers should make a living wage, but that won't necessarily keep said server from spitting in your food}.

at 6:58 PM Anonymous Chad Edward said...

I love the passion of this topic. It's like you're posting on abortion.

But, Sam, respectfully, you're analysis is ridiculous, respectufully. As Polly stated clearly, she understands the current economic relationship in America that requires tipping; but, to contend that affordable dining economies can't exist sans tipping is to deny the entire rest of the world. As has been mentioned, most of the rest of the world doesn't tip, or at least not as generously as Americans, and your doomsday scenario is anything but the case.

Honestly, I don't sweat it too much. I am in America and will follow the custom here; but, have lived in Europe and followed the custom there when I lived there.

I don't, however, over tip, as a nameless poster mentioned on a separate thread. The only thing more gauche than not tipping is over-tipping in expectation of freebies or to impress others. I'm sure front-of-the-house professionals will disagree and appreciate the unexpected $100 tip on a $50 meal, which I've seen; but, it reeks of a guy who wants to tell me about how he trades his Porsche in every year for the lates model, just like he does his women.

at 8:16 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

Chad seems to have a chip on his shoulder regarding money. First, he calls someone who pays for bottled water "nouveau riche", and now the Porsche comment. Maybe he's poor or something.

I over tip, but not $100 on a $50 check. That's ridiculous. I tip about 25% at my regular spots, to my regular servers. And yes, I do get the odd freebie.

In Europe, by the way, you get a service charge added to your bill, usually arounf 15%.

at 9:10 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is a big difference in tipping the wait staff at a place like "honey" who know the menu like the back of their hand, are required to do menu tastings,make suggestions on wine pairings and will go above and beyond to make your experience stellar....now I will gladly tip generously for that service. I am not however tipping on a $5 latte at starbucks.....

at 11:05 PM Anonymous Chad Edward said...

I didn't call people who pay for bottled water "nouveau riche". I apologize for not being clear. What I said was that there are delicious bottled waters worth paying for, but there are also bottled waters for people who have more money than taste. Next time I'll use smaller words.

Europe is a large place, by the way. Tipping customs differ across the continent. Even where you may have encountered 15% service charges it may have been less a local custom and more of a tourist tax. Some restaurants my charge a small, set fee called "couvert" for the place setting, bread, butter, etc., but what is essentially a tip. In some places, it's custom that you just leave the change.

North America is a large place. Canadians don't tip at the same rate as Americans, by the way.

at 11:19 PM Blogger Sam said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

at 12:08 AM Anonymous Chad Edward said...

Again, when in the States, I tip as is the custom here. I don't mind it. I understand it.

Let's say a standard American tip is 15% for standard service. An economist would advise that if you can receive less than 10% less service for 10% less tip, then you should take that deal. So, maybe we should tip upfront for the level of service we're comfortable with. Maybe at Honey I'm OK with not receiving the little extras you described and I just want to pay the standard 15% tip. I don't need the 20%-tip service; but, what service might I receive for a 13.5% tip?

Lets leave the economists in academia...

I will disagree with you that meals in the U.S. are dramatically underpriced. In fact, the opposite is true, depending where you are and weak dollar not withstanding.

The French, to continue the comparison you began, on average eat much better marginally cheaper than we do. (The French use Euros, by the way. Not British pounds.)

at 12:32 AM Anonymous Anonymous said...

Chad, appearently you have not traveled in France. Restaurants are required by law to include a 15% service charge on the bill.


at 6:06 AM Anonymous Chad Edward said...

No kiddin'... Again, I apologize for not being clear. What I had intended to communicate was that Europe has as many different tipping custums as cultures.

at 8:06 AM Blogger Polly Campbell said...

Great comments. Thank you for the insight. Some really good points by people who've obviously thought about it. All theoretical in the end, I guess.

Reminds me of the discussion about health care. . . .

What I wonder--maybe this is a separate post--WHY do people tip? It seems sort of amazing to me that almost everyone voluntarily goes along with it. Considering how many jerks and criminals there are in the world I'm amazed that the whole system doesn't fall down. There's an interesting topic for a social psychologist.

at 9:43 AM Blogger grillage said...

If we do what Polly seems to be suggesting here's what will happen...

Tipping is no more - you pay your check like you're at McDonalds.

All prices in full service restaurants go up 20%

that's a wash right? the servers make the same amount of money - you pay the same? Wrong.

Now more and more of the servers money goes to the government. Yes, taxes!

As it is structured now, a server makes $3.50 per hour (minimum wage went up for them too). They must declare their tips too.

Although every IRS abiding restaurant will suggest that a server declare 100% of his/her tips, they almost always declare the absolute minimum that they can, usually the amount that equals their credit card tips. (they have to declare at least what the IRS can prove they recieved if they were ever audited. Cash tips are a different story. )

Do we really need to pay more in taxes?

at 11:39 AM Blogger Sam said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

at 1:37 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

The French do eat better than we do, and generally speaking they eat for less money as well. Food in the grocery store/village market/hypermarche is cheaper than it is here. Restaurant prices are pretty much even, however (tip/service charge and the worthlessness of the dollar aside).

Incidentally Chad, it's customary to leave some odd change in addition to the Service Compris charge.

at 2:57 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

(off topic) **Samuel Charles Dobrozsi --- You are an abolute JACKASS....what in the hell does anyone's weight or body type have to do with anything about tipping...the fact that you are bringing that up in a converstion about tipping proves you to be of the lowest character possible...people like you should be taken out and shot...you are the reason there are all the ugly things going on in this world...you should be ashmed of yourself and if I was your manager at Oriental Wok, I would fire you for represnting my esablishment so poorly. Next time you post, try to focus on the subject.

at 3:44 PM Anonymous JJ said...


How is Mr. Dobrozsi a jackass? He didn't get into any of the tipping stereotypes related to weight, race, sex, age etc....he just mentioned that other servers do and that those stereotypes exist. He actually handled it pretty diplomatically.

at 4:13 PM Blogger Polly Campbell said...

Stay nice, people.
I should mention that I think the Oriental Wok has among the very best service in the city. I wish I could eat there more often.

They have lots of servers, they have great bussers and runners, they have people to help with the tableside service. (It's one of the few places in the city that really pulls off the tableside thing.)

at 8:02 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anon 3:44, sounds like it hit close to home. You must be a fatty.

at 8:10 PM Blogger Sam said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

at 8:53 AM Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sam, you've waited on me many times at the Oriental Wok and you are an excellent server.

at 9:22 AM Anonymous Chad Edward said...

To Grillage:

Theoretically, I still disagree that the necessary outcome of a non-tipping or less generous-tipping dining economy is skyrocketing dining costs.

Again, in most of the rest of the world, that's not the case.

Two factors that make dining in America more expensive on the average than elsewhere, both having to do with variety, are:

First, American restaurants offer menus that are three times longer than most Europeans restaurants, which means more spoilage and waste which drives up the premium (and I'd argue drives down the quality) on each individual dish.

Second, more American restaurants on average offer imported ingredients, which again drives up the premium on each individual dish.

When you order the $18 chicken dish at JeanRo, you're paying a portion of the guy's $28 bouillabaise across from you. In a standardized pricing structure, the chicken dish should probably cost about $11 and the bouillabaise about $42. (I just made all those numbers up for example; so, I don't want some "Anonymous" posting: "Actually, JeanRo's bouillabaise is $32.")

Anyway, that's how restaurants work. So, reduce tipping, pay wait staff a livable wage, streamline the menu, use local ingredients, and the cost of dinner doesn't have to rise exorbitantly.

All in theory...

But, I think the point Polly wants to make is that tipping isn't an economic decision, but one entirely of social etiquette.

To Sam:

The French used francs before the Euro. Capitalizing "Euro" was debated, though the debate may now have been decided and I'm a step behind the fluid English language.

To Anonymous:

I must've really worded something poorly somewhere because I didn't think I ever mentioned what the French tipping etiquette is or isn't. Again, I intended to say that tipping customs differ across Europe, then I listed a few without attributing them to any particular culture.

at 1:34 PM Blogger Polly Campbell said...

As to the tax point:

Well, I wish a lot of my income was under the table, too! So really the government is subsidising restaurant prices. It's like we're using food stamps to eat out at Jeff Ruby's.

at 2:00 PM Blogger Sam said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

at 2:29 PM Anonymous Chad Edward said...

I should've followed my own advice and left the economics in academia, Samuel, because the complexity of the subject is best discussed elsewhere.

However, I'll finish by reiterating that reality disagree with your theory.

Let me walk you down the cobblestone streets of Prague where there's a cafe, pub, or restaurant every fourth building, most having been operating since before I was born. The custom in Prague is to leave the change regardless of the total of the bill. On an average dinner bill, you might pay 185 crowns, so you leave 200 crowns. You've tipped 15 crowns, or a little less than a dollar.

The servers make a real wage and are happy with it. They wouldn't change to the American custom. I've had the discussion several times with Bohemians and they never get passed why servers in America are paid so little per hour, even when I explain the amount they might take home in tips.

"No thanks," they say to you Samuel. And they would defend as vehemently their own custom with equally theoretical economic models.

at 5:07 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

you say that they are "happy" again we are back to being relative--- they may like living in slums--- and dont tell me they dont, because YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT SLUM IS

take away tipping-- there will only be chain restaurants-- my brother owns 2 restaurants that barely keep above water in this econmony and his labor is at a minimum---

one things also to keep in consideration is that most of this "tipped money" is thrown right back into the economy right away because it is cash--- this goes in helping pay those six figure incomes--

take away tipping and salaries everywhere go down--- dont ruin a good thing!!!!

at 7:51 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...


I am going to make sure to give Mike a call and let him know just how offended I was by your comments. Are you speaking for the Oriental Wok with your comments? As a longtime customer he will know I am disappointed.....

at 12:41 AM Blogger Sam said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

at 10:48 AM Anonymous Anonymous said...

Then I suggest if you are not speaking as a representative of the restaurant, you do not sign your name as such.

at 10:49 AM Anonymous Anonymous said...

Then I suggest if you are not speaking as a representative of the restaurant, you do not sign your name as such.

at 3:20 PM Blogger Sam Dobrozsi said...


That's a fair assessment.

I've delete all of my texts, as I would hate for even the most innocuous and innocent comments to be taken out of context. Even though I used the word "obese," I did not use it in a derogatory fashion, only to embellish my hypothetical details.

And, for the record, I am about 80 lbs overweight placing me right in the wheelhouse of "morbid obesity."

But that really doesn't matter. I would hate for the amazing restaurant that I (amazingly) work at to be represented negatively.

I also would hate to continue this discussion pejoratively. As such, if anyone wants to strike up an un-biased discussion on the nature of American Hospitality Economics as it pertains to tipping, you can e-mail me by clicking on my profile (which does not, by the way, say "Anonymous.)

Otherwise, I hope this finds everyone well. Happy eating!


Samuel Dobrozsi

at 7:04 AM Blogger kelly said...

here's another subject - tipping on wine...if i order a $30 bottle, or a $120 bottle - why should i tip more on one than the other. if the server opens it, it's the same - regardless of wine price. thoughts?

at 10:10 PM Anonymous soozycue said...


Here it is....

A server gets taxed on 10% of his/her sales. It doesn't matter where we open the wine, whether you get take out food, whatever.

Your server is more than likely making half of the minimum wage, and has to claim at least 10% of their sales in tips. If said server has take out rung on their server number, and people like you who question tipping on wine, and do not make 10% in tips on a particular night, taxes still prevail.

It is what it is, and I am not thrilled with people who think they can go out and live it up, but slight their server, who is, by societal demands, a slave to the customer. The server's tax base is dictated by their sales!!! ALL SALES, INCLUDING WINE!! AND STEAK!! If you tip me less, I have to pay taxes on what YOU ordered.

We have heard from the customers, but how many of you have had to survive on tips? I am sure a lot of you have. But, IT IS WHAT IT IS, and UNTIL IT CHANGES, tip appropriately, or don't go out to eat. If you want a $140.00 bottle of wine, buy it in the wine store, not at your local restaurant, unless you are prepared to tip accordingly.

And, unless you order take-out from a cashier {manager, owner, host/hostess, who gets paid more than 1/2 the minimum wage}, you should tip for take-out.

Actually, as a professional, I serve EVERYONE with the same level of service that I would expect when I dine out. Until the system as we know it, pays servers a living wage, then tip appropriately. Or just stay at home.

at 10:28 PM Anonymous soozycue said...

And FYI~

I am not suggesting that you tip 10%.

You should tip 17% -20%, depending on your level of service, considering your server's circumstance. Don't base it on the kitchen's food, etc. The kitchen staff gets paid a living wage. Your server doesn't.

I am not suggesting you tip a crappy server 20%. But consider your server as a HUMAN BEING. Could you do their job? Look around. If your server isn't doing a job you could do, well, just consider it.

Another thought...Why do people trust their servers so much? These people are handling your food and drinks. Why would you treat someone like crap when they control what you are drinking and eating?

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