The art of tippingAre tip expectations on the rise?
Eating out is something most people enjoy from time to time, but when the bill arrives, deciding what kind of tip to leave can sometimes create a conundrum.
For many years, tipping 15 percent of the bill for good service has been the standard, but that amount seems to be on the rise. These days, it isn’t unusual for servers to see tips as much as 20 percent and even higher for exceptional service.
As a waitress for 14 years, Tresa Quinones, who now waits tables at Bogart’s in Waynesville, said she has noticed that tip amounts have risen in the past four or five years. She credits the increase partly to higher food costs, which have raised menu prices and therefore, increased tip amounts — regardless of the percentage — but, she added, another factor is that servers’ expectations have increased as well.
She said most servers have come to expect about an 18 percent tip for good service, and 20 percent has become pretty common.
“I could see (standard) being 20 percent in the next few years,” she said. “If you give good service, that’s about average. It seems as though it is steadily increasing, so I don’t see why it wouldn’t continue to do so.”
The real minimum
If 18 to 20 percent seems high for an average tip, DeeCee Jones, a waitress at Pin High Bar and Grille at Maggie Valley Country Club, points out that tipped restaurant employees don’t make minimum wage.
Because part of their income comes from tips, the state allows employers to take a credit toward the payment of minimum wage.
“People think you get paid minimum wage, and you don’t,” she said. “That’s what we live off of is tips.”
According to the North Carolina Department of Labor, an employer can pay tipped employees as little as $2.13 an hour as long as each employee earns enough in tips to make up the difference between the wages paid and the minimum wage, which is $7.25 an hour. Basically, a server must average at least $5.12 per hour in tips or the employer has to make up that difference in pay.
At Bogart’s and Pin High, the hourly pay is a little higher than the $2.13 minimum, but servers still depend on tips for the majority of their income.
“I think a lot of people don’t realize that,” said Miranda Thomas, another waitress at Pin High.
Quinones said tips account for about 85 percent of her income, which helps her pay her bills while attending school, and Thomas said tips make up more than half of her pay and help to support her child and the baby who will be arriving soon.
Although Thomas still thinks of 15 percent as the standard, she “likes to see 18 percent,” and it isn’t uncommon for customers to ask her to add on a 20 percent gratuity to the check.
“I would say it’s definitely leaning that way,” she said of increasing tip amounts.
From the customers
Frequent restaurant diner Mindy O’Neill Laesser, of Waynesville, commented on The Mountaineer’s Facebook page that she was shocked to learn that pay for tipped servers is still so low. When she waited tables 20 years ago, she said it was about the same.
“I can’t believe it hasn’t gone up at all!” she said. “That is shocking and wrong on so many levels.”
While she was unaware how low pay can be for servers in North Carolina, she said she usually tips 20 percent, unless the service is really bad.
“Sometimes it’s hard to do, but then I remember how hard the job is. The only time I ever do less is for absolutely terrible service, and even then I still do about 15 percent,” she said.
Other restaurant goers in Haywood County shared similar tipping policies.
“I never tip less than 18 percent, (and) always more for a courteous, friendly server,” said Waynesville resident David Hall.
“I have always been a heavy tipper and tipped a full 20 percent back when 10 percent was the minimum expected,” said Frances Cutshaw, of Maggie Valley. “What I have noticed lately, however, is that the expectation seems to have risen to tipping 20 percent even in restaurants where the service is minimal compared to a full-service sit down meal with all the extras and extra attention.”
In casual situations, such as a buffet, Cutshaw said she is never sure what kind of tip to leave.
“I often feel it should be a good bit less,” she said.
And although Cutshaw is firmly in favor of “taking care of the server,” she said she does eat out less than she used to because of the additional cost.
A true service industry
According to the website Etiquette Scholar, the standard for tipping servers in full-service restaurants is 15 to 20 percent on the pre-tax amount, while tips at self-service restaurants should be 10 percent.
For Julie Conway, tipping servers about 20 percent is the norm, but servers have to earn a good tip by doing a good job.
“If the service is terrible or nonexistent, don’t expect a good tip,” she said.
And that’s fair, Quinones said.
“Your income is dependant on your attitude and your work ethic completely,” Quinones said.
And when she doesn’t get much of a tip or even any tip at all when she believes she’s earned one? Quinones takes a philosophical approach.
“When you’re a server, you kind of just have to have the mentality that if you’re lacking tips on a certain table, you’re going to have to make up for it on another table. You have to take the good with the bad and most of the time, it’s pretty good,” she said. “I’m fortunate to work at a well-established restaurant, and we have a lot of really good customers.”