Oprah Says Tip Ten Percent?!

OprahI have seen Internet buzz where, supposedly, Oprah recently said it was acceptable to tip servers 10% in this economy.  I suppose her point was to tell her audience how to save some money during the current ongoing financial crunch.  There are some sites that say she said it, like ChaCha.com, while reps from Harpo claim she did not.  I know Oprah has always been a staunch supporter of tipping well, and I don't know for certain whether she said it or not, but I know the statement is wrong.  There has been huge Internet backlash regarding the statement, and I would like to add a bit myself.

I have been in the bar/restaurant industry for about 13 years, with a good majority of that making tips as a bartender and a waiter.  Both behind the bar and on the floor, you are expected to be an expert regarding the food and drink your establishment offers.  When a guest asks a question or is looking for a suggestion, your bartender/waiter is expected to be there with the answer.  When you are looking for a dining or bar experience, you expect everything to go right, and it is mostly because of the bartender or waiter. 

Somehow, in our society, the honus of providing a living wage for restaurant service has fallen upon the consumer rather than the employer.  Lawmakers have allowed employers to pay LESS than minimum wage to their employees, even though they are the beneficiaries of that employee's work.  This can apply to any employee who receives tipped income, giving a restaurant owner the luxury of paying its bartenders, waiters, and bussers less than minimum.  In Illinois, minimum wage for tipped employees is 60% of minimum wage, which currently stands at $4.80/hour.  In many states it is less.  How this is construed as legal or correct, I have no idea.  Now while this is not fair to the consumer, it is their responsibility to provide an adequate tip if they plan on dining out.  If you can afford to play, you can afford to pay.

As far as the ten percent thing goes, that just will not cut it.  In many restaurants, a waiter tips out support staff like bussers, food runners, bartenders, sommeliers, and sometimes even hosts/maitre d's.  In alot of those restaurants, 10% of a waiter's sales go for that tip out, leaving the waiter with half of their tips IF they received 20%.  If you live by the ten percent rule, the waiter goes home broke, with less than minimum wage to show for it.  I am sure many do not know about these backdoor stories regarding tipping, but that does not make it untrue. 

There are also many who believe in not tipping on wine.  I once waited on a table that ordered $800 in wine (bottles), and $300 in food, and only tipped me 15% on the food because they don't believe in tipping on wine.  On $1100 in total sales on that table, I was expected to tip out my support staff $110, while the table only tipped me $45 total!  I lost $75 waiting on that table.  I still provided the guests with adequate recommendations regarding the wine list, provided polished stemware, opened and decanted the wine, and continued to pour it during the meal.  If you don't tip on wine, consider the work that goes into all of it, or start going to BYOB restaurants. 

A couple of simple rules to remember when regarding dining out:

  1. Go out with a good attitude.  Whatever happened that day to upset you, try not to take it out on others.  Remember, you are out for some atmosphere, a good meal and/or drink- an experience.

  2. Tip out the service.  If you had a bad meal, the valet treated you bad, the coatchecker misplaced your coat, the bathroom was dirty, do not take it out on the server.  If they provided you with the service you needed at the table, give them what they deserve.  Complain to the manager about the other stuff.

  3. Tip accordingly on complimentary meals, gift cards, coupons, etc.  Too many times have I seen bad form regarding this.  A person gets a complimentary $200 meal, and leaves $10, when they should've left $40.  Another person uses a gift card to pay half their bill, and tips on the new total.  Tip on the entire meal folks, after all, you just saved a ton of cash on your meal anyway.

  4. Don't short your friends.  Too many times have I seen a group decide to split a bill, with people giving cash to one person at the table who decides to pay using a credit card.  Then that person leaves a bad tip, despite the fact their friends gave enough for a good one, and pockets the rest.  That displays poor judgement, low class.

  5. Tip what they deserve.  I usually start at 18% and, depending on the service, my tip goes up or down.  If I felt the service was slow, uninterested, snarky, or just bad, it goes down.  If it starts off bad, I request a new server.  If service is adequate, they get their 18% (I use the total, not pre-tax), and if they go above and beyond, it can go as high as 25%, though not usually more than 20%.  This is your dining experience.  You should be out for a good time, good drink, good food.

Whatever your practices are, try to remember these intricacies surrounding tipping.  It will help you have better dining experiences, especially in places you frequent multiple times.  Also, as far as saving money in a down economy, why not try a few other practices instead, like not ordering that 2nd drink or that extra appetizer, try sharing a dessert, or purchasing more value based wines.  You can also try cooking at home or ordering take out or delivery.  Don't stiff your servers to try to save a few bucks. 

For a great view through a waiter's eyes, check out Waiter Rant.  The site's author, Steve Dublanica, is a waiter in New York, and not only has alot of experience in his field, he is also a great story teller.  Even if you don't agree with him, you will at least be entertained!

Let me know about any of your experiences or opinions.

(Image courtesy of wikipedia)