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The Truth Behind the Tip™

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“Vacation” is over…

Posted by gratrueities on September 12, 2010

Well…”vacations” may be somewhat more accurate. Let’s just say, for the moment, that we’ve been occupied with things other than GraTRUEities and took a brief (in the big picture) hiatus. That said, our dining and tipping experiences have not gone by the wayside by any means! We’ll soon catch up here on some of that but, for the moment, we’re just going to pick up where we left off…and a few things have caught our attention lately.

For one, the Food Network recently put out this little blurb titled  25 Things Chefs Never Tell You” – you just know this somehow bears a bit of bad news! Besides letting you know which days of the year they most hate to work (warning – don’t eat out on New Years Day) , the fact that they like and eat fast food, cook while sick, etc. we learn that chefs are also discriminating tippers and do tend to punish poor service. Hmmm…interesting. Make of that what you will and be sure to check out the rest of the items on the list. You might be surprised, or at least find your thought affirmed.

More recent news on the restaurant front: Screaming babies not allowed! While, in our opinion, it’s questionable as to whether or not this is discrimination, the concept has apparently been well received by customers. As someone who recently flew seated next to a couple with a baby, I have to say I can see the potential for this idea to catch on. I happen to love babies and can remember when my own children would act out in public so am likely more tolerant and sympathetic in such instances. However, I could see the hackles rising around me as the baby understandably fussed. In any case, we will be watching with interest to see how this trend unfolds or if it is quickly stopped in the legal trenches.

We’ll soon be back to share updates of our dining and/or tipping ventures. In the meantime, tip well and often and “look both ways before crossing the street.” **

** More on this later

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Posted in Chefs and Cooking, Dining experience, Fast food, GraTRUEities, Service, Tipping, Wait Staff | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Trials and Travails of ‘Splitting the Bill’

Posted by gratrueities on April 14, 2010

You’ve just enjoyed a wonderful (one hopes!) dinner out with friends and then comes the moment of truth…the bill arrives.

Splitting the bill can, too frequently, be an awkward experience. The practice I’m  most comfortable with is adding in the gratuity and splitting the total by the number of people – then each person/couple/family contributes accordingly, per person. My rationale:  if you are dining as a group, you mostly likely are doing so because you want to do so, you enjoy one another’s company and your expectations regarding the experience and expense involved are fairly consistent.

However, it’s recently come to my attention that not everyone is in agreement on this subject!

From the price of the items ordered to the amount of the tip, there seem to be many points open to question. A recent example…I was in the process of dividing a check and adding a 20% gratuity on the total bill, including tax, when someone asked “why are you tipping on the tax – shouldn’t you just double the tax? That’s what I always do.” (a formula that equated to about 16% where we were dining). This did not become a heated discussion by any means, but it highlights one area of confusion that surrounds splitting the bill – every person has different practices. To further complicate things, if the person figuring the bill is a poor tipper, do you speak up or just quietly bump up the tip at your own expense?

Then consider the “small-orderer” – the person who only orders a salad or appetizer (Worse…just a cup of coffee. Worse yet…just drinks the tap water!) while everyone else orders a meal. Or, the person who doesn’t drink alcohol while the rest of the group swills down cocktails and/or wine. In those instances, it may be more sensitive to tell the person who did not partake to “throw in” whatever they think is fair and split the remaining balance . Since I am never that person who doesn’t indulge, I can’t say for sure – but I think I would still be inclined to want to be included in regular split. This is definitely a case where I know (from experience, unfortunately) not everyone agrees!

Let’s not forget to look at the flip side – the person who decides they want to order every appetizer on the menu, an exotic item (think truffles or lobster) or that pricey bottle of wine – at the everyone else’s expense. Not fair…and there should be consequences! Unless they offer to cover their personal indulgence, they may not want to expect to be included the next time!

These are my only my opinions. I, therefore, decided to do a little research to see what it actually considered customary today. I was happy to see that I am somewhat in line with current thinking…or at least half. A recent FoxBusiness article addressing the etiquette of splitting the check offers opposing arguments:

One opinon: “Times are tight, and if a person or couple orders appetizers, dessert and drank alcohol, and you choose not to, it’s OK to discreetly say, ‘I am going to take care of my end,’” said Elaine Swann, lifestyle and etiquette coach. “But be sure to adequately cover what you ordered, plus tip.”

Arguing for the other side: Mirza Grotts, an etiquette and protocol consultant,  said situations regarding money are already awkward enough, and by asking to individually pay will make matters worse.“Asking for separate checks is very passé, it’s too much work for the waiter and if you have lost your job you probably shouldn’t be going out in the first place,” she said. “Asking for separate checks is very passé, it’s too much work for the waiter and if you have lost your job you probably shouldn’t be going out in the first place,” she said.She said it’s much easier to split the bill evenly, particularly if it’s a friend you go out with repeatedly. “It becomes a wash and will even out in the long run,” she said.

So…my conclusion: Let sensitivity and common sense prevail. If you are dining with friends with whom you socialize regularly, it probably will all even out in the end…just split and make it easy. If you are dining with someone in a difficult financial situation who orders frugally, let them pay accordingly (or better yet, treat them if you have the means and it’s comfortable to do so). If dining with a repeat offender – the “big orderer” who burdens you, make a decision. Bottom line, if you resent the bill split, you probably shouldn’t repeat the circumstances.

Side notes:

Make it clear from the beginning that the check will be split, avoiding unpleasant surprises at the end of the meal.

Do not let the check sit on the table at the end of the meal: Grotts also said it’s rude to let the bill sit on the table when it arrives. “Always be the first to grab the bill, it is embarrassing to let it linger.”

Social situations are distinctly different from a business dinner, in which case the person extending the invitation is expected to pick up the bill.

Posted in Dining experience, Etiquette, Paying the bill, Tipping | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

“Latest Generation” Waiter

Posted by gratrueities on April 6, 2010

I like you! (“You Got Me” by Colbie Caillat)

It was bound to happen one day…introducing robo-waiters that serve not only food, but also cutting edge entertainment.

Hajime, a Japanese restaurant recently opened (to the tune of 30 million baht or $927,600!) in Thailand, brings high-tech dining to a whole new level. Customers order on touchscreens and are then served by imported Japanese “motorised servants” that (oops – almost wrote “who” here!) deliver meals along with some intriguing (and, dare we say, electric “techno”) dance moves!

Striking, that reference in the article to “motorised servants” – not exactly an interchangeable term for waiter…or certainly not an acceptable one. Perhaps more of a cultural reference – note the spelling?

And speaking of being politically correct, would one leave a tip in this case?

(Potential) GraTRUEity #54 – Time to reboot?

Posted in Dining experience, Etiquette, International, Tipping, Uncategorized, Wait Staff | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Bad Tipper Advisory!

Posted by gratrueities on April 3, 2010

Just last month a Winston-Salem, NC woman was banned from a restaurant for being a bad tipper. So…be forewarned! (You know who you are, if you are at risk.)

Here is the story: Monica Covington, a repeat customer at Kanpai Japanese Steak and Seafood House, was banished from the restaurant for refusing to agree to pay an 18% minimum gratuity.  This is where things get somewhat tricky, because apparently the stated restaurant policy is that 15% will be added for parties of six or more. Therefore, it seems clear that Monica’s previous visits had earned her the reputation of being a poor tipper. The restaurant took measures to address her pattern by tacking 18% onto her bill. She claims she paid the gratuity the first time without argument – even though she was with a party of only three. (Hmm…I wonder what these other people think – have seen no further mention of them). However, upon a return visit (she must have really liked this place), when informed up front that she would be required to pay an 18% gratuity, she struck back. Thus, came Monica’s petition citing discrimination and asking people to boycott the restaurant for unfair business practices. The restaurant next retaliated with a its own cry for support and continued attempts to tell their side of the story. As you might imagine, both parties have their advocates.

Further, there was no consensus on the recent OpenTable discussion regarding the incident. People remain very divided on the subject of patrons vs. servers – and, as we’ve said here before, the opinions are not split straight down the line between customer and server, as one might expect.

This case is also curious in that the customer (Monica) obviously wanted to return to the restaurant. She was not tipping poorly because she was dissatisfied, but because that is her “way” (hate to call her cheap, but it seems that it may be so). Why she wanted to return after being singled out for her tipping habits is somewhat of a mystery – clearly her love of teppanyaki won out over pride!

As of last report, the case seems to be heading toward the courts! So…something to think about – review your tipping habits at your favorite restaurants and make sure you are a welcome repeat customer. Or one day, you too could find yourself banished!

GraTRUEity #53 – “You keep me coming back for more.”  “P.S. And I hope you’ll allow me to continue!”

Posted in Dining experience, Paying the bill, Service, Tipping, Wait Staff | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

15% Tipper and Proud of It?

Posted by gratrueities on April 1, 2010

Well…that is the impression one gets when scrolling to the bottom of the recent New York Times City Room blog post by David Sax. The disclaimer at the end of the post states that he is a “journalist and the author of “Save the Deli” (Houghton Mifflin), lives in Park Slope and always tips 15 percent.”

Note – Mr. Sax does not claim to tip “at least” 15% – but, rather, “15 percent,” period. Hmmm…is that really what he means to say? If so, that is curious, considering he has written a book on dining (even if it is deli dining) from which he has, in theory, profited! See him in action doing research at right!

That said, the post, titled Hey, Waiter! Just How Much Extra Do You Really Expect? raises some valid points and, despite the title and surly tone, does not truly take an anti-server stance. For instance, Mr. Sax takes issue with the less-than-minimum wages servers are paid. He challenges the gratuitous tip, but supports rewarding a job well done. Not surprisingly, the article incited both the ire and support of many NYT readers and has, to date, generated well over 1200 comments.

Obviously, tipping remains a controversial subject  – who, when, how much and for what? Interestingly, the comments generated from the article did not divide straight down the line between customers and servers. Some of the most intriguing comments are featured in a follow-up piece – Readers Split the Difference on Tipping.

We’re always interested in the many points of view that surround the custom of the tip and these are particularly insightful comments.

Also, it makes us wonder what GraTRUEity might be appropriate for someone such as Mr. Sax: “I always tip 15% no matter what…so read nothing into this tip.”  “Underpaid workers unite!” ?? We’re open to suggestions!

Posted in Etiquette, GraTRUEities, Pet Peeves, Pop Culture, Service, Tipping, Wait Staff | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Celebrity Waiters “Trumped”

Posted by gratrueities on March 26, 2010

Who would you prefer to be your server? Rod Blagojevich singing his familiar tune of the innocent, wronged and dedicated public servant or Cyndi Lauper singing True Colors? Well, that is an easy one for me – though Blago provided some entertaining moments during the opening episode of the new season of Celebrity Apprentice. Further, Donald Trump lauded him throughout the show for his courage. (I suppose it is a form of courage – exposing himself to continued public judgment and ridicule!).

The new Apprentice season opened with Donald Trump thowing out a restaurant challenge – men vs. women – in which each team took over a diner for an afternoon. The team that made the most money, including tips, was declared the winner and awarded the money for their Project Manager’s favorite charity. Somehow, team Rock Solid (you guessed it, the mens’ team) outperformed team Tenacity. Most surprising – Blago (sans hairnet), was the lone server for the men’s team while Cyndi Lauper was supported by her cohorts Sharon Osbourne and WWE star, Maria Kanellis. I have to agree with Mr. Trump, it’s somewhat amazing that these women did not rake in enough tips to surpass the men! Not only did they have power in numbers, but they were clearly more dedicated to their mission. Evidence: Joan Rivers, on a *secret mission* to judge the two diners found Rob B to be somewhat lacking in attention! His primary focus seemed to be defending his reputation to the customers with statements such as these (From The Five Dumbest Things Blagojevich Said according to the Chicagoist)

  • On cooking for the celebrity-run diner challenge: “I didn’t cook at all when I was governor. I was cooking up results for people.”
  • On being a waiter at the celebrity-run diner and raising money for charity: “In some ways, this is just another public service.”
  • To customers in the diner: “They stole me away from the people who hired me.”
  • To customer in the diner: “Yeah, I didn’t do those things, by the way. I’m here to serve.”
  • On raising money for charity: “I’m in an unusual position these days. When I come calling for money, somebody’s listening and people on the other end know it.”

Service aside, the men pulled out the win – and that despite the $10,000 bonus the women received via the Joan Rivers undercover mission. Strategy and a higher-priced, gourmet menu (thanks to celebrity chef Curtis Stone) keyed their success. Service, even celebrity service, did not make the difference in the end.

Posted in Pop Culture, Service, Tipping, Wait Staff | Leave a Comment »

Oscar Tie-In: Steve Martin’s Tipping Philosophy

Posted by gratrueities on March 9, 2010

Well, did ya enjoy the Oscar’s last night?  Personally, here at GraTRUEities, we were well-entertained for pretty much the entire show (sans that goofy dance routine in the middle; what was that?). It’s always fun to see all of Hollywood out and about in their finest, paying each other all kinds of compliments.

But, what we really enjoyed were co-hosts Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin. Who, unfortunately, were just not given enough screen time.

It reminded us that Steve Martin in “My Blue Heaven” had one of the best ever lines about tipping when he said: “It’s not so much tipping that I believe in…but over tipping.”

And, with that, we eagerly await another year of movies capped off by an even better 2011 Awards show.

*One additional note: Though we were unable to find any specifics regarding either hosts real-life tipping habits, we suspect both are generous….and we did learn that Alec Baldwin once waited tables at Studio 54.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Splash…into the “tip pool” we go!

Posted by gratrueities on March 1, 2010

Just last week, the 9th U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in favor of restaurants. The court found that restaurants have the right to create a “tip pool” requiring servers to share a percentage of their tips with kitchen staff  as long – and this is the important caveat – as the restaurant pays their servers at least minimum wage.

A Portland, Oregon waitress claimed that the pooling arrangement violated the Fair Labor Standards Act. Misty Cumbie  argued that because the tip pool at the Vita Cafe (sounds like a place to try soon based on Yelp reviews!) included employees who are not “customarily and regularly tipped employees,” it was invalid under the labor act.  The court did not agree.

This can all get a bit complex – but, to simplify, the restaurant owners wanted their servers to share with the “back of the house” and at least one server, Misty, was not happy with this arrangement.  However, because Misty and her fellow servers were paid at least the Oregon minimum wage (which was BTW $2.10 above Federal minimum wage!), the restaurant owners were not eligible for a tax “tip credit.” Hence, the servers were deemed to be compensated fairly  – the opinion of the court was that “Cumbie received a wage that was far greater than the federally prescribed minimum, plus a substantial portion of her tips.”

Tip pooling seems to be a hot litigation trend of late. This past year, Chili’s Grill & Bar servers won a large settlement against the chain’s parent company, which intends to appeal. Dealers at The Wynn Las Vegas are currently suing their employer for 35 million in back pay and penalties, also claiming that the resort’s tip pool violates state labor laws (we shall see how/if the Oregon case impacts this decision). The ruling for the Wynn case has now been delayed until May. If the Wynn employees are victorious, expect a flood rather than a splash! In fact, they may soon be hiring -if interested, you may want to check this out.

Whether or not legal action enters into the picture, there seem to be strong feelings – both pro and con – on tip pooling. We, at GraTRUEities, see both sides of the argument. It’s complicated because the server is ultimately the one with whom we interact (i.e. puts up with the customer), but we also appreciate clean plates, glasses, silver and a full water glass – and of course a delicious meal! We, therefore, feel that the people who make all that happen should be duly rewarded as well. Of course, in an ideal world restaurant owners could/would pay all of their employees enough that they did not depend on tips for wages, but with so many restaurants struggling to stay open, it seems that labor costs are a problem. And all this brings us right back to tipping! We, the customer/patron fills the void. More to follow on this topic…

Posted in Portland, Service, Tip Pool, Tipping, Wait Staff | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Olympic Size Tips in Vancouver

Posted by gratrueities on February 19, 2010

 

For those visiting Vancouver for the Winter Olympics, restaurant tipping may be considered a hazardous sport.

According to this recent article from the Vancouver Sun, some local restaurant owners have decided to take advantage of their once-in-a-lifetime bounty of tourists and tack on a mandatory 20% gratuity to each bill.

We’ve debated before here at GraTRUEities whether a mandatory gratuity can even be called a “tip”, because technically the diner is no longer tipping as a response to  good (or bad) service.  A mandatory gratuity is added into the bill irrespective of service rendered.

Additionally, of course, is the real potential for double tipping. Many diners don’t take the time to read the fine print and therefore aren’t aware that they have been charged a mandatory tip. They go ahead and leave a tip on top of the tip.

 As explained in this tipping guide on the Vancouver Tourism site,  Canadians follow the North American convention of adding a standard 10-20% tip for services rendered. But there are many international visitors to the Winter Olympics traveling from countries where tipping is not part of the cultural norm.

What ever the case, these temporary tip levies in Vancouver translate into pure “gold” for the cities restaurants and servers.

Posted in International, Service, Tipping, Travel | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Valentine’s Day – R U Ready?

Posted by gratrueities on February 13, 2010

Are you one of the ones running around looking frantically for the perfect Valentine’s card and gift? That was me about two hours ago.  First I stopped in my local Papyrus store thinking they would have a great choice of really beautiful (i.e., expensive) cards to select from. And, specifically, I wanted a  music card. You know the ones that play a catchy tune upon opening.

Well, big surprise. Nearly all the cards were gone. The pickings were extremely slim. And, no music cards whatsoever. Note to self: Papyrus does not carry music cards. I finally found a card that was not anywhere near perfect but would, at least, do.

I wasn’t the only one waiting until the very last-minute and the register line was about 10 deep. There were two people “working”; one on the phone and one actually helping customers. Turn’s out one of the registers was not working, on probably one of the busiest days of the year for a card shop.

I ended up leaving without buying the card and heading off to Safeway.  There I finally found a way tackier card, at a way less price and the cash registers actually worked 🙂

Posted in Gifts, Pet Peeves, Service | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »