Tipping in the News

The subject of tipping sells papers. The mere mention of gratuities – whether it’s about how to, why or who should get them – elicits passionate responses from both Che Guevara t-shirt wearing income redistribution guerillas and “Fuck the poor” Ayn Randian lunatics alike. And this debate has been raging for years. If you look at old newspaper clippings you’ll find heated rhetoric about tipping as far back as the end of the 19th Century. But two tipping dramas in the media recently caught my eye.

The first story exploded all over the web last week. A waitress in Seattle by the name of Victoria Liss served what she termed a “yuppie scum” couple and got a big fat zero for a tip. But in addition to the lack of gratuity someone wrote on the credit card slip, “P.S. You could stand to loose (sic) a few pounds.” Ouch.

Ms. Liss, understandably angry, posted not only a picture of the credit card slip on her Facebook page, but provided the name of the credit card holder – Andrew Meyer. The story spread like the Ebola virus and Ms. Liss later reported she had tracked down Mr. Meyer on the web and soon his picture and information about where he worked and went to school was up on websites like Crushable and The Stranger. Small problem though, Ms. Liss got the wrong Andrew Meyer.

Ms. Liss apologized writing, “I need glasses, I put up the picture of the wrong guy. I’m a douche for that. SO SORRY. Blinded by rage.” Crushable took down the page with this lame retraction, “We’re sorry, man—hope you didn’t get too much hate mail from this mistake!” And Dan Savage over at The Stranger snarked, “In my defense: I didn’t finger the guy—he he, finger the guy—I accepted the eye witness/stiffee’s ID and blogged and linked. . . And I’m sorry for that—but only for that.” So much for journalistic fact-checking! Last I heard, Ms. Liss was so overcome with remorse that she hid in bed for two days. “So sorry to the wrong guy,” she wrote, “Everyone please just drop it?”

I hope the Andrew Meyers of the Northwest aren’t screwed. I can just see some young woman doing pre-date Google recon on a poor guy with the same name and wrinkling her nose in disgust. Maybe a potential employer will have the same reaction too. Now the pre-guilt ridden Ms. Liss initially had no problems with her Internet expose stating, “We live in a social networking hub, don’t shit where you eat.” But I take issue with that. What Ms. Liss did was wrong.

I’m on record as being against the lynch mob mentality of the Internet. We all act like assholes from time to time – but we do not deserve to have our transgressions blasted all over the blogosphere. I’ve written a blog and books about being a waiter and I never identified an obnoxious customer or bad tipper by name. My thinking was that just describing the bad behavior was sufficient. Worked pretty well for me actually. Don’t get me wrong. The zero tip and offending weight loss advice was insulting in the extreme. Ms. Liss deserved to be pissed. If she had just Facebooked the check without any identifying information, that would have been a good and illuminating story. But she went overboard. For example, how did she know that the man actually wrote the message on the check? It could have been his female dining companion. How many of us let our significant other sign our name on credit card slips? Liss should have thought before she hit “send.”

I suffered greater insults during my time in restaurant serfdom. I got called fat, that I “sounded too gay,” and even had things thrown at me. It sucked. So I can sympathize with Ms. Liss’ feelings. Whoever wrote that comment is another example of the entitled, narcissistic and over inflated self-esteem junkies who patronize restaurants and make waiting a living hell. Now some might think Ms. Liss’ use of the Internet will discourage such offenses in the future. They won’t. People like that don’t care. They never will. But let me be on record saying that whoever wrote that fat comment is a miserable asshole.

The second story comes from San Francisco. It seems some local waiters want to make the standard restaurant tip 25 percent. Currently the standard tip for dining out is between 15-20 percent. Of course blogs like the Huffington Post were all over this. BBC radio even called me today to comment. So what do I think?

I don’t think 25 percent should become the standard tip. I’d keep the current system. Now I’d love to see all waiters get 20 percent every time. They work hard for their money and often have to contend with jerks like Ms. Liss encountered. But the economy sucks. People are eating out less and/or ordering less expensive items. Customers are still tipping in the 15-20 percent range, but their smaller checks are yielding less tip income that in days past. That means waiters have to work longer hours for the same amount of money. As I described in my book Keep the Change, most people do not tip to reward the quality of service. They tip for psychological reasons like fear, guilt, empathy or acting out a personality disorder. But raising the tip standard today is like raising taxes on the middle class during the recession. If you ate 100 bucks worth of food at a Manhattan eatery and tipped 20 percent, after you factor in the sales tax, you’re looking at shelling out $128.90. If that tip were 25 percent, the bill would come to $133.00.

Now some people might say, “Hey, it’s only four bucks difference.” True. That figure will never bother rich people. But for average struggling middle class folks who sees dining out as a treat, upping the tip norm might become a deterrent to eating out. Remember the old waiter saying, “If you can’t afford to tip, you can’t afford to eat out?” They might just do that! And that will hurt every waiter and every restaurant. So lets keep the percentages as they are. Besides, the IRS will only take more anyway. But if you feel like you must tip 25 percent? Then God bless you.

And you know what would be better than increasing the tip rate? Helping restaurant workers have access to affordable health insurance! How about that!!!!!!

23 thoughts on “Tipping in the News”

  1. Steven Nicolle says:

    Couldn’t agree more!!

  2. LS says:

    Apparently this isn’t the first time Ms. Liss has made false accusations.

  3. Amy says:

    This was a big story here in the Twin Cities earlier this month: http://www.startribune.com/entertainment/dining/131390073.html

  4. Patrick says:

    I just dont get the tipping debate, the old 15% or the new 20. The silliness of service, being a quarter of the value of a dinner, oh please. I made a fine income working a bar in college, at the old 15, less the usual social groups thats always screw servers. If your not amking a decent income, find employment with a better clientele, larger sections, more turns, or a higher average tab.

  5. Kim says:

    I’ve never signed a credit card receipt for my husband and he hasn’t signed for me ever. I’ve signed for my Mom before because she was chasing after my kid (thanks Mom). And true, the dining companion of Andrew Meyer could have been the bad spelling critic but honestly it was a sucky thing to do. Same with posting this schmuck’s name out there so every poor schmuck named Andrew Meyer is going to get screwed by this. You’re right, Steve, she shoulda just blotted out the guy’s name and credit card info.

  6. Ali H. says:

    I guess people will learn the lesson about not putting up names on the internet every time you have a bad experience. The simplest thing could be disastrous for people when it starts to spread online, especially when you got the wrong person.

    Also, about people signing their spouses name, i think it was definitely the that guy who wrote it not the wife or girlfriend he was with. Over the years I have seen many people signing their spouses name on checks or credit card receipts (mostly wives signing their husbands name), but as for paying your bills in restaurants, I think you could agree its mostly the person who’s paying (mostly the man) who signs the check. Its little gentlemanly thing that we are conditioned to do when taking a woman out to dinner, or anywhere else really. If it was the woman who was paying it definitely would’ve been her credit card and her name on that receipt that was posted online.

    Hopefully if that woman was just on a date with that Andrew Meyer and not married to him and she saw that online it would give her a good look at the type of guy she’s involved with.

  7. Jess says:

    And you know what would be better than increasing the tip rate? Helping restaurant workers have access to affordable health insurance! How about that!!!!!!
    People need affordable health care, not health insurance. Read the great story that Amy linked in Comment 3 above.
    And always tip in CASH if you happen to charge the bill to your credit card.

  8. calbear says:

    After reading this blog for years, I’ve come to one conclusion: You must have had some AWFULLY traumatic experience involving Ayn Rand at some point in your formative years.

    People need affordable health care

    Funny you should mention that, since many San Francisco eateries already add more to their bills than others. These are, I believe, charges connected to health care, but are often worded to sound like it’s for some social cause rather than an actual city mandate on restaurants that they’d rather not factor in by raising the posted food prices. Sometimes it’s 4%, sometimes it’s $1.50, but in any event, it’s yet another charge on top of tax and tip. That got me wondering whether the charge made patrons tip more (if they tipped on the bottom-line charge) or less (if they have a tipping system – or budget – where the extra charge eats into the tip). It would be an interesting thing to find out.

  9. Waiterrant Fan says:

    Who – in this economy – is getting a 20% pay increase? That is what these waitstaff are asking for by asking to increase the ‘standard tip’ from 20% to 25%.
    I won’t mention how the tip magically increased from 15% to 20% – a jump of 33%.
    I would love to get pay rises of this magnitude.

  10. maco415 says:

    Hey Steve,
    The 25% tip story has been debunked. It was written by a reporter for a small time East Bay newspaper and was completely unsourced.
    He’s backing off the story now and the union head says the story is completely untrue.
    I’m sure some waiters would love to mandate a 25% tip. I’d love to inherit a million dollars. Ain’t gonna happen.

  11. Bob Dobbs says:

    Back 20 years ago, one of my co-workers was a self-declared socialist who vociferously advocated the 20 percent tip whenever there was the slightest reason to bring it up. As a matter of social justice. Turned out his wife was a waitress.

    I resisted at the time, but as rents and health care costs got out of control around here, I accepted it as my new standard. People have to live.

    And yet, there are limits. Tipping patches an exploitative employer/employee relationship by having the customer directly pay the server, optionally. But it’s only a patch. The discretionary kindness of strangers has its limits, and we’re approaching it, especially in this day and age. The time of patches is ending; the time for basic reform is coming.

    Or if it doesn’t come, restaurant dining either become less affordable or less pleasurable. At any rate, we will have fewer restaurants.

  12. nunya says:

    I can see a higher tip percentage in a state where waiters don’t make the minimum wage. That said, the service has to be really incompetent and rude bordering on downright abusive for me to tip less than 20-25% anyway (here in CA).

  13. crazyophelia says:

    To follow up calbear’s comment – not sure how Ayn Rand rubbed you the wrong way, but she is definitely not pro-“fuck the poor”. She is pro-“fuck the lazy & incompetent”, which are traits that can affect people in every income class – not just the poor. Sincerely, a hardcore objectivist that tips a minimum of 20% because I know how hard y’all work.

  14. Mats says:

    Does anyone find that the Internet actions of Ms. Liss, proves that she deserved a tip?
    Judging from her Internet actions, she is not a nice person. I doubt that she is a good waitress. Maybe she really didn’t deserve a tip?

  15. Tammi says:

    Just want to say that i find it very annoying that some servers want to raise the tipping standard to 25%. I live in ND and have been seving since i was 15. I grew up in NY until i was 14, and until i moved here i had never seen such poor quality of tippers, most people here will consistantly only tip 10%. I’ve even had customers tell my managment that they’ve never had better service and then only left 10% so someone complaining that they are only getting 20% blowsmy mind!!

  16. Brittany says:

    I don’t believe any server doesn’t deserve a tip, and an increase in tip percent to 20-25% isn’t that ridiculous, especially if the server is only making 2.13 an hour, which is most servers. People don’t realize that these servers do not receive paychecks; on payday they receive a checkstub with their total hours, tips, taxes taken, a big fat stamp that says “This is not a check,” and a total of $0.00 in the amount box.

  17. suburbanrockdoll says:

    I agree with the server’s actions as far as letting it be known that someone would do that to servers, but she should not have mentioned the name. People have different reasons for tipping, it’s true, but there are a lot of people who look for reasons not to tip. It blows my mind. I worked Christmas day yesterday, and the line was flowing out the door. We were so packed, and a party of 6 I had complained that the food took too long. We had 2 passes open, but the cooks were still so overwhelmed it was taking extra time to get the food out. I got nothing on a 70 dollar check because of that. – Did I mention it was Christmas day??

  18. RT says:

    ” Currently the standard tip for dining out is between 15-20 percent”

    No. It is 0 to 15. But I do tip much more than 15% for really good service.

  19. Jessica says:

    In what state do servers make minimum wage? Because I’ve never worked in a state that did… Thanks to the person posting that servers don’t get paychecks generally speaking. Also to note, a server can get a negative paycheck that they owe on for the next time if they had a good pay period. So if they have a really bad tipping pay period the next time, they still won’t get a check. Even one that would only be a few bucks anyway.

  20. amy sheridan says:

    i am soo in love with this…my coworkers and i actually started our own book…a very long time ago.and called it “seperate checks please” it sits in the drawer at work full of stories and comments and banter. a new girl came across it this week and told me about your book…and i knew there were some out there…but not this brilliant! i loove! it! its a great feeling to have someone relate to experiences when you dont even know them…it makes the steriotyping we thought was ugly..that more true! i call it validation..i call it amazing, and very well written! my hats ( and pants if we were sharing lybigations after work) off to you! continue…continue. and you were meant for this! stay true!

  21. Tarryn Seymour says:

    I had a “foodie” customer bitch about me and my restaurant in a 5 paragraph blast on Yelp and she had no problem using my name over and over. My name is uncommon and the restaurant and town I work in are small so I was really enraged when I read her “review” because there was no question she was talking about me. She was definitely trying to make a point of identifying me. I don’t like to rock the boat but if someone attacks me by name publicly because I didn’t notice there was lettuce on her burger when she asked for no lettuce, I will fire back and not be afraid to use names.

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  24. Katy says:

    I am in the UK and I stumbled across this blog in googling thoughts on tipping and I really love how you write in a thoughtful, analytical way. I found myself lost in your words “beyond tipping”. As for as tipping goes, I don’t like the custom and I think it’s wrong. I think the employer should be paying a decent wage to begin with when running a restaurant (they’re making the most money) and not really down to people eating there to tip. People will tip anyhow out of obligation. What are your thoughts on this debate?

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