By Quentin Fottrell, MarketWatch
A reader says he does not want to tip all restaurant servers
I recently came upon your take on tipping for take-out and I was quite surprised. You seemed to be arguing that you should give at least 10% (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/is-it-ok-to-skimp-on-a-tip-when-you-order-takeout-2016-04-06), and possibly more if you know the person is also waiting tables, or you frequent that restaurant a lot.
You point out there is a difference of ethics and etiquette. I thought your column was more about the etiquette side of things, not the ethical, which even as you say, is often driven by guilt. I don't think guilt should enter into the equation. As you stated, research has shown that only 14% of people tip for take-out, which to me indicates it is not the norm, nor should it be. Even to use your ethical argument, I can't believe that 86% would do the unethical thing.
You also state that workers' wages in restaurants can be very low. Do you really think that is your responsibility to figure out? What about the small Italian place I go to where the only server is the owner? He surely is paid more than $2.13 per hour. At that point, should I not tip him for pickup? And what about dining?
My point is: I don't think the burden should sit on the consumer to understand how much people serving you make. Just because they are earning less, doesn't mean they should be tipped. You say we are trying to spread around the wealth for the service industry. Are you doing it out of charity or guilt? Or do you also think it actually improves service?
And to this point, I would like to know your feeling on tipping in what used to be "non-traditional tipping" places. There is a tip jar for the folks that make the sandwiches at the deli I go to for lunch. They are being paid a wage at or above minimum wage. Should a tip be required? Is it the ethical thing to do? What about at Starbucks, the pizza place or the ice cream truck? Since the prevalence of the tip jar has expanded in recent years, is there a general rule of thumb to apply?
And, lastly, does a tip always have to be in proportion to a percentage of the bill? I ask that because if we order pizza for dinner for my family, it is likely 20 dollars (tip would be $2, using your 10% formula), but if we order sushi and its 60 dollars, should we tip $6 dollars? This question also bugs me when it comes to delivery. Does the delivery person earn more because he brought you more expensive food? I know this was a lot of questions and my opinions, but would love to know your thoughts. I am forever in your debt (see what I did there).
The Moneyist avatar (above) has the shout-line: "The ethics and etiquette of your financial affairs." There's a fine line between the two. What is the right thing or the polite thing to do?
We deal with both here. The guy who double-dips at the movies (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/why-double-dipping-at-the-movies-could-land-you-in-jail-2015-01-09)? I call that an ethical problem. The woman who buys clothes that she plans to return after one wear (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/is-it-wrong-to-buy-and-wear-clothes-that-you-plan-to-return-2014-12-01)? Again, an ethical issue. What to say when you are visiting a friend's home for the first time (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/what-not-to-say-when-your-friend-buys-a-home-2015-01-20)? That's going to fall in the shoe-box marked "etiquette." Sending a replacement (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/my-friend-sent-a-replacement-to-accompany-me-to-a-broadway-show-2015-05-29) to accompany a friend to a Broadway show? That's more a matter of etiquette than an ethical dilemma. People have all sorts of reasons to tip or not to tip and -- with some exceptions (see the customer who could possibly be the worst tipper in America in the image below) -- there's often not right or wrong answer.
You're absolutely right: Most people don't tip for takeout. It's not the norm. But I stand by my original statement: Those underpaid food service staff deserve a little more, despite only 14% of people tipping them. I gave lots of reasons why I think they deserve a little extra. I fully accept there are arguments against that: They already get a wage, so why should you give them more when you can spend it on an extra helping of deep fried pork dumplings? They're delicious. We're all human and have temptations. Should you tip the owner? No, I don't believe you need to tip the owner. He's probably making more than I am.
Should you tip in a high-end restaurant that has banned tipping? I visited one such establishment recently and agreed to abide by the rules. I decided it would not be fair to slip one waiter a tip, while other waiters either received no tips or declined if they were offered them. And, yes, it was nice to not have to think about it for once. Restaurateur Danny Meyer explained his own no-tipping policy (https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/oct/15/the-end-of-tipping-in-new-york-top-restaurant-group-bans-gratuities) thus: "We will now have the ability to compensate all of our employees equitably, competitively, and professionally." Bravo. He wants to make sure all his staff is being paid fairly. I hope he follows through on that. At other restaurants in the past, customers faced higher prices when no tip policies were introduced, and they did not like it.
Don't miss: Meet the most generous tipper in America (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/meet-the-man-who-tips-50-instead-of-donating-to-charity-2016-04-13)
There's not a hard or fast rule for other venues. Sometimes, people tip out of guilt. I'm not sure it's the best reason to tip. But I've done it. Tipping in America is about as consistent as a politician's economic policies. It changes with the weather -- literally, in some cases. The guy who delivers Indian food in a rainstorm? Sure, I'll give him an extra generous tip. He's braving New York traffic in zero visibility, risking life and limb to bring me a Chicken Tikka Masala. Am I helping keep the restaurant in business? Probably. Do I have to give him extra? Not on your nelly. The Moneyist grew up an Irish Catholic, reared on oatmeal, red meat and a side order of guilt.
It's foolish to make definitive statements about what you should or should not tip, but that hasn't stopped me in the past, and it won't stop me now. Tipping is full of contradictions and is often based on what people traditionally do and what's expected. By suggesting you tip the takeout guy, I'm was trying to broaden the tipping field. I just returned from Dublin where no one tips bartenders -- who are kept quite busy, you won't be surprised to learn -- rarely tip taxi drivers and only tip servers 10%. I tipped my taxi drivers and servers 20% since I've picked up these fancy American ways, but did not tip the barman because it seemed too much like grandstanding and I did not want to confuse him.
And with that -- drum roll -- the Moneyist is going to make another definitive pronouncement: If you do decide to tip the delivery or takeout guy, a $2 tip on $60 worth of sushi is (by American tipping standards) pretty cheap. In Paris, France or Dublin, Ireland, however, the server would probably be grateful to have it.
Do you have questions about inheritance, tipping, weddings, family feuds, friends or any tricky issues relating to manners and money? Send them to MarketWatch's Moneyist (mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org) and please include the state where you live (no full names will be used).
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-Quentin Fottrell; 415-439-6400; AskNewswires@dowjones.com
RELATED: Is the $1 tip dead? (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/is-the-1-tip-dead-2014-11-07)
RELATED: Should the man always pick up the check? (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/should-the-man-always-pick-up-the-check-2014-11-04)
RELATED: How much to tip everyone (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/how-much-to-tip-everyone-2013-06-28)
(END) Dow Jones Newswires