Jamie Hertz: Where’s the line on tipping for good service?

One thing that is always talked about amongst restaurant staff behind closed doors is the tips they receive from customers.

Jamie Hertz: Where’s the line on tipping for good service?

By Jamie Hertz

There are a lot of hot topics out there when it comes to the world of food and beverage. Everyone likes to talk about how good or bad their meals were or what the establishments décor was like. One thing that is always talked about amongst restaurant staff behind closed doors is the tips they receive from customers.

Wait staff base most of their budgeting on the tips that they will receive, and cooks also look forward to the cash injection that they receive from their tip pool. I have been in the industry long enough to know that the kitchen “tip out” has saved my financial situation more than once.

In North America it is customary for us to tip our servers and bartenders an average of about 15 to 20 per cent when dining in a restaurant. Tipping allows business owners to pay a lower wage to their staff because their wages will be balanced out based on their tips they receive from costumers. In return for them paying less money out of their pockets in wages, they can drop their menu prices and give a better value for the products they are featuring.

In other parts of the world, like Australia, tipping isn’t customary and not expected. The staff get paid a higher wage and the menu prices tend to be higher as well. There is no math needed when you receive the bill, it is what it is and you pay the total at the bottom. It all depends on your point of view as to which system actually works better.

My question is: when is it appropriate to tip and when can you save your hard earned money? Nearly every store I go into has a tip jar at the cashier these days. Who really deserves a tip and who is should just accept that they shouldn’t be looking for extra cash from the customers?

Let’s break this down a little bit and see if we can come up with something. It is obvious that when you dine in a restaurant that you are to tip your server. Another obvious scenario would be a bar, club or pub. All of these types of business are offering you a specific type of service in which you are being catered to, therefore you should tip, right? As to how much you tip really is up to you and what you feel is appropriate, if anything at all.

Another type of service would be when you order take out. Should we tip our take our server? This is where the subject gets tricky and very controversial. Most people in the serving industry won’t even think twice before they say you are to tip a takeout cashier or server. So, where do we draw the line when it comes to tipping?

I am sure all of us have been through a drive thru and how many of us, including servers, have tipped the person who hands over your purchases at the window? I am betting none. So what is the difference between drive thru takeout and a restaurant takeout — they are basically doing the same thing aren’t they?

And if you tip a takeout attendant, then shouldn’t you tip the produce worker for grabbing you a fresh piece of fruit from the back or even your butcher for customizing the roast you need for that party you are having?

A lot of times the person working takeout didn’t really do much more than pass you a bag and give you change. I would say that the last time I bought shoes, the sales clerk helped me out more than the takeout person, so should I be tipping them and if so how much, assuming they are not working on commission?

I know a lot of servers would say “we get a smaller wage and we work based on tips and others get paid more.” This is another point of view to look at. Most servers in BC make $9 to $11 per hour and most sales clerks in retail make $10 to $12 per hour. If you do some rough math and break the wages down, for every dollar they make they get two thousand dollars a year before tax.

After The Man takes his cut, the wage works out to about $50 to $100 per pay check, which is every two weeks. Most servers that I know make at least $50 each day serving, which is a lot more when added up over a two week period. So is it safe to say, based on the wage equality argument, that sales clerks in retail and any other form of customer service should get tipped as well.

We should be tipping everyone for everything all the time is basically what it comes down to.

So I ask again, where should we draw the line when it comes to tipping? Why should a server get tipped and not a takeout server or cashier and why shouldn’t we be tipping a grocery store clerk or a shoe salesman or perhaps the employee at the liquor store helping you find the perfect bottle of wine?

Perhaps the notion of tipping a server should be looked at as a part of your dining budget before you go out. Maybe it’s time that we get back to some of the old school ways where we hold a door for someone, or give our coats to the lady next to us while they wait for their cab.

No one is forced to tip, just like no one is supposed to pay a compliment to someone. Some old fashion gestures are just fading as we pay more attention to things like our smart phones than things like helping that elderly person carry their groceries.

Perhaps we should all take a step back for a second and do something that will make someone else feel good instead of being so selfish. I vote tip.


Jamie Hertz is a Nelson chef whose columns appear monthly in {vurb}.