I’m Tired Of Everyone With Their Hand Out!

Last week, I discussed a number of surveys that I’d seen on USAToday.  I left one out because I felt it deserved its own post.

Most of the other surveys didn’t garner more than about 1,000 responses.  But… a survey in July of this year by USAToday in its Travel section received 4,700 responses.  Over four thousand responses means the topic is a very… “popular”… one.  And I agree, because the topic strikes a nerve with me too. That topic is… tipping.

What many folks believe, and I am one of them, is that there has been significant “tip creep” over the years. That folks who shouldn’t be looking for a tip are looking for one.  And a lot o folks are fed up with that. I’m one of them.

The USAToday survey results, like the others I mentioned in last week’s post, are not scientifically valid since the respondents were self-selected, not randomly selected.  Still, when 4,700 folks respond to a survey those opinions have to be given some credibility.  Especially when they overwhelmingly agree.

A whopping 79% agreed that “too many people expect something extra.”  In my travels and locally, I have seen that and so share that sentiment.

One target of the responders’ ire was car rental shuttle drivers.  Even when you do not need assistance with a small carry-on bag, they try to “help” you so they can implant the notion that you owe them a tip.  One commenter likened them to “hungry dogs.”

I know that there are certain groups of workers who are not paid minimum wage because they are “tipped” employees.  The tips presumably will result in their making at least minimum wage, but if not then the employer makes up the difference.

The primary example of this is restaurant servers.  There is a presumption that they will strive to provide good service so that you will tip them accordingly. And if they do not provide good service…

But it appears that folks who are making minimum wage, and who do not appear to be doing anything special to warrant a tip, are looking for a tip.  I’m thinking about restaurants where you order at the counter and wait for your food.

One such restaurant I frequent is Moe’s.  At the register is a “gas money for the crew” jar. Why? Why do they deserve a tip for doing nothing special for me? Subway operates the same way but I have not seen a “tip” jar at Subway….yet.  If they are legally “tipped” employees paid below minimum wage, then the employer would put a tip jar out there so he won’t have to cover the difference. But a friend of mine who used to be a manager at Moe’s told me that the counter folks are “food preparers” and are paid the minimum wage.  (In Florida, there is a state minimum wage which, at 7.67 hourly, is higher than the federal minimum of $7.25.)

Am I supposed to feel sorry for these folks because they are earning “only’ minimum wage and so I should supplement their wages? Think about how many folks are probably earning minimum wage and extend that logic to all of them.

Should I tip the department store clerk who rings up my purchase?  If I tip at Moe’s, then why not at Macy’s? Or at the Minute Mart?

Going back to restaurants, my experience disputes the idea that servers have an incentive to provide great service because their tip depends on it.  I have rarely received great service at restaurants in the U.S.  It can be adequate but is often mediocre, especially where I live since many servers are college students because there are two universities here.

By contrast, I have always received better service in Europe, where a service charge is added to the bill and tipping more than loose change, if paying in cash, is not routine.  You’d think that since the servers know they’re getting paid regardless of service then they’d have little incentive for good service.  But that has not been my experience.

I still recall that when we were in Barcelona, we stopped for lunch at a small, non-descript hole in the wall because Rick Steves’ guidebook highly praised their “seafood sampler.”  Most of the tables were outside and the weather was mild, so we dined “al fresco.”

The server was a middle-aged man who stood about 15 feet away.  But out of the corner of my eye I could see that he was watching us like a hawk.  At the first sign we needed a refill or anything else, there he was with whatever we needed. And no check until we asked for it.

In the U.S., I often have a glass empty for longer than it should be.  And the check arrives much more quickly then I feel it should.  As if they want to get me out of there so they (server) can have another customer and another tip.  It’s all about turn over.

I believe that a good part of the reason restaurant service in the U.S. is often mediocre is that the folks are doing the job “on the side.” They’re students looking to offset expenses; they’re aspiring actors waiting for their break; they’re looking for a “professional” job. But few are “professional” servers; they’re in a “temp” job until they find a “real” job.

Whereas in Europe, restaurant servers are professionals.  It’s not a “temp” job for them but a vocation they will be in for many years.  And so they bring a certain “professional” standard to the job.  Because if that’s not the reason the service is better in Europe, then I don’t know what the reason is.

A lot of folks say they don’t mind paying more for good service.  If I was confident that if a service charge was added to the check by all sit down restaurants then there’d be good, not just adequate, service then I’d support that.  I’m not so sure most of the “pay for good service” folks would agree.  But, given the “temp job’ perspective of most restaurant servers, I doubt that adding a service charge will make a difference.  So even I don’t agree… 😉

Here’s my tip: if you feel unsure whether they deserve a tip, they probably don’t. So stop feeling guilty….


4 responses to “I’m Tired Of Everyone With Their Hand Out!

  1. Bah, humbug, right? This post is so…you 🙂 But you make some very good points. And you are especialy right about the professionalism in Europe.
    I used to manage a valet parking operation at the Hyatt in NOLA. The drivers were tipped employees and were not paid minimum wage. Each pay period, there was a form each employee had to fill out reporting tips. These guys, I would say, conservatively, were making $100 a day in tips. (Thereby making them far better paid than I was.) But the forms would always be turned in reporting $0 in tips. And as you say, I was required by law to figure out how many hours they worked and bring them up to at least minimum wage per hour. The good thing? They had to fill out these forms themselves and sign them, so if they were lying, I was not held responsible.
    Restaurant servers: on Friday I had lunch at a local restaurant, and they had a lunch special: $7.99 for a fried oyster basket with fries and coleslaw. When the bill came, they had charged me $15.99 (which must have been the “dinner” price). What? They thought I just wouldn’t notice?
    But regardless, I always tip well. Not because I feel guilty, but because I’m afraid. If I ever want to go back there, I don’t want a “reputation” that wll make my next experience even worse. And having worked in the service industry most of my life (including restaurants), there are some serious horror stories out there about just how bad they can make it. Sure, that seems like extortion, but I prefer to think of it as self-preservation. And finally, having worked in said service industries, I have seen how reviled and abused these employees can be, without having recourse. So I strive to be a “good” customer, because it’s the right thing to do.

  2. I’m pretty much in agreement with FN here. I have seen what can happen in food service to customers who withhold the customary tip.

    And I personally have operated with the philosophy that if I can’t afford to tip then I won’t use the service. I’m quite sure I have spent a few hundred dollars I shouldn’t have throughout my life. But so what. If that is a question at the pearly gates then I’ll take my chances.

    All that having been said, overall customer service in Tallahassee is pretty damn bad and always has been. I have found Florida overall to be lacking in good customer service. Surprisingly California was at the top of the food chain during my business travels.

  3. The focus was on folks who earn minimum wage but still look for a tip.

    If I receive “adequate” service, I’ll leave a 15% tip. Poor service is another story. And I’m not concerned about the “future.” I doubt these folks remember…I sure don’t recall who served me from place to place.

    As for raking it in with tips, I know that many dealers in the Gretna poker room, who work about 60-70 hours every two weeks, bring in about $1200 – $1600 in tips. I’ve seen the payrolls because that was one of our projects. (We funded the public water/sewer/ road, not the facility.

    And you can imagine what some folks make in tips in Vegas. I heard doormen can make $50,000. Think of all those taxi calling tips…

  4. Of course the wait staff in Tally don’t make anything like casino workers. As you point out they are just college students for the most part, not working for a living. But at least they aren’t asking for tax payer subsidized birth control while paying 45K a year tuition at Georgetown. .

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