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Your Take: Acceptable To Tip Less in a Recession?

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Tip Jar at a CoffeehouseKimberly Palmer of Alpha Consumer asked her readers this week whether you should tip less during a recession. There was your typical philosophical discussion about the merits of tipping (think about the opening scene of Reservoir Dogs) but it seems as though, based on the callers into NPR’s Talk of the Nation, a show that Kim was on, people, based on empirical evidence, felt it was acceptable to tip less.

I don’t think it is. I worked once as a banquet waiter and so was not subject to per-ticket gratuities and I wasn’t compensated as if I were subject to per-ticket gratuities. I was paid a handsome $10 an hour for my banquet waiter duties and the only tips I ever saw were for getting drinks for people. I may be a little biased, but not terribly so.

I think that if you don’t think you can afford to tip fairly, you should be using the services are expect tips. You can cook your own food for far less than eating out, so if money were really the issue then you wouldn’t be ordering or dining out, you’d be cooking yourself.

As for the philosophical qualms people have about tipping, our society has made it a norm. Some food service staff are paid less because there is an expectation that they will be compensated by patrons for their service through tips. If you don’t like it, don’t blame the waiter or waitress, blame the system and blame the restaurant owner for perpetuating it.

What are your opinions about tipping? Do you think it’s acceptable to tip less when money is tight? What about the philosophical angle about how tipping has really stretched itself into other areas or how tipping in general is really a terrible compensation system?

(Photo: mwichary)

{ 52 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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52 Responses to “Your Take: Acceptable To Tip Less in a Recession?”

  1. Patrick says:

    I agree that the restaurants are to blame for causing this tipping issue. They pay their employees so little that they soley depend on the tips. What gets me is that the restaurants are the ones making out because they charge way more for food that is not worth it and don’t pay their waiting staff much.

  2. Reservoir Dogs was a great movie, and the opening scene was a classic. At least Steve Buschemi made a well-thought out and intelligent case for his views. I would have to agree that if you can afford to use the services in which an accompanying tip is customary, then you should be able to afford the tip. Just because the country may be in a recession or the individual may be going through tough times financially, if the services provided are no different quality wise, then there should be no reason to tip any less. Like Jim stated, you can always cook your own food to avoid spending more on a tip, but it would be in pretty poor taste to deprive someone of making a living because a person wants to pick and choose how to cut back in a crunch.

  3. jen says:

    if you cannot afford to tip, then you probably couldn’t afford the service to begin with….so stay home.
    i think tipping has gotten out of control in certain places, though. tip jars at starbucks for example. i am ordering a coffee, they are making it…why am i tipping? of course if you are super high maintenance with weird requests, you should tip!
    tip jars seem to show up everywhere and that is why people might feel they can cut back on tipping. (dry cleaners,fast food??)
    waiters make less, so you should tip. other workers, like starbucks employees get paid a normal wage as do most other jobs. (i’m not picking on starbucks, that is just the first thing that comes to mind!)

    • Lindsay says:

      As a former employee of Starbucks, I feel the need to correct you.

      Starbucks employees (at least in some parts of the country; pay varies by region) are payed only a few cents above minimum wage. It is presented to you, at the time of hire, that you are payed this amount because your pay is supplemented by tips. Making a customized, hand-crafted beverage for someone is a process that can take up to a minute, sometimes several if the customer in question orders numerous drinks with different customizations. Of course I never expected someone to tip me a dollar for pouring a cup of coffee; making 5 different varities of frappuccinos in under 2 minutes? Yea, a buck would be nice. A buck that is split amongst all the employees of the store, no less.

      People think nothing of tipping their bartender a dollar for every cap they pop off of a bottle of beer but the very NOTION that your barista might expect a similar tip for a well-crafted, handmade beverage sends people into a frenzy of huffing. You wouldn’t believe some of the comments we’ve endured from customers ignorant to the fact that we actually don’t make $12 an hour.

      Please remember that the next time you order your half-decalf, 1 and a half shot, soy, extra hot, extra foam latte.

  4. Sun says:

    You should eat out less if you can’t afford the tip.

  5. RACHEL says:

    You guys are so tough! The fact is, I have heard this opinion many times, that you should not go out if you can’t afford to tip. I understand what you are saying, but I think many people, tip based on a lot of factors besides what they should be tipping on. For example, when i am in a really good mood I tip better or if people at my table tip too much I may follow suit out of social pressure. Secondly, it is all fine as a server to say that people shouldn’t come to the restaurant unless they can afford to tip well, until no one comes to your restaurant and it goes out of business. A small tip is better then no tip at all, at least at some point. Lastly, I can tip however I want! You don’t want an unstable source of income, get a different job. I used to cashier for long hours. It was very hard at times and thankless and there was no tipping. I went to school and got a better job! No matter how crappy, different jobs tend to pay different levels of income. As an individual, it is up to you to move to where the money is.

    • jim says:

      @Rachel: I agree with you, you can tip however you’d like, but I think that if you tip less only because of the recession then you shouldn’t be going in the first place. If you tip less because the service was sub-par or some other reason, I think that’s perfectly fine.

  6. Jane says:

    My opinion:

    Tips should be based upon the quality of the service rather in a recession or not.

    However, I know most waitress/waiters in the NYC region, including private country clubs, do not report their tips plus they do side jobs for wealthy families where in two hours they get paid for what someone does not even make in a day and do not report this either. In addition, in the NYC region they make normally about $400-$500 a day in just basic tips.

    Tired of hearing their poor me syndrome.

    Cheers and Happy Holidays to all !

  7. Glenn Lasher says:

    Tip as normal. In my case, I tip around 20% for sit-down service, 10% for buffet, and nothing for fast-food, and adjust from there for quality of service. The least tip I have left was 2¢, which was paid for r-a-l-l-y wretched service, the level of which would now result in me having a discussion with the management and then leaving to find someplace else to eat (though I was much younger and less wise at the time).

    If you are scrimping on the tip in order to save money, perhaps you would be better off eating in. If you cannot afford to tip right, then you cannot afford to eat out.

    On the other hand, I feel that tipping is vital in the feedback to the waitstaff. No other industry rewards you as well when you hustle, or punishes you as quickly when you fuck up. It holds as long as your tipping is appropriate to the level of service. Change that, and the whole system breaks.

  8. Miss M says:

    I think the percentage should stay the same, if you need to save money then order something cheaper or skip the drinks. Unfortunately this does translate to less money overall for your server.

  9. Amanda says:

    You should continue to tip fairly, or don’t eat out!

  10. Foobarista says:

    Don’t tip less – at least by percentage.

    Eat at cheaper places if you are having money problems.

  11. RACHEL says:

    Jim –
    I agree that people should not tip less because of the recession, but to make a comparison, my company did give me less of a bonus this year because of the recession. Our profits have not been down, and from what management has hinted at, they just feel that they can get away with giving less. 🙁 Therefore, less money for me to go out give wonderful or lackluster wait staff. My point, the downward psychology of a recession inpacts a lot of people, including service workers (whether it is right or wrong).

  12. @ Rachel:

    I can see your viewpoint, but I also see a difference in your comparing a bonus to tipping a service person. You do not work at your job directly for the bonus, whereas wait staff, barbers, etc. work almost entirely for the tips which they receive. Plus, you are speaking of a one-time event as opposed to an ongoing reduction in salary, hours, etc. I think the point of most of the respondents is that if a person is hit so hard financially that they cannot afford to properly tip (which to many is considered an inherent part of the cost), then how can they justify going out to eat in the first place from a fiscally responsible standpoint.

  13. Lou says:

    I agree it’s easier in Europe, both for waitstaff and for customers. the tip is on the bill; you pay it as part of the cost of dining out. In the US at present, I think, if you can possibly afford it, you should tip more in a recession-assuming the service was good. Others are tipping less, the waitstaff are seeing fewer customers, people are ordering cheaper meals (resulting in smaller tips). The people at the bottom of the wage system are most hurt in this economic climate. If I can afford to eat out, I can afford to tip, notwithstanding geography.

  14. TStrump says:

    If you can’t afford to tip the ‘normal’ rate, don’t eat out.
    Having relied on tips in the past, I was always dismayed when someone would simply scoop up their change and leave, after I served them a drink.

  15. Tom says:

    If I am not mistaken, if no one tipped the waitstaff, then the employer would bump their wage from something liek $2.17 to the minimum wage. The reason they can get away with this is because they get tipped, on average, more than $4 an hour to reach teh minimum wage.I agree with the individual who said that if they wanted steady cash stream then they should get a different job.
    Now, I do tip, but I am not nearly as ‘generous’ as most of you. 20% on average? I do not see that someone serving me food deserves a 20% markup in price. If they did something very nice, and stood out, I have tipped 20% before. I think , recession or not, there should NOT be a set percentage.

  16. Aman says:

    I dont think the “if you cant tip the rate, dont eat here” mentality works in a recession.

    If I was a server, I would rather get a little less as a tip as long as there customers coming. We all have to make adjustments and service oriented people understand that money is tight for many now.

  17. I worked my way through college waiting tables, sometimes I had 2 jobs. I worked hard, and it was so demoralizing when I got a measly tip, and I knew I had done a good job. As a wait-person, I can’t help it if the whole tipping system is wrong, or if we’re in a recession…I’m just trying to make a living. Tip well if the service is good, just to put a smile on someone’s face, if for no other reason. I believe Kindness is something that gets returned to you many-fold in this life.

    If you want to be stingy, stay home, you don’t have to tip there.

  18. Jonathan says:

    Tipping less should be a function of getting less goods or services. For example, if you used to eat a $100 meal and tip $15, going and eating a $100 meal and tipping $10 is not really fair. But, if you ate a $65 meal and tipped $10, then I think that is fair.

  19. dick says:

    This generation unfortunately has had very little guidance from their parents about thinking for themselves. As a result FEAR of not “doing the right thing” controls their behavior. When you are confident in your abilty to judge each situation on it’s merits, there is no problem. Nothing has to be turned over and over again in the mind. You do what is right instinctivly. Even regarding money!
    If you really want change-try Zen. We can help you.

  20. Mike says:

    “Don’t buy it if you can’t afford it” is a reasonable argument but as Aman pointed out – most servers would probably prefer to have the same number of customers but lower tips then the same rate of tips but a lot less customers.

    • jim says:

      That’s a good point, I guess I would prefer more people and smaller tips than the regular tip and fewer people.

  21. Carla says:

    I tip 20% and wouldn’t eat out if we couldn’t tip. We automatically add tax and 20% tip to our eating out budget. Maybe it depends on location (we’re in the SF Bay), but I thought 17-20% was the norm.

  22. Rich says:

    I completely agree with you, if you can’t leave a reasonable tip then you can’t afford the service. When my wife and I go out to eat it’s usually not to get great food, it’s to have someone else make it, serve it, and clean up.

  23. Agreed. Because social norms in the US factor in the tip as part of the fair wage, it’s my opinion that you should always pay the socially expected tip. If the service is bad, you should notify management and let them handle the appropriate response. If bad service is common there why are you patronizing that restaurant?

    That said, I almost always over tip. First, I visit the same restaurants regularly and being known as a generous tipper goes a whole lot further in getting you good service than being known as a stingy one. Second, it has been my experience that often when my service is sub-par it is not the fault of the wait staff–the place is understaffed and the waitress has been dealing with too many tables or other jerk customers. In this case she’s likely to get too little in tips despite hard work through no fault of her own.

    People are too quick to dole out negative reinforcement than positive reinforcement when tipping. Disclosure: I’ve never worked as a waiter, but I did work a janitor while getting my degree and thankfully my wages weren’t dependent on the whims of those sickos who manage to spray diarrhea everywhere but in the toilet.

  24. Given that restaurant workers are obscenely underpaid, it’s unreasonable and unfair to cut the percentage of a tip expected when you dine out. On the other hand…if you don’t shop in WalMart for ethical reasons, then maybe you shouldn’t be patronizing restaurants for ethical reasons, either. One reason I rarely eat out is that I try not to do business with companies that grossly exploit their workers. Sometimes it’s hard to avoid, but one does the best one can.

    If enough people stop eating in restaurants, the cost of restaurant food will come down and the cost of tips will drop commensurately. Then you can feel a little less guilty about tipping less while in fact you should be tipping the poor wretch more. Food’s better and cheaper at home, though….

    • @ Funny about Money:

      Very true. However, if people stop eating out en masse it won’t cause costs to come down. In many cases, margins on food are already pretty low. More likely is that it will cause lower quality restaurants to close and a shift in the industry to higher margin restaurants then net effect of which would be higher prices when you do finally go out to eat.

      That’s been my anecdotal experience when visiting the UK where regularly eating out is not as prevalent as in the US.

      • jim says:

        I can’t remember ever seeing a restaurant lowering prices, most just shut down.

        • Actually, I’ve noticed that some places are reducing the sizes of drinks and portions in an effort to control costs. Went to Applebees today and the drinks seems to have shrunk about half the size, and they now have some combo thing with appetizers where you only get a couple of each which the server admitted wasn’t the greatest of deals.

          • jim says:

            I’ve noticed the same thing, it’s a little deceptive because the menus don’t list the size of things. It’s a little disappointing especially if you go to a place frequently.

  25. Non-Tipper says:

    I refuse to tip, under all circumstances. Why should I tip the person whose JOB it is to provide SERVICE to me? I work hard, have an excellent, well-paying, career, yet I would NEVER expect to be tipped for my work. Why should someone who already gets paid to serve me EXPECT anything more? Tipping is wrong, for so many reasons, and those that believe in doing it are just showing how foolish they are, to be taken advantage of. If you believe in tipping, then you also believe in accepting mediocracy, and that is sad. Don’t tell me that the person serving my food, or other service, “relies” on tips for their income, or that their base salary is so low that they need tips. That’s BS! Everyone in our society has an opportunity to get an education, to learn a real marketable skill, and to be successful. If the uneducated, low-life serving my food accepts the hard, thankless, JOB that they are stuck doing as their CAREER, then it’s not my fault. Remember, life is full of choices. Choose to get a real education and enjoy the benefits of a successful life.

    • Jane says:

      I agree totally with your assessment. However, many are in this profession because they do make a lot of money however cry poor me. If they were not making decent money why would they stay? There are other minimum wage jobs available. (Refer to my note of earlier which speaks factual information about people I know in the industry in the NYC region (NY and NJ)making a decent living. By the way country clubs pay $15-$25 an hour for their dining staff and they still get big tips.
      Go non-tipper at least in the NYC region.

    • Mike says:

      You are just the type of person who would scream bloody murder if your service was bad, I’m sure.
      Fact- In some states there is a seperate Minimum wage (lower) for tipped employees
      Fact- Almost all tipped employees are paid minimum wage + tips.
      Fact- Uncle Sam places a minimum tax on sales for tipped employees because of the reasons stated by Jane.
      Fact- These people are working for you.
      Fact- If you do not tip, you are asking them to work for less than minimum wage.
      Is that right? How much do you think they value your business, if you value their service so little. And don’t say you don’t care, it just makes you seem petty and abbrasive. No one likes those qualities in a boss.
      Fact- Most employees perform better when encouraged and compensated.
      How’s your benefit package?
      How often do you get a raise?
      Believe it or not, most service industry people are in it because they enjoy it.
      I think they would all agree, you would not be enjoyable.
      If you don’t believe in tipping, you obviously don’t believe in Capitolism and probably lean toward a more socialist society, but… by the sound of your rant, let’s just call it, “entitlement”, you’ve probably done very well for yourself.
      Sorry your so bitter. May you get all that you deserve. Karma’s a bitch.

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