Friday, May 24, 2024

Insight: Tipping the scales

By Ed Pierce
Managing Editor

I’m always unsure each time I step up to the cash register at my favorite burger place and the display screen there asks if I want to leave a tip.

For years I’ve always assumed that tips were supposed to be a way to recognize personalized and exemplary service but now it seems it’s something that’s expected. The rule of thumb that my parents used was 10 percent if it was a restaurant meal, but that amount seems to have grown substantially with the popularity of digital payment processing.

On a recent visit to an upscale burger establishment, my keypad choices for tipping upon ordering were No Tip, 15 percent, 20 percent, 25 percent, or Other Amount. I didn’t know if the digital tip was for the employee taking my order or if it was to be split among the eight employees working there that evening. And I found it difficult to gauge the service in leaving a tip when they had just taken my order. I couldn’t know at that point if they would mess up the order or omit a condiment I requested on my burger.

Leaving a tip in an instance like that is always difficult for me. But I do feel for the employees preparing fast food and I want to reward their dedication to preparing and serving great food.

I’m also torn about tipping when my wife and I go out with family at a sit-down restaurant. When we went out to a restaurant during a visit with our oldest son, his wife and two grandchildren last summer, there were four adults and two children under the age of 5 at our table. Each adult meal was more than $20. The kids had small plates of fries and chicken nuggets under $12 each. Including drinks, the bill came to $144. I felt the service was outstanding, so I left the waitress a tip of $56 which amounts to about 38 percent.

According to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, on average 92 percent of Americans report leaving a tip most often at sit-down restaurants and 76 percent of them leave a tip for food delivery employees. But less than 12 percent leave tips at fast-food restaurants.

When I was in high school, I worked as a busboy at the Cartwright Inn in Henrietta, New York. On busy Friday evenings sometimes, the waitresses were overwhelmed and on occasion a customer would ask me to bring them a glass of milk or cup of tea that the waitress forgot to bring to their table. At least twice when I did that the customer would leave a $1 or $2 tip for me when paying their bill, but the restaurant’s official policy was it was up to the discretion of the waitress to give it to me and I didn’t receive that tip either time.

It didn’t make me happy then, but in hindsight I know now that the waitresses were paid a minimal wage and most of their income was made through tips from customers for the service they provided. Busboys, dishwashers, and cooks received an hourly wage for their efforts, and it wasn’t much.

When it comes to haircare services, I can see first-hand the results of a haircut in the mirror, so it’s easier for me to calculate and leave a tip for my stylist when paying the bill before leaving.

I usually choose a hair stylist that I’m comfortable talking to and someone who knows how to cut my hair properly. After the first few visits, the stylist has a good idea of what I want, and I just sit back in their chair and let them do their thing without further instruction. When I lived in Florida, I had the same stylist for 10 years. When I lived in New Hampshire, we lived close enough that I could walk to the barber shop, and I always felt comfortable letting any one of the four barbers working there cut my hair.

My current stylist, Andrea, is the third person who has cut my hair from the shop I go to. The first two became friends and they have since moved on to other locations with that company. At first, I was apprehensive about having to choose another stylist, but Andrea made me feel at ease and has never given me a bad haircut. Each time I always leave her a generous tip equal to at least the same amount as the cost of the haircut itself.

Another sandwich shop that I go to every so often doesn’t offer the option of digital tipping. They have a large glass jar on the counter for cash tips only. Since I rarely carry cash with me these days, I feel bad when I receive great service but I’m unable to leave the workers there a decent tip.

As an adult, I’ve always been generous in tipping making pizza delivery people, taxi drivers, parking lot attendants and hotel concierge workers happy. But I’m always perplexed when it comes to tipping at fast-food places. Maybe I should stop at the bank for tip jar cash before I eat there. <

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