|Chicago TribuneMcClatchy-Tribune Business
Sep. 15, 2006 - You're dining out at a swanky restaurant. Your server has helped you and your date get a romantic little table in the corner. He's given you the skinny on the coq au vin and the rack of lamb, and he's delivered your meal with perfect timing. His final act of the evening is to bring you the check. Do you give him a fabulous tip?
Or do you stiff him?
Restaurant patrons beware: If you leave a stingy tip, the world may find out about it.
The Associated Press recently reported that waiters are employing the Internet to express their displeasure with their customers. One Web site gives waiters around the country the opportunity to divulge the names of customers who have tipped less than 17 percent.
On other Web sites, waiters mouth off about people who tip less than 20 percent. One New Yorker has a blog (WaiterRant.net) on which he gives scathing reports about rude and impatient customers, including details on their poor tipping habits.
It's hard to blame the waiters. There aren't many occupations in which you do the work and then the employer decides how much to pay you (or whether to pay you at all.)
A former Atlanta waiter who's now a restaurant manager has been trying to persuade restaurant owners to follow the lead of Europeans and charge an automatic 20 percent service fee on every check.
Michael Lynn, a professor at Cornell University's Center for Hospitality Research, has found that many people do feel strong social pressure to tip in the 15 to 20 percent range. (Increasingly they're feeling pressures to drop change in tip jars as well. But we digress.)
"We've found that customers tip more when servers do things such as writing thank you on the check, calling the customer by name or even squatting to talk to the customer," said Lynn.
In general, customers don't want automatic service charges. It strips the server of the motivation to do a good job if he or she knows he's going to be paid the same anyway.
Research shows that customers believe waiters should be paid more, but customers aren't always willing to pay higher prices for their meals to subsidize those higher wages. And restaurateurs aren't always willing to hike their menu prices and/or take a bite out of their profits to boost waiters' salaries.
It seems unlikely that many U.S. restaurants are going to adopt the automatic service charge, though many do impose one for larger groups. Waiters' earnings will continue to be based in part on tips, and those tips will sometimes be generous and sometimes stingy. That's the nature of the job.
A word of advice: Give them a break. If you can afford the price of the meal, you can afford to be generous to the waiter. And treat them respectfully. A seat at the table doesn't come with a license to treat the waiter like a lackey.
And if that doesn't convince you, remember: You don't want to show up on WaiterRant.net.
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