Jewish World Review August 21, 2007 / 7 Elul, 5767
To tip or skip it: Gratuity must be earned
By Vicki Lee Parker
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | (MCT) Knowing who, when and how much to tip has become as complicated as solving Rubik's Cube.
No matter where you turn there is often the question: Should I?
We live in a service age, in which we pay people to perform hundreds of tasks - car-side food delivery, home-delivered dry cleaning, personal shopping, lawn care, spa treatments, hair styling and more - and they all want tips.
As plastic takes over more wallets, customers buying anything from a cup of coffee to a takeout order often find themselves in an awkward position, handed a debit or credit card receipt to sign with a line for a gratuity. Are they expected to tip someone for making their latte or for putting their food in a bag?
I think not. But many customers apparently are much more giving than I am.
Jacklyn Minichiello, a manager at Port City Java, a coffee shop in downtown Raleigh, said that tipping is optional and is not expected, although a tip jar sits near the cash register, and the receipts have a gratuity line. A number of customers tip, Minichiello said.
"We try to get their order ready as soon as they get in line, because we know they have meetings and are trying to get to work," she said. "We are not exactly doing it for tips. We are just trying to help people."
Chad Day, manager at Chili's near Triangle Town Center in Raleigh, said that a tip is not expected when customers pick up their to-go orders, even though the gratuity line is printed on the receipt. "That's (printed) ... on all of the credit card orders," Day said.
The company hires people to work part time to prepare the to-go orders, Day said. So that person is being paid at least minimum wage, unlike a waiter who depends on tips for his or her livelihood and makes much less per hour.
But if the person brings your to-go order to your car, the gratuity rules may change.
B.J. Stolz, general counsel of an Applebee's franchise group in North Carolina, said that the employees who deliver the food to the car depend on tips for a living, which means they are probably earning less than minimum wage.
But even he concedes that when he has food delivered to his car, he doesn't tip the usual 15 percent to 20 percent.
"I give a buck or two. It's not like they waited on me for an entire meal, filling up drinks and that sort of thing," he said.
There are times when it's perfectly clear when to tip. One is when the service is performed by a waiter or another employee who relies on tips as his or her main source of income. The other time is when you get outstanding service, such as when your waiter goes beyond what's expected. I'll admit that my threshold for this standard is quite high.
My colleagues call me cheap. But let's face it, we can't afford to tip everyone we think deserves it.
Let's say you tip 10 percent on your $2 cup of coffee every day. That's more than $70 a year. Then if you eat out once a month for $40 and leave a 15 percent tip, that's an additional $72 a year. And that doesn't include what you give your hair stylists or the pizza delivery person.
Before you tip over, I recommend that you set up some gratuity guidelines.
Because there are varying opinions about who and how much to tip, it's better to devise a plan that you are comfortable with.
For example, if I was not sure whether the person preparing my to-go order was working for tips, I'd ask the manager. If the answer is yes, I'd tip. If no, I wouldn't.
And you should never, ever feel pressure to tip.
To get some idea about what's generally expected, here are a few guidelines from a helpful Web site (to see the entire list, visit http://azaz.essortment.com/tipping_rdef.htm):
What's your take? Do we tip too much or not enough? Drop me a line, and I'll include some responses in a future column.
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Vicki Lee Parker is a columnist for The News & Observer. Comment by clicking here.
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