The 15% Tip: Is it Fair?

One of the awkward things about traveling happens at the end of each restaurant meal.  The bill often comes out more than I'd hoped and now, at 15%, the tip must be higher too.  I've never quite understood our tipping system.  Why 15% instead of a flat amount based on service and customer choice?  If I go to an expensive restaurant, spend $200 on the group's meals, I am expected to tip another $30.  If I dine at Denny's and spend just $20, the waiter gets a $3 tip.  Why the difference?

I have met friends and associates for coffee and spent an hour at the table.  The waitress (always a woman in cheaper diners) seems to be working hard and I'm sure is not paid more than waiters in the high-priced joints.  Though our entire bill might be just a few bucks, I usually leave $5 for the waitress who took care of us.  Well beyond 15%.  In the expensive joints, I have been known to cringe at the final bill and am reluctant to go a whole lot deeper in the hole with a big tip.  Nor do I notice the high-end waiters and waitresses working any harder or acting any more gracious than those making $3 per table at Denny's.

I find our system discriminatory and even a bit sexist, given that most wait-women work in less expensive places and nearly all wait-men in expensive ones.  I prefer to even out what I tip, regardless of what the restaurant owner charges for the meal.  Makes me generous in the one case and a cheapskate in the other.

I worked as a waitress and as a bartender while in college.  My tips (when I got them) were paltry, but then my employers weren't running fancy joints either.   Most of us who've worked in food service learned enough to know we wanted a different career.  It's hard work and like many jobs dealing with the public, can be stressful.  Abusive customers abound.

But what about service people who care for us in other minimum wage jobs?  Motel and hotel maids deserve tips as well.  I wonder how many guests leave any tip at all?  I can't imagine a tougher job and almost always leave a few bucks as a thank you.  I have a habit of tipping gas station attendants who  don't top off my tank or ask before they do (yes, I know it's illegal to top off but many still do it).  Since they seem to hate having to make change, I donate the change plus a dollar.  Not much.  They're thrilled -- tells me it doesn't happen often.

Ushers in movie theaters, clerks in convenience stores, fast food workers -- do any of them receive tips?  Should they?

I understand tipping is supposed to be related to service received.  But unfortunately it no longer seems to be in restaurants.  Give less than 15% and it's a reflection on you, not the waitstaff.  I'm willing to tip for good service, but why only in restaurants?  And why in such an unequal fashion?


  1. i've had the same thoughts regarding tipping in expensive eateries. i don't think the wait persons in lesser establishments work any less hard than their more fortunately employed peers. Maybe 10 percent when the bill is over $100? Or some other arbitrary sum. But I agree. This issue needs another look.


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