The New Rules of Tipping
…a Perspective from Ed Engoron
How you doin’? For the last 3-1/2 years I’ve been writing this Survival Guide Cooking Lesson series. I’ve tried to keep it fun, informative and pithy, yet not let personal or political opinions poison our work. You can see enough of that junk just by watching any of the 24-hour news outlets. I hope you have benefited from all the hard work it takes to put out the recipes and cooking information.
I have been in the food and beverage industry for 40 years and love my career choice. I have owned and operated over 350 restaurants, run our consulting company and Choclatique, our high-end chocolate brand. I was the host on Stump the Chef (10 years) and Joan Vieweger and I co-hosted The Food Show and The Super Foodies on ABC (5-1/2 years). We worked with the founder(s) of McDonalds, Pizza Hut and the CEOs of Disney, Sony, Universal, Target, Walmart and so many others all in the food industry. In fact, you could find our company influence wherever food and people come together… I guess we really are the Super Foodies!
After reading an article in a recent issue of New York Magazine I felt compelled to write this editorial.
It’s now almost impossible to make any sort of purchase without being confronted with a computer screen asking for 15%, 20%, 25% or 30% gratuity. The other day I was prompted for a 35% gratuity at an airport restaurant on top of the cost of a mediocre $29 burger and fries. It’s not just for a cup of joe at your local Starbucks but buying bottled water at the deli or crackers at a specialty grocery store now also prompts the option for tips. This might irritate or confuse you (it does me), but the reality is there are new post-covid social expectations around what is a tip (versus a service charge), what’s it really worth and who gets it. Here is what’s expected.
At restaurants, the previous range of socially acceptable and ethically expected tips was 15% to 20%; now, it’s 20% to 25% or higher. That’s when the minimum wage was truly minimum. A lot of these jobs we never created to feed a family of four or more. This goes for whether you’re at a Ruth’s Chris Steak House, Olive Garden or Cracker Barrel and whether you felt the service was deserving or not (T.I. P.S. = To Insure Proper Service, an old English tavern tradition—blame the Brits).
These days, the expectation--demand—is that the higher your disposable income, the more you should tip, but anything under 20% is just rude—Pay Your Fair Share! Blame this on inflation, COVID, and the heightened awareness that more than half of your servers’ salary probably comes from tips. You are told it’s just the rules. So, just pay, don’t complain—STFU.
At coffee shops, coffee carts, cafés and bodegas, tip at least 20 % even though their pay isn’t as tip dependent for servers as it used to be. The average salary for a barista in New York is just above minimum wage (at Starbuck’s that’s plus profit sharing and a 401K). Baristas are often preparing complicated orders in a tense environment—I want my caffeine now! If your order is only regular coffee, you may tip $1. If you’re buying an item that involves no preparation (a bottle of water, a muffin), it is acceptable, though considered miserly, not to tip.
For food delivery, you are expected to tip a minimum of $5, or 20%, whichever is greater, and even more in bad weather according to the “new” rules of wokeness. Because delivery workers are categorized as independent contractors, their employers don’t have to pay them minimum wage. And per a recent survey from the Worker’s Justice Project and the Worker Institute at Cornell, the median hourly wage for an app delivery worker in New York is only $10.94 an hour, or $15.21 with tips. Also, given the history of tips not always making it into the delivery person’s hands, you are expected to tip with cash whenever possible. If you don’t, you may get on the area’s no delivery list.
When picking up takeout at a restaurant, it’s easy to understand why you might not tip anything, however you are now expected to tip at least 10 %. The stated reason… a takeout order interrupts the flow of the other work required of servers and hosts who are dependent on tips. BS! Develop a better and fairer compensation plan for your employees and do not tack anything more on inflation-poor customers.
At a bar, the conventional wisdom was to tip at least $1 per drink if you’re just getting a beer and 20% for a cocktail. If you’re at a food counter—a cheese shop, a deli counter, or a fast-casual lunch spot where employees are telling you about the items, slicing or mixing you a food bowl—you are now expected to tip something if prompted. Ideally 10 %. At a deli, for instance, the tip pool is divided among the employees who are paid hourly, which means that instead of making minimum wage ($16 an hour), they now take home around $21 an hour.
How are you expected to tip Uber drivers? The same way you’d tip a cabdriver—at least 20%. The Uber app can make adding a tip feel like more of an afterthought, but it shouldn’t be. According to new data from the Taxi & Limousine Commission, Uber drivers earn substantially less in fares and tips than taxi drivers (plus the company—Uber—takes more than a 25% cut of fares and deliveries).
For everything else—hairstylists, waxers, movers (yes, movers)—you are expected to tip 20% minimum. And, maybe more if you can.
Do not be intimidated by having a screen thrust in your face with a demand for a gratuity in the amount of 20% to 35%. My philosophy is to tip what you can afford for the value of the service.
Quip of the Day: Q. Why should you tip the guy at the crematorium? A. Because he urned it!
Do you have a question or comment? Send your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org. All recipes and cooking tips are posted on our website https://www.perspectives-la.com/covid-19-survival-guide.
To you and everyone dear to you, be strong, be positive, stay well, stay safe and be kind. Take a breath and count your blessings, and if you have a little extra to share with others, please consider donating to Feeding America and/or American Red Cross.
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