Working for tips

Rainier Ehrhardt/Staff
Bartender April Hockman, behind a pitcher used for collecting tips, writes out an order during lunch at Nacho Mama's in downtown Augusta.

For Jennifer Govia, it looked like a good night.

The Bonefish Grill server had just finished a table with a $150 tab. With the standard 15 percent tip, she was looking at a $22 tip, maybe more.

Instead, she got less than half that. So what gives?

"A lot of people don't understand when you tip on food, if you have a gift card, you should still tip on the full amount (of the bill)," she said.

Her customer had had a $100 gift card but tipped only on the $50 he paid.

"This isn't the first time. I know that's not an isolated situation," she said.

Neither Ms. Govia nor her customer is alone. The fickle art of tipping, meant to be a gratuity or a thank you, has evolved into a delicate situation that can cause a range of emotions, from appreciation to anger.

Some people tip for good service. Others tip because it's become a social norm and they don't want to appear cheap or rude.

"There's a lot of politics involved in tipping," said Barry Blackston, an owner of Blue Sky Kitchen, Still Water Tap Room and Nacho Mama's downtown.

Whether it's a night out at a sushi bar, valet service or cab fare, many people, such as Hephzibah resident Ernestine Wright, are confused about when, how and whom to tip these days.

"I'd like to know who to tip. I know waiters, and I know the valet, the taxi driver, but who else?" she said.

Originally, tipping was done at the beginning of a meal for better service, said Carson Elliott, who writes an etiquette column for The Augusta Chronicle. She said she gets a "good many" questions on tipping.

Tipping isn't required, but it certainly does help grease the wheels, experts say.

Bethany Belk, a massage therapist at Jon Ric International Medical Spa & Salon on Furys Ferry Road, said a standard tip in her industry is 20 to 25 percent of the bill, though she said customers who use several services should request that tips be divvied up proportionally to the cost of each service.

Ms. Belk said she remembers her customers who tip and might try to squeeze them in at the last minute or do them other favors. Still, she said, she doesn't have to share her tips, and doesn't think they are required.

"We never expect a tip," she said. "But that's what we work for. It's a motivator."

These days, people can feel as though someone wants a tip everywhere they turn. One reason is that it is a more service-oriented society, from personal trainers to dog walkers to pool cleaners, said Peter Post, the director of the Vermont-based Emily Post Institute.

Tipping the regular baby sitter, lawn mower or dog walker isn't required, though Mr. Post said a once-a-year tip based on one day's pay is a good gesture. Nannies and other full-time helpers might receive one week or one month's pay, depending on the situation.

People aren't just using more services; wherever they turn - bars, cafes - tip jars seem as ubiquitous as frappuccinos.

Although slipping something into the tip jar is appreciated, Mr. Blackston said, customers shouldn't feel obligated.

"It's totally up to the customer," he said. "My employees ... do the same job regardless."

If the restaurant's staff goes out of its way, Mr. Post said, it is nice to put a tip in the jar.

"It's my choice," he said.

In most industries, the tip is considered a gratuity, but restaurants don't operate quite that way.

"The one area where we tip people as a requirement of buying a service is with eating out," Mr. Post said.

Tipping isn't actually required, though some restaurants have taken to automatically adding the gratuity onto the check.

Whereas most industries pay a living wage, legal exceptions mean that many servers and bartenders usually make well below $3 an hour. (Federal minimum wage is $5.15 an hour, and the state wage increases to $5.85 an hour July 24).

"Generally, I feel badly to leave a small tip when I feel like I've gotten poor service," said Jerry Dowdy, of Wrens, Ga.

That puts a lot of servers and customers between a rock and a hard place. Ms. Govia points out that when servers get their paycheck, taxes often reduce the amount to zero.

"It is absurd. Unfortunately, it's the deal we've all made," Mr. Post said. "To not tip when you go to a restaurant is a real mistake, because you are depriving people of a living wage if you do that."

People should plan to tip if they're going to eat out, but shouldn't feel obligated to do so if the service is bad, said Josh Simonton, the general manager of Somewhere in Augusta.

"I believe, personally, your tip reflects on your service," he said.

Rather than using a poor tip as punishment, Mr. Post suggests speaking with the manager so that the server can improve. It also prevents busboys and others who might split tips with the servers from losing out.

Some situations are even more difficult. Evans resident Carole Meek said she had no idea how much to tip the movers who went above and beyond the call of duty when helping her in-laws relocate from Maryland.

"They were so considerate of my in-laws," she said. "We didn't want to insult them."

Though they couldn't afford to tip 10 percent of the $4,000 bill, she said they did give them $100 apiece. Mr. Post, of the Emily Post Institute, said that is just what they should have done.

Customers should keep in mind, though, that when they want to tip workers such as letter carriers or doormen, they should check the company policy.

Some employers, such as the U.S. Postal Service, have rules about tipping, said Michael Miles, a postal service spokesman in Atlanta.

Postal carriers cannot accept cash, nor can they accept gifts of more than $20 or gifts totaling $50 annually, he said.

The experts agree that although tipping is courteous or can get favors, it's still up to the consumer.

"I think any time someone performs a service for you that you think has gone above or beyond the expected norm, that is a time to tip a person," Mr. Post said.

Reach Laura Youngs at (706) 823-3227 or laura.youngs@augustachronicle.com.

WHO, WHAT, WHERE?

The list isn't exhaustive, but here are some everyday situations in which it's a good idea to tip:

Barber: Tip the hair cutter 15 percent of the cost, a minimum of $1. Don't tip the owner, but the hair washers should get $1 to $2.

Salon: If one person does all the work, 15 percent of bill. Tip 10 percent of the bill to the person who sets hair and 10 percent divided among others, but don't tip owners. Tip the shampooer $1 to $2.

Server at buffet restaurant: Tip 5 to 10 percent of total bill, depending on how much work is done by the staff.

Servers at full-service restaurant: 15 percent to 20 percent of bill before tax.

Headwaiter/maitre d': Tip $20 to $100 or more depending on the occasion, restaurant, your frequency and whether you like to be taken care of.

Restaurant owner: $0

Wine steward: 15 percent of wine bill.

Bartender: 15 to 20 percent of bill.

Busboy: $0 (often tipped from server's tips).

Coat check attendant: $1 for one or two coats.

Pizza delivery: 15 to 20 percent of the bill, $2 minimum. $5 or more for large deliveries.

Large Delivery (air conditioner, refrigerator): $5-$10 per person minimum.

Flowers: $2-$5; $5-$10 for large plant or heavy/large deliveries.

Hotel Maid: $5 a night minimum. Long stays (over a week), $7 to $9 a night.

Hotel room service waiter: 15 percent of bill.

Bellhop: $10 for taking luggage to room

Hotel lobby attendant: $1 or more for help with luggage or finding a taxi on the street.

Cab driver: 15 percent of fare, no less than 25 cents. For luggage assistance, $1 per bag for up to five bags, $2 per bag for five bags or more or if bags are very heavy (more than 50 pounds each).

Valet: $1-$2 when car is returned.

Tipping Calculator: www.tipping.org/calculator.html

Source: www.tipping.org

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