Tipping – An American Idiocy
Dining out in restaurants allows one to enjoy the sensation of being condescended to by their inferiors. – Oscar Wilde
Eating Las Vegas reader Louis writes:
I couldn’t help but notice that ELV’s tip for this meal was more than 30 percent, which caused me to wonder what your philosophy is concerning the gratuity when dining out. Thanks.
ELV responds (with a long answer to a short question):
Our philosophy about tipping is as follows:
1) Restaurant tipping is ridiculous (America is the only country in the world that practices it to such a wide extent, i.e., to where it is customary to tip in almost all restaurants.)
2) If we really tipped “to insure promptitude” we would leave the gratuity at the beginning of the meal.
3) One of the prime motivating factors in how much money we leave for a tip is how we want the recipient to perceive us after they have performed us a service — nonsensical but true.
4) Tipping should be abolished. (Restaurants should add a service charge onto the bill as they do in Europe and pay their employees a decent wage.)
5) The conspiracy between management (who don’t want to pay a decent wage – or charge their customers to do so) and staff (who, like most labor, just want to take the cash for themselves and skedaddle) has created a corrupt system that favors both while putting the customer at a disadvantage.
6) Protesting this odious state of affairs does the customer no good, for to do so makes you look like an ass, and would deprive service personal of a living wage.
7) Notwithstanding all of the above, ELV believes a 20% tip on the total bill is the bare minimum to leave in restaurants. The only time this shouldn’t be applied is if the bill of fare includes one or more exorbitantly-priced bottles of wine. Since ELV is not, nor has he ever been, in the practice of ordering exorbitantly-priced bottles of wine, this situation rarely arises. When it has, as in when a well-heeled companion has splurged, our advice is to tip 30% on everything but the exorbitantly-priced bottle(s).
8) On comped meals for one or two, we always try to leave at least a 25% gratuity on what we roughly calculate the bill would have been.
9) On big deal meals where we barely see a menu, we always try (unless we’re particularly tapped out that month) to leave at least $100 on the table — whether dining alone or as a couple. If two couples are dining together gratis at an expensive restaurant, each should leave at least $75 for the staff. (Admittedly, this is a phenomenon peculiar to the “comp culture” of Las Vegas – Nevada, not New Mexico)
10) If a manager or sommelier has been especially helpful during your meal, slipping them a double sawbuck is always appropriate. ELV practices not what he preaches in this regard, since to do so would mean spreading more cash around town than he has to all who assist him throughout the year.
11) Besides those mentioned above, another big reason people tip is because we feel guilty about having people wait on us. Since ELV carries around more than his share of guilt (for 40+ years of various objectionable/self-centered behavior), his tips generally reflect this.
12) Celebrities are the worst tippers on earth (Hello Tiger Woods, Sean Connery* et al!)….with certain exceptions (Hello Drew Carey, Phil Mickleson, et al).
13) Dentists tip worse than doctors, women less than men, and engineers least of anyone….excepting our staff.
14) Anyone who has ever worked in the restaurant business is usually a big tipper.
16) Restaurants (and bars) are the only businesses where customers are expected to directly pay (part of) the salaries of the employees.
17) Thus are misers and beggars in cahoots with fools. (You are a fool if you think the withheld “promise” of a future gratuity influences the quality of your service.)
18) The entire system devalues the hospitality profession and makes gypsies out of waitrons….which is exactly what many of them want. As Anthony John (Cutsumpas) Curtas (1926-2006 – The Official Father of ELV) once said (of the restaurant business): “It isn’t the customers that kill you…it’s the help.”
19) Tipping is institutionalized idiocy.
20) So, to answer Louis’ question (and make a long story even longer), we tipped 30% at Nakamura-Ya because the chef sent out three extra dishes for us to try on top of the four we had already ordered. We were only charged for the original four ($46), and felt adding a little extra tip ($16) was appropriate. In hindsight, the food was so good it should’ve been a twenty.
* A well-known New York chef once told us Sean “The name is Bond, James Bond” Connery was a frequent guest at his (very expensive) restaurant, and no matter what the bill was — $200 or $2,000 — he always left $20 for the staff.