John Curtas is …

Tipping – An American Idiocy

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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.

15) Nouveau riche, self-made businessmen are the biggest tippers of all. (Because they crave legitimization and acceptance. See #3 above.)

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.

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* 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.

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18 Responses to Tipping – An American Idiocy

  • Pseudocelebrity car dealship owners are also notoriously bad tippers!

  • Canadians, your well to do neighbors to the North, also tip in the same manner as Americans.
    Little FYI

  • If waitstaff in Vegas didnt have to hustle for tips- they would spend their time hiding from guests and making excuses to not go out in the diningroom. This already happens to a certain extent with the unionized waitrons we have here- they are already overpaid for what they have to do and only the ones on the ball really work for tips- the others give bare minimum service- thats why the service is on the lax side in most of the casino owned restaurants. thanks 226.

  • Sorry John, but overtipping doesn’t make any sense to me.

    Tipping is based on proper service and if we tip 30% as you suggest what do you do on mediocre service..20%?
    Service has gotten worse in this town and you enable it by leaving wads of money no matter what.

  • Except at very high end restaurants, service in Europe does not compare to service in the US. (Michelin star experiences will be the same). Surely a large part of that has to do with “optional” tipping.

    In my experience in countries that use auto-gratuity, the problem is even worse (mostly my experience here has been in Caribbean resorts).

    Service in Vegas is tremendous. I’ve done quite a lot of travelling, and nothing compares to Vegas. Nothing is even close. Kind of a moot point since tipping is an American thing, rather than Vegas thing, but still. It’s a very service oriented way of doing things, and we get better service as a result.

    I’m not confident our system of tipping is the way to go, but I think the better service is an upside you don’t seem to acknowledge in this post.

  • What would you define good service from a waiter?
    Be polite
    Take your order correctly
    Bring your plates promptly when ready from the kitchen ( if there are no food runners)
    Bring your check and say thank you

    For this we should leave a tip?

    Is there a waiter in Las Vegas that can actually serve table side? Clean a fish? Prepare a Tartar? Plate food?

  • I appreciate ELV’s response to my question and to the comments above. And, while we are on the matter of tipping, is the mandatory “service charge” appended to hotel room service deliveries considered a gratuity for the server or does it go directly to the hotel’s bottom line? This charge is usually 18 percent or more. In addition to the service charge, there is usually a place on the ticket for a “gratuity.” So, by paying the service charge and not leaving the gratuity, am I stiffing the person bringing the food to my room? (For you table servers out there, I do not mean to imply that room service is in any way comparable to table service. I’m just curious as to why hotel room service adds a mandatory service charge to a bill and American restaurants, including those in hotels, do not do so.)

  • Amber: Hi my name is Amber, Ill be taking care of you this evening.
    Will we be preffering bottled water for the table this evening or still water? Our bottled water is sourced directly from the French alps and bottled exclusively for our chef….

    Me: Can you please shut the fuck up Amber and bring me a vodka martini.

  • It would be really nice if all restaurants in the USA were priced “service inclusive”. But I don’t think that will ever happen.

  • “…Pseudocelebrity car dealship owners are also notoriously bad tippers!”…but NOT his Dad(may he rest in peace)…the man enjoyed fine dining and was always generous!

  • # 3 swolfla, may have a point re: the mediocrity of standards at some strip resorts with a 226 labor agreement, but is only half correct: just look at the differences between say, Excalibur & Bellagio…

    # 6 Tom asks can a server debone a fish, prepare a (Caesar) salad, carve a rack tableside??? FYI that’s why Chefs get the big bucks. When I go out to a restaurant, I want the kitchen staff to cook my meal and the wait staff to serve it to me. Does your dentist change the oil on your car???

    # 7 Louis makes a very good point: TIPS are being highjacked on a daily basis under the disguise of various service charges:
    * Room service delivery charge
    * Banquet / Catering tag on 21% (or higher) service charge

    The tipping policy in this country is based on the honor system UNLESS you are a party of 6 or more in which case you are no longer trusted to do the math for yourself and instead of leaving your standard 15% the establishment will do the math for you but that will cost you 18%.
    A point that I would like to make: Why does every server expect me to tip on the final total INCLUDING tax???

  • I for one “bother” tipping because “the version I heard was,” the restaurants report how much they took in broken down by server (no, I don’t know how they do that, either) to the IRS, who in turn expect the servers to report some percentage (something like 8%?) of that as tip income.

    Speaking of tips…should I tip:
    (a) when picking up takeout food I ordered over the phone;
    (b) when picking up takeout food I ordered in the restaurant?

  • The problem with tipping (To Insure Promp Service!) is the waiter serves the highest perceived bidder who could be a guy who is just feeling high and wants to impress post meal. Convicted music moghul left 450$ tip for a bill of 45$ in a LA eatery. The tipping has left the waiters greedy, incompetant, rude and abnoxious, since it is the money that is forthcoming and preceived. They know it is a minumum so they give you a minimum service. The customer also is profiled before he sits down for a meal. It is becoming a car wash where these guys are paid zilch and we are expected to support them. I wont tip in car washed and elsewhere (I dont go to the same car wash again either so they cant take it on my car) it should be abolished.

  • #12 human ATM— yes I agree with your post- the most striking difference in service is between company owned restaurants under the labor agreemnet(of which excalibur has many) and non union fine dining restaurants (which are prevalent at the nicer hotels/Bellagio)

  • Also concerning the room service charge- it goes mostly to the room service general manager as a kick back- yes its a scam. Also- the service charge for banquets gets split between the servers the banquet managers and the executive and banquet chefs- it is also like a kick back- there you go– anything else?

  • What if?

    What if the sensitive subject of tipping was a just ploy to get traffic to this website???
    more traffic, more kick back from advertisers…
    I guess we just left a big tip without knowing it!

  • I finally did it. I left no tip. And I felt pretty shitty about it at first. But damn I’m sick of BNN 9 giving terrible service (I can deal with it on spring Mtn out of respect for cultural differences but come on, not on the strip). Now that I’m home I feel some sort of good feeling; like when you straight talk the boss you normally kiss ass to and they walk away with their tail between their legs. I’m still at odds with the whole tipping culture but I feel like I won tonight.

John at Work Restaurant reviews, quips, picks and pans-with some seriously salivating history-from the man who eats his way through Sin City every day.
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