Server Tipping - © vintage

Tipping Etiquette Poll: Diner Attitudes Vary Widely

This is a story about a recent ‘tipping culture’ poll that asked a whole bunch of questions to Americans. And the results revealed that folks vary widely in their opinions and values in reference to tipping…

Tipping - ©

The history…

Not much to say. Except that the concept of tipping was originally intended as a voluntary reward for good service. A gratuity to the server. (See photo, top of page!) Now, it seems the waters are being muddied by new management policies that have institutionalized ‘tipping’. A simple, straightforward custom has been thrown into a cultural blender, and confusion apparently abounds.

What’s going on?

Where do I start? How about an observation that the ‘confusion’ the poll uncovered is not limited to the US. Canadians are also reporting confusion and frustration over new tipping rules and ‘service charges’. And it’s the same in the UK and Europe.

Tipping customs blurring

A personal survey I conducted of online news stories shows that policies on tipping have become multi-furcated. This trend has been spearheaded by the resto operators. It’s no longer a simple thank-you for a server. (See photo, top of page.) And the voluntary aspect of the process is quickly disappearing.

Many restos – especially those at the top of the foodservice chain –  have started imposing mandatory tipping. One thing I really hate about that is, they’re also ‘suggesting’ how much I should tip. And management is also collecting the tips. How do I know the tip I wanted to give my server will actually go to that person?

Another troubling – and very aggravating – development is ‘surcharges’ and ‘service fees’ that have started showing up on diners’ bills. These are nothing more than cash grabs by restaurateurs who don’t want to raise their menu prices and scare customers away. They’re doing an end run on your wallet!

The poll

But let’s get on with the poll results

The widely respected Pew Research Center wanted to get the real scoop in the tipping controversy. “We surveyed nearly 12,000 U.S. adults to find out how they feel about the common yet sometimes confusing custom of tipping.” Sounds simple. But…

Among the key findings of the poll:

  • The public is more likely to oppose than favor suggested tip amounts. More Americans oppose (40 percent) than favor (24percent) businesses suggesting tip amounts to their customers . For example, on the bill or on a checkout screen. Another 32 percent neither favor nor oppose the practice.
  • Americans broadly oppose automatic service charges. About seven-in-ten adults (72 percent) say they oppose businesses including automatic service charges or tips on customers’ bills, regardless of group size. That includes half who strongly oppose the practice. Only 10 percent favor such charges.
  • Americans’ tipping behaviors vary widely by situation. About nine of every ten adults who eat at sit-down restaurants (92 percent) say they always or often leave a tip. Among those using other services, smaller majorities tip when:
    • Getting a haircut (78 percent),
    • Having food delivered (76 percent),
    • Buying a drink at a bar (70 percent),
    • Using a taxi or rideshare service (61 percent).
    • Relatively few Americans always or often tip when buying a coffee (25 percent)… Or
    • Eating at a fast casual restaurant (12 percent)
  • A majority of Americans say they would tip 15 percent or less for an average meal at a sit-down restaurant. That’
  • That’s 57 percent, including 2 percent who say they wouldn’t leave any tip. Only a quarter of people say they’d tip 20 percent or more.
  • For most people, tipping is still, first and foremost about service. Around three-quarters of adults (77 percent) say the quality of the service they receive is a major factor in deciding whether and how much to tip. None of the other factors we asked about comes close.

My take

Everything in the poll results – and my own recent experience – points to one thing. Resto operators have to stop nickel-and-diming their patrons, and in – some cases – literally picking their pockets. That’s bad for their reputations. It’s extremely ‘bad optics’, to say the least.

Then there’s the whole other dimension of bad reviews and bad press for offending restos. Those can be the ‘kiss of death’ for an eatery.

The cure for this plague of tipping, surcharge, and service fee travesties? Resto operators have to take a long, honest look at their business models and find new ways to save money without alienating their customers. Period.

~ Maggie J.