Monday, May 14, 2007

The Tipping Point

Bill Simmons, a blogger on, was answering his 'mail-bag' column the other day and someone asked him how much he tips various people.

I've been a waiter, so I consider my self a decent tipper in general but according to Simmons I under tip. (By the way I have to agree with Open Bar that BS really just mails it in these days. He's a great writer but his columns are getting very short and seemingly more and more effortless). Anyway, you can go see what he says but this is how I tip various people:

  • Cab-Drivers: At least $2, it's not really that dependent on how far I go. Generally it's $2 + whatever amoung of change to round it to the next dollar.
  • Coffee Shop Counter People/Take-out/Dry-cleaners: Nothing. They have these mugs out all the time for you to throw money in but it seems to me that they don't really deserve a tip. I guess, ultimately, I think you only really need to tip if someone is providing a service that makes whatever you're buying better. The guy that goes and gets your coffee? Doesn't really matter if he's a dick or cool. No tip for you! Occassionally, I'll throw the loose change in but, by and large, nada.
  • Hotels: I guess if you have someone carry your bags for you or something, you should tip them. I suppose you could also leave money for the cleaning staff but I never do. Maybe I should.
  • Waiters: Almost always 20%. As I mentioned, I've been a waiter and it's a tough job. It also really sucked if people were cheap on the tip because you're getting like $2 an hour based on the expectation that people tip. Sometimes I give more if they're really dope or I'm just in a good mood or something. If they're kind of rude, I'll leave 15% I think a few times I've left nothing but you'd really have to piss me off for me to do that. As a side note, one great piece of advice or at least something that put things into perspective - during the ceremony before my college graduation (there's a name for that that is escaping me) the speaker was this woman who's a playwright that was a professor at my college - apparently she was fairly well known and had a few of her plays turn into movies. Her name was Wendy MacLeod. Anyway, she was saying you should be a waiter or some other type of job for a while after you graduate. It went something like, "Be a waiter, be a bar-back, be a cab-driver. Be a nobody so that when you're a somebody you won't be an asshole."
  • Bar Tenders: Clearly you tip these guys but I've never given much thought. I usually use my debit card at bars these days but you're paying cash it's probably a good idea to tip big in the beginning to ensure good service throughout the night. With a debit card, I usually tip at least 10% and it goes up based on how fast/nice they were and how many buybacks they give me. 20%, I think is for someone that was really dope. Being a waiter takes a lot more work than being a bar tender in terms of the actual job (remembering food orders, drink order, people complaining, sending stuff back, etc.) but I imagine it can get pretty difficult to handle an overcrowded bar as well.
  • Food Deliverers: These guys get the cab driver treatment, $2 plus loose change to round it out. Sometimes more, but generally not much.
  • Shoe-Shine People: In NYC shoe shines seem to vary between $2 and $3 per shine. I pay $5 regardless of what the shine initially costs, so if it's $2 the shiner gets $3 and if it's $3 the shiner gets $2. There's a guy that comes around my office and does it for $4 but I've only used him once and the division's president happened to be retiring that week and was in a great mood so he paid for me but I guess I'd give that guy $2 becaues $1 seems cheap.
  • Street Performers: If someone is pretty good, I'll tip them. Especially on a subway platform or on a subway itself. If someone is singing a good old song or something and doing it reasonably well, it can really bring some happiness for a minute or two. I'll throw them anywhere from pocket change to a dollar or two.
  • The Homeless: I don't really tip the homeless anymore. When I first started going to the city I always felt bad for those people so I'd often throw them a couple of bucks. In fact, when I got out of college and got my first job's first paycheck I thought I was rich and gave one lady a $20 bill. In recent years, it's very rare that I give anyone anything. I guess I've just become desensitized to them, which sounds sort of callous.
Here's what Simmons tips. He's clearly in a higher socioeconomic bracket than I am, what with his valet parking, curbside check-ins, room-service deliverers and sushi chefs. I don't even ever run across those people but I guess I'd tip them - I don't know about sushi chefs, I think you'd just tip the waiter/waitress.

My tip for you? Don't eat yellow snow.


Joe said...

"Coffee Shop Counter People/Take-out/Dry-cleaners: Nothing."


Anyhow, I get the same feeling with Bill Simmons too. I don't know if he's getting burnt out, is working on a book, isn't as "hungry" as he used to be, or just doesn't have as many pop-culture references left to use ... but he ain't the Bill Simmons of 2005.

ChuckJerry said...

I try to tip everybody who needs tipping, but the one exception I used to make was when I ate at the 5-star diner. If I was sitting at a table, they would make me get up and walk to the counter to get my food, so I decided never to tip anyone there. I used to go there almost every day for a while when I worked in Englewood, and the service was terrible every day.

But the food was good.

Ioana said...

i completely disagree that there should be mandatory tipping which is pretty much what you are saying- the whole purpose of tipping is to encourage better service. although i know that in reality there is no real correlation, i'd be dammed if i'm going to tip someone anything if they were rude to me or the service was significantly sub-par (which by the way happens frequently in NYC- prime example that weird aspiring actress waitress at that nice diner by 108 and broadway), regardless if they make $2 an hour or not... if they depends so much on tips, maybe they should learn some better service manners...

Hasdai said...

I hate tipping. And having recently spent a little over two weeks among our future overlords in China, I have to say it was immensely refreshing to gad about in a society where no-one tips. Seriously, no tips for anything. Cab drivers refused my efforts to tip them. They actually refused, with a smile and a wave.

It's not that I'm some kind of miser. Quite the opposite, at least I hope that's the case. It's just that tipping is bullshit. As Ioana eloquently points out, it becomes mandatory rather than a reward for excellent service. Suddenly one is placed under an expectation and obligation not to look like a tight-fisted bastard. Combine this with the need to perform mental arithmetic in a short space of time (and often under the influence of intoxicants) and the whole thing becomes a little bundle of anxiety at precisely those moments when you just want to get on, get out of the cab, leave the restaurant or bar so you can go and pass out.

I would much, much prefer a standard service charge. I believe various studies show that these cause no decline in quality of service (not sure if these studies take into account the stripper matrix). No muss, no fuss, no potential scowl. I know exactly what to expect. Until then of course I continue to tip, and generously, especially waiters who, as Luke says, do often work quite hard and get gang-raped by congress with a rolled-up copy of the U.S. tax-code (have you seen the size of that thing?) by having tips assumed as part of earnings.