Tipping Doesn’t Seem to Improve Service

January 10, 2015

in Tipping & Etiquette Stories

I’m one of those English people who doesn’t particularly understand “tipping” just because we don’t do it here (or very seldom!).

So my sister and I were visiting New York City (our first time in the States). We dined out nearly every evening while we were there over the Christmas period. The first few different restaurants we went into were fine enough. But the servers were nothing to write home about. They would give us our food and walk off.

In England the waitresses etc. are nice enough, but I guess we assumed that in the States they would be more attentive given the fact that tips are a big part of the dining experience. I understand Christmas time is a busy time, but I was expecting at least the usual “Is everything OK?” type of thing. But we only ever managed to get the server’s attention when it was more or less time to pay the bill. We always tipped around $28.00 ($14.00 each). We’re students so we were on a budget!

One time when we were visiting Brooklyn we went into one of these diners that reminded us of the ones we’ve seen in the movies. It was dead in there; we were the only ones. My sister wasn’t hungry so she only ordered coffee. I had a drink and something to eat.

A family of 4 came in and sat at the booth behind us; they only ordered drinks. The server, who had been very pleasant to us (he was kind enough to give us directions and told us to be careful walking around at night!), was rather rude to them. I’m not sure if the family was visiting like we were or were natives. He ranted about them just coming in for drinks and the diner not being good enough for them to eat in. It was about 7pm. I was taken aback; I wasn’t sure what had changed his mood! The family wasn’t doing anything and isn’t that the whole point of a diner? We tipped him and went on our way.

I was just wondering if anyone could explain any of this to me? I know we don’t have the best reputation for tipping, but can’t we be forgiven as it’s not part of our culture/society type of thing?

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Beth January 11, 2015 at 11:53 am

The problem was you were in NYC, where the servers tend to be more aloof. For tipping, it sounds like you really tipped too much – it should only be between 15-20% (higher in more metro areas and lower in others) before the tax is added to your bill.

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Tim January 11, 2015 at 12:53 pm

It's possible she did tip 20%. NYC isn't a cheap city. $70 for a meal (20% of $70 is $14) isn't unheard of for a dinner in that town, especially if adult beverages were ordered with the meal.

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James January 11, 2015 at 4:46 pm

No need to insult New York.

I've dined in many places — and gotten good and bad service in many places. New York City is hardly the worst! (Actually the two worst services were in St. Louis and Albuquerque — but in both cases it was a large table at places that were understaffed.)

The best service I ever had was at a New York City restaurant, La Cote Basque. The server mentioned that the chef was preparing chocolate souffles for dessert, but if one wanted one, it should be ordered at the time of the main course to give them time to prepare. My date said that sounded nice, but the fresh strawberries also sounded nice.

When the server returned to take our order, he informed us that the chef would be happy to prepare a strawberry souffle if that is what my date would like.

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Jodi January 14, 2015 at 5:50 pm

You tip based on your experience, if you weren't happy with the service you didn't have to tip or you tip very little. If you found they did really good you tip more. The average in Ohio is 10-20%. I had a friend who was visiting from another country, I gave him some rolls of gold dollars to use for tipping while here. Gold dollars aren't as common as our paper bills are so it was fun for both him and the wait staff. It was a good welcome gift for him and it saved him for having to pay for the tips. I definitely recommend it if you have friends visiting from abroad.

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Tymmon January 14, 2015 at 9:18 pm

Jodi – I have to ask – what's a gold dollar?

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James January 15, 2015 at 10:32 am

Gold dollar coins are collectors items issued by the US Mint — and are VERY generous tips.
http://catalog.usmint.gov/coins/gold-coins/

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Nirva March 10, 2017 at 10:50 am

While a *real* gold dollar coin (the collectors item) would indeed be a very generous tip, I'm pretty sure the poster was talking about Sacagawea dollars. These gold-colored coins are coated in brass and actually worth $1. They're not too common, but they are still produced by the U.S. Mint.

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Emily Patterson-Kane April 16, 2015 at 12:09 pm

While in New York I was chased into the foyer and had a higher tip demanded after giving 15%. In my experience it really is different there.

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Bobbi January 24, 2015 at 2:08 pm

James, I think Jodi is likely referring to Sacagawea dollars, not actual gold coins http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dollar_coin_%28Unite

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Anna March 26, 2015 at 9:19 am

No, the fact that it's not part of your culture is NOT an excuse for not tipping when you're in a country where waiters rely on it. You have a responsibility to learn the basics of the culture in a country you're visiting. Waiters make about $2 an hour, and the rest of their wages are in tips. They do not make a living wage. Failing to tip is tantamount to theft.

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anon April 13, 2015 at 9:37 am

Don't think you can read Anna! She wasn't saying she didn't tip!

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Caillte March 26, 2015 at 6:15 pm

The waiter was rude because he saw a large table come in and had most likely calculated a tab
in his head with tip, when they only ordered drinks that meant he wouldnt be geting 15-20 tips he'd be getting like 2 bucks in change. I've never been rude about it but Ive felt that horrible moment when you have to recalculate your cab fare later.

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Eileen May 20, 2015 at 11:29 am

Yeah, you got ignored because you're European and are famous for stiffing tips. No, it's not something to "forgive" because servers don't get paid minimum wage in the US. They get paid less and have to make up the rest in tips. You don't tip to improve service, you tip or you're an asshole.

You don't have to tell any of us that it's stupid, because I'm pretty sure that if Americans were polled we'd come out in the majority for "pay servers at least minimum wage". But we're not lobbyists with a crap ton of money and all the time in the world to talk to members of the federal government about anything – if they'd even meet with one of us plebs.

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Iloveflying February 14, 2016 at 7:54 am

They didn't get ignord at all.

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Jay June 1, 2015 at 10:59 am

It's possible that the waiter had to pay a set fee per head to the bus boy/girl. There are some places that if you don't get tipped or don't get tipped much, then you are actually out of pocket for the privilege of serving someone.

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