When it comes to tipping in New York, we usually go with the standard 20% but Zagat fills us in on an entire group of other tipping issues …
At happy hour last night, we were shocked to hear a bartender call out an attractive female patron for not tipping. “Oh, and just so you know, it would be a good idea to start tipping your bartender in New York City… for your own benefit,” he told the out-of-towner. Now, we were more surprised that she’d dared to open a tab without tipping, then by the agitation expressed by the fellow serving her behind the bar. She’ll never get good service at a happy hour there again.
Sure, whether for a meal or for a bar tab, tipping can be tricky for visitors anywhere. But there are some standards better to know and practice.
In the City, it’s easy at the bar: $1 per drink, unless it’s an expensive cocktail of $20+; then, throw $2 on. No calculators needed. For food, always tip 20% and follow this simple equation:
For bills under $100: First number of tab x 2 = 20% Tip + $1 if second number of tab is over $5.
For bills over $100: First two numbers of tab X 2 = 20% Tip + $1 if third number is over $5).
Seems simple. But is it? In “The 7 Most Debated Tipping Issues,“ Zagat turned to Steve Dublanica, author of “Keep the Change: A Clueless Tipper’s Quest to Become the Guru of the Gratuity” and former server to address some of tipping’s finer details, like: Should you tip on bad service? Is it standard to tip on the tax, and should you tip your barista? … along with some chime-ins from us, of course, because we’ve had a little experience waitressing ourselves!
Issue #1: Should you tip on the tax?
Steve says: You don’t have to, but servers like when you do because they tip out on total sales of the night (which includes tax), but when they auto-grat (add tip to a table automatically), the percentage is calculated before tax.
Snoety says: Yes. Always.
Issue #2: What should you tip on a drink? $1 or 20%?
Steve says: “A dollar a drink is fine, but you’ve got cocktails in cities like New York that are 20 bucks, and, say, you get a Heineken and I got a $20 drink, and we both tip the guy a dollar – something’s not right there. Basically [at the bar] you should leave 15%-20% of the total cost of that drink. Which may seem kind of ridiculous, but when you go to a table, you’re paying 15%-20%. So when you think of it that way: Why does the bartender not get that money but the waiter who doesn’t make those drinks does?”
Snoety says: Hmm… we like our method better. Not sure how we feel about tipping $4 on a $20 cocktail, especially if we’ll be coming back for more. Now, $2….
Issue #3: Should you tip your barista?
Steve says: If you’re ordering plain coffee, leaving the change is fine, but if your drink is more complicated (requiring more work/skill to make) then you should tip as you do at a bar, $1 per drink.
Snoety says: We think it’s proper to tip whenever you see a tip jar on the counter. It’s usually a sign that management has recognized the employees are working hard and not making that much, thus, the reason behind the tip jar in the first place.
Issue #4: If you get bad service, is it okay to leave a bad tip?
Steve says: “I don’t suggest stiffing people on the tip, because you are punishing all the other people connected to that food chain. The waiter doesn’t keep all the tips“ other people get a taste of it. So why punish people who have done nothing to you if the waiter is a dope? So what I tell people to do is talk to the manager, and you can say, ‘I had very poor service, but I’m leaving a tip anyway.'”
Snoety says: Leaving a bad tip is never a good idea. We completely agree with Steve, but warn that before you blame your experience entirely on your server to management, consider that other factors could have gone into play, such as your server being triple-sat by a hostess, the kitchen being behind, or the runners confusing your meal for another table’s.
Issue #5: Should a server be able to automatically include gratuity if it’s not a large group?
Steve says: No. Some servers do this from time to time with, for instance, Europeans who aren’t used to our tipping standards, but this should be left up to management, not a server alone.
Snoety says: Having a former server in SoHo in-house (a neighborhood which sees a lot of the Europeans-on-holiday shopping crowd), we think yes, a server shouldn’t be able to grat any table they want simply because they feel they may not tip, but manager’s should step in and at least allow auto-grats of 15% if the server has received multiple stiffs unrelated to service and wholly due to poor pre-trip education on culture do’s and don’ts. Not only because this will benefit the server’s pocket, but also because it will benefit future customers under the same server” it’s not always easy to keep a smile on your face when you have to work for free!
Issue #6: Should gratuity always be included for large groups?
Steve says: “Yes, it’s definitely needed because say you have a 10-seat party on Saturday night at 8“ that’ your section, and don’t have many other tables. If they stiff you, that’s your night“ you basically just worked for free. In fact, you probably owe money.”
Snoety says: We can’t even believe this was a question, really. And note: if a server does an exceptional job, it’s always nice to tip a little more than the usual 18% associated with auto-grats and bump it up to 20%. Just because you’re only required to give 18%, doesn’t mean your server doesn’t deserve the full 20.
Issue #7: Should there be a base salary for servers in the U.S. as in Europe?
Steve says: “”Here’s the problem with that. Obviously tips are used to subsidize restaurant labor, and that’s not going to change anytime soon. You would have to incorporate all the things you’d find in Europe. You’d have to give servers health care, you’d have to give them vacation, you’d have to give them sick time. Can you imagine if the restaurant business in this country did that? It would collapse.”
Snoety says: Although the European system may seem more fair, we find that when servers have an incentive to do a good job, the customer receives a more personable, attentive experience.
For more tipping insights from Steve, check out the full article (with arguments for both sides of the above questions) here at Zagat online.