For some people, tipping the waiting staff after eating in a restaurant is a certainty as inescapable as death or taxes, for others it’s a sign of praise reserved for outstanding servers and then there are those that vehemently refuse to tip, whether out of principle or lack of it, depending on how you see it.
How Modern Tipping Came to Be
It is believed that modern tipping became widespread during Tudor England (1485-1603), although according to Kerry Segrave, author of , the custom existed already in the late Middle Ages when “the master or lord of the manor might give his servant or labourer a few extra coins, from either compassion or appreciation of a good deed.”
Segrave suggests that the word “tip” might have originated in London during the mid 18th century, specifically at a coffehouse in Fleet Street where there was a bowl on a table which had written on the words “To Insure Promptitude”, a phrase later shortened to its initials a.k.a. TIP. Other attribute the word’s origin to Latin, in which the word for “gift” is “stips” or Dutch, as “tippen” means “tap” a gesture that perhaps helped diners to get their servers’ attention at the bar.
Although the English Oxford Dictionary had definitions for the word “tip” that trace back to its 1753 edition, it’s in 1933 when the description resembles more closely modern tipping. Nowadays, it’s defined as “a sum of money given to someone as a reward for a service.”
The Magic Number: A Perfect 10
Recently we ran a Twitter poll to probe people’s tipping habits. From a total of 620 votes, 84% of respondents voted to say they’d normally tip 10%, a figure that has become a bit of a magic number and a standard tip internationally.
Research for an article on tipping in restaurants – Tell us how much you would normally tip
— TheTaste.ie (@Thetaste_ie) July 28, 2016
However, some people go beyond the 10% and for very good service, even a 20% might be in order. As a person that’s been in both sides of the dining experience, I’ll dare to say few things get the waiting staff of a restaurant more motivated than a group of people with souvenir bags, city maps and American accents.
And it’s not just floor staff talk or stereotyping, Brooke Ferencsik, director of communications for TripAdvisor commented on a study on tipping made by the company: “While friendliness and helpfulness are the most important qualities that influence tipping behavior, cultural norms are also a significant factor.” The survey, conducted in 2014 by the site asked 25,000 respondents across the Unites States, Brazil, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Spain, and the UK a series of questions about their tipping habits.
Americans did way above the rest when asked whether they always tipped, with 60% saying yes, compared to the 27% average. Germans came second, with 49% respondents tipping all the time, then Brazilians (33%), Spanish (30%), Russians (28%), British (26%), French (15%) and lastly, Italians (11%).
0% Tip as a statement
Being scabby is not the only reason why a person might chose to leave no tip. There is a brilliant scene in the classic nineties film Reservoir Dogs, in which Steve Buscemi’s character -Mr. Pink- embodies the ultimate non-tipper:
Mr. Pink: I don’t tip because society says I have to. All right, if someone deserves a tip, if they really put forth an effort, I’ll give them something a little something extra. But this tipping automatically, it’s for the birds. As far as I’m concerned, they’re just doing their job.
Mr. Blue: Hey, our girl was nice.
Mr. Pink: She was okay. She wasn’t anything special.
Even when his statement was able to shock a bunch of gangsters, many would agree with the guy. After all, a tip is a reward, so if you are not happy with your service, why do it?
In the event that your experience in a restaurant is not positive, before going for the punitive zero, ask yourself if it is actually the servers’ fault. Look around you, is it a Friday night, fully booked, and only two waitresses running around? Perhaps they’re doing their best but the place is irredeemably understaffed. Did you dislike the food? If the menu was poorly explained or you feel that you were recommended something with exaggeration, blame might be in the front of the house, but if service was good and the meal wasn’t, perhaps it’s wise to reconsider the punishment.
Remember that you can always complain, and polite, constructive criticism from a reasonable customer should actually be valued by any decent restaurant manager.
Even when the experience is not great, a good waiter can save the day. And often, tips are an important part of their income (especially in the United States, which is in part one of the reasons why non-tipping is considered even more unusual and reproachable).
Messages for Tips: Going Viral with the Bill
Now that social media is such a big part of our interactions with restaurants, we often see viral news pieces of customers’ messages on bills. From the heart-warming, to the hilarious, the weird and the infuriating, it has become a trend thanks to the shareability of such notes (it goes both ways, sometimes the receipt arrives with a witty or odd remark courtesy of the staff).
For example, this angry customer that left a LOL after a one hour wait at a restaurant in New Jersey…
Or this jealous newlywed lady in Ohio that would have prefer a less friendly service…
Not all are mean, some are actually wonderful, like the man that left a $1000 tip on a $60 bill so one lucky waitress could fulfill her dream of going to Italy.
Some Tips to Get Better Tips
If you’re, by any chance, working as waiting staff, Jack Schafer Ph.D. has a tip for you: some techniques he published in Psychology Today for predisposing customers to leave better tips (and if you are a restaurant goer, read too, this is how they get you!): Introduce yourself by name and smile when doing so, this works for men and women and Schafer claims that can up your tip-receiving game by a couple of dollars.
Another good tip-trap is to give something to customers. It doesn’t have to be a free dessert, even a hand written “thank you” on the bill might tip the balance in your favour. Repeating your customer’s order also helps. I was told once to write their orders down even if I could memorise them, as customers would get anxious and worry I might forget if they didn’t see me writing it down.
For waitresses in particular, wearing something colourful in your hair might also increase your tips. Schafer suggests a bow, a flower (natural or fake) or a nice ornament.
And this last one came from a former coworker and works like a charm: when coming back to the table with the change, break the €10 notes into one fiver and coins. A customer might not leave the whole tenner, but they might leave the fiver or the coins.
Next time you ask for the bill try to isolate and evaluate the level of service received and judge it independently of the whole experience. Tips might be almost expected, but in a place with such an important tourism industry and a booming restaurant scene, so is good service.
Gabriela’s passion for writing is only matched by her love for food and wine. Journalist, confectioner and sommelier, she fell in love with Ireland years ago and moved from Venezuela to Dublin in 2014.
Since then, she has written about and worked in the local food scene, and she’s determined to discover and share the different traditions, flavours and places that have led Irish food and drink to fascinate her.