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Tsk-Tsk Tip

Has it become unhip to tip?

By Genevieve Roja

SERVICE WITH A SMILE, his ass. After months of enduring tables upon tables of screaming children and ice cream on the floor, Michael Gonzales had had it. Gonzales, 21 and a recent graduate of Santa Clara University, had just endured three months of waiter hell at the Old Spaghetti Factory in downtown San Jose. Known as a starter's restaurant for waitpersons, the Old Spaghetti Factory is notorious for its high turnover rate and lousy tippers. Combined with the large groups of families that dine there--it's relatively affordable--it was a recipe for tipping gaffes. He recounts the time he waited on a large party that ran up a bill over $400. They gave him $15, far below what he had expected and fathoms below the customary 15 percent.

"The next few people [whom I waited on], I wasn't quite as friendly," he says. "I wished I quit that afternoon."

Occasionally it got better. There was a group of tourists who decided in advance they would spend the remainder of their vacation money on their server's tip. Gonzales was that waiter and earned $160 on the single tip. Still, the bad outweighs the good, especially on $100-plus tips where patrons would leave the barest of minimums, usually 8 to 10 percent. It wouldn't be particularly terrible if he didn't have to tip out, the requisite practice of tipping a server's helpers--bartender, busser, kitchen, hostess and boss. After tipping out to each person, which amounts to roughly 20 to 30 percent of total tips, he'll usually take home a paltry $50.

It isn't so much about the quality of service--Gonzales contends that he is a dutiful waiter who bends to every patron's wants--that warrants an insufficient tip. Usually it's the customer's tipping ignorance that derails the entire game of tips--an acronym for "to insure prompt service." Is it 15 percent or 20 percent? Tip the shampoo girl or not? What about the bellman or the pizza delivery guy? Confused with the rules about proper tipping etiquette, some refuse to tip at all rather than safely double the tax. Ailene King, 25, has served for three years at Spiedo Ristorante in downtown San Jose, Bella Saratoga in Saratoga and in private catering. Her advice is keeping tips consistent and generous because most servers earn minimum wage and are taxed on tips.

"It is not uncommon to get a paycheck that is [marked] void because the taxes on your tips are more than your hourly wage amount," King says. "That's the number one reason that you should always tip at least 15 percent."

According to the 2001 Zagat Survey, people should tip 15 to 19 percent and often 20 percent at high-end restaurants. The California Restaurant Association does not advocate a standard tipping rate except the minimum 15 percent. King, who insists that tips are standard whether dining at lunch or dinner, says to take the tipping one step further.

"Exceptional service should bring in 25 to 30 percent," she says. "But good service at a decent restaurant? Waiters are hoping for 20 percent; it is the sign of a professional diner."

There is the case of the occasional bad meal followed by poor service, and in that instance, tipping becomes worrisome. To tip or not to tip? To complain or not to complain? Zagat's says to leave 10 percent to "get the message across" or not tip at all, though King advises direct confrontation with the manager or the offending waiter.

"If you had a problem with the service and you don't want to pay money for crappy service--which is really acceptable, you shouldn't have to pay--[talking to someone] is a much better way than leaving a bad tip or no tip," she says. "Then the waiter just thinks that you're a cheap bastard, because rarely will a waiter think that they did a bad job."

Tipping doesn't just apply to the restaurant industry. Alison Bruce, director of the Canadian television cable show Modern Manners, says that generally 20 percent indicates great service and 15 percent points to normal service. For those getting their hair coiffed, she advises, "Never tip the owner--hair salon, etc.--but do remember them with a bottle of wine or other gift at Christmas." Shampoo girls and boys and coffee or magazine runners at the salon deserve a $1 tip. Still confused? Leave a 20 percent tip and hand it to the receptionist; the salon will divvy up the tip. At a bar or club, the bartender should get between 10 and 15 percent, depending on the number and complication of drinks. Airport skycaps get $1 per bag, and hotel maids should receive a few dollars if they have fulfilled special requests. One bellman on the web (www.primenet.com/~dmoritz/bellman.htm) says to tip "every time a bellman touches your bags." Even pizza deliverers need love, too, and 15 percent of the total bill is adequate. Leftover coins, $1 bills and verbal appreciation are not tips, according to tipthepizzaguy.com.

Gonzales, who recently quit the Old Spaghetti Factory when they refused to give him time off, is looking for a better-paying position. Now retired from her waitressing career, King can say this: "Most servers really like the customer aspect of the job, but in the end, your tips are your paycheck."

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From the August 2-8, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.

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