Thursday, February 19, 2009

Just a Tip

One of our biggest fears prior to arriving in Japan was that our trip would end up costing us a bloody fortune. According to everything we had read and heard from other travelers, visiting Japan was an expensive endeavor. Just a handful of days after our arrival in Osaka, we declared the rumors to be completely overstated. Sure, our hotels were a little pricey thanks to the unfavorable exchange rate, but that most vital part of tourism expenditures – food – was quite reasonable thanks to the fact that we saved 15% on every meal.

A few months ago, I read the book “Waiter Rant.” In this book (as in his blog) The Waiter asserts that leaving a 15% tip is the bare minimum a person should leave as a gratuity after dining out.Further, should a person feel they received exceptional service, 20% to 30% would not be unreasonable. In recent months, I have read countless blogs (whose links I can no longer find and all of which were written by people in the food industry) supporting this theory.

I remember being told at some point in my life that 10% was suitable for lunch and 15% for dinner. Moreover, I was told, a tip was a way of thanking someone for good service. If you received poor service, you tipped accordingly. If, however, your waitperson was extraordinary, then this too should be suitably recognized.

When did the rules change? When did waiters stop earning minimum wage and start living only off the generosity – and tips – of their customers? This, of course, is the reasoning we are now given for having to tip so outrageously: if you stiff me on my tip, I can’t pay my rent.

Look, I’m not a harsh person – in fact I’m no longer allowed to leave or calculate the tip at restaurants because I always over-tip – I usually leave at least 20% at my regular haunts. (In part so they don’t think I’m cheap and start spitting in my food but that’s hardly the point here.) But I’m also not going to sign up to be taken advantage of. And a thirty percent tip is a wee bit steep even for fantastic service.

In Japan, I was served amazing food, by great wait staff, at fantastic restaurants. Despite this hat trick of eatery glory, I didn’t leave a single tip. Why? Because tipping simply isn’t “done’ in Japan. (Or so said the guide books and friends we consulted prior to our trip.) Imagine going out for an inexpensive, $10 meal of conveyor belt sushi and not having to leave the required 15% tip. Ok, that example doesn’t seem terribly dire – in fact it comes off as rather cheap. Imagine instead that the delicious meal of various fried, cured, and grilled pork products cost only $100 rather than $115. Now multiply all of those small savings across two meals a day for two weeks. That type of savings will buy some deserving and adorable blogger a pink ipod nano with matching leather case!

I don’t mind leaving a fair tip or even a generous one when it is deserved. However, I resent being told that if I’m not giving a 25% tip to my waitress at lunch then I’m a bad human being. I’m a bad human being because I can’t keep plants alive and take out my frustrations on defenseless pillows – not because I think waiters should be paid a fair living wage.

So what’s your take on the laws of tipping?


illahee said...

i've been in japan too long so i'm afraid i'd be a bad tipper...i never worked in the food industry but i'm under the impression that (in a lot of places) that the tip is shared between waiters, servers (if different from the waiter) and the busers (bussers?). if you tip low, then everyone gets less.

here in japan the wait staff is paid well. i think that's a good thing. :D you don't have to tip taxi drivers here, either (though i think if you travel and use taxis, you're wasting your money right there....)

N said...

Coming from Taiwan we didn't have to leave tips and people were still nice to you. I have a friend who used to be waitress and she made me feel bad if I don't give enough tips. I'm already giving 15% and the waiter isn't that great either. All they do is bring your dish to your table. They don't pay extra attention such as, fill up the glass with water...I'm not down to give a lot of tips to someone to doesn't deserve it.

I'm glad that I don't have to tip in Denmark because the VAT is already 25%. A great service does indeed deserve a great tip.

Hccm said...

Follow Wenda!

Anonymous said...

I think that 'having' to leave a tip is a cultural thing: it's especially American to have to leave tips because people are badly paid.

In the UK, the tip is often added onto the bill whether you like it or not, so there is no need to tip.

Here in Sweden, tipping is not necessary. There is quite a hefty tax to pay on every bill anyway. You don't need to tip taxi drivers or anyone really - unless you want to.

If we go out for a really nice meal and have had good food and service, then I leave a tip to say thank-you. Otherwise, I don't.

Waiters should be paid a decent wage instead of having to rely on tips, don't you think?

AP Mommy said...

I believe that tipping is a requirement - even if service is bad, it is far worse to leave a minimal (but fair) tip to a bad waiter and tell their boss than just leave a bad/no tip - as a former server - we won't learn that we're bad at what we do - all we'll think is that you're swindling us out of what should be our money... other countries though? I have no idea.

On the hunt for Wenda! Glad I stumbled across your blog!

Celine said...

Hahahah! That sure is true! ;)
All this food looks soo yummy!

Amanda said...

I seldom tipped in Scotland, I don't tip in Korea (in fact, when I first got here and didn't realise not to tip, a woman chased me down the street to return my change!).

When I go home to Canada, half the time the service isn't anywhere near as good as here in Korea and I've started being really annoyed by the "requirement" to tip. I will not tip at all for bad service. For good service, I don't go about 15% and my wait staff would really have to pull out all the stops to get more.

In so many places, wait staff make minimum wage. Since so many minimum wage jobs don't come with the expectation of tipping, I don't understand why we have kept the practice.

Unknown said...

Hi! Thanks for stopping by my blog! I used to wait tables so I am very critical of wait-staff...but also sympathetic. If they give me kick-ass service, they are going to get rewarded. I never punish my waiter for kitchen mistakes. If they stink...well the standard 15% is all they get. I have tipped below that before but it was because they were just TERRIBLE servers and RUDE. It takes a lot to piss me off and trust me, you do not want me to get to that point. Well there is my two cents. See ya around the blogosphere!

Zuzana said...

Those pictures you post here are very interesting.
Tipping is not done in Denmark, it is included in the service already, which I like, as it goes well with the mentality here. You can leave a tip though, if you feel that the service was extraordinary.
I do not mind tipping though, as in some countries, that is what the waiters live off.

cat said...

Thanks for popping in at my place. Love yours BTW

Anonymous said...

The comment about the mistakes of the kitchen are dead on. If the wait staff are excellent --and fill up the water glasses and time the good meal well--then I think they deserve the tip.
However, if there are mistakes from kitchen or wait staff then you can always write "zero" across the bill or the visa! Sort of tells the manager off then!

Crazee Juls said...

Wow, your blog is amazing. I can't wait to come and read, read some more. Thank you for stopping by my blog, :-) I loved it!

Debbie said...

If the waitperson is exceptional, it is nice to be able to reward them with a generous tip. On the other hand, I am offended that a restaurant doesn't pay their employees a decent wage and that I still have to tip for lousy service. The whole system seems a mess to me and I think I'd like the Japanese way much better.

AndreaLeigh said...

I've always thought 20% tip was generous... not stingy. this is news to me. when did 15% become the norm?

Maybe I am just cheap and need to get a clue?

Melissa said...

Thanks for stopping by! Your blog is amazing. I am looking forward to reading more about your adventure!

Kathy B! said...

Wow! Your life is amazing!! I was following Wenda, but I got sucked in to your blog. I will DEFINITELY be back!!

Connie said...

I've always considered 15% a normal tip. Extra special service gets 20-25%. Likewise, really crappy service gets NO tip. Seriously. I have waited tables and it is hard labor, but it isn't that hard to act like you give half a damn about your customers... even the ones you don't! If there is a serious problem with the food, I call the manager over (we aren't picky and accept that mistakes happen, but sometime you just have to point out a problem, and most managers really want to know! No reason to be rude about it either.) I don't hold the waiter accountable for the food. Just the service. Again, it really doesn't take much effort to provide good customer service. I feel NO obligation to tip bad service, no matter how low I know the pay to be. They don't do the job, they should not be paid. Been there, done that. (and I got great tips!) I also avoid places with mandatory gratuity ... (I can only see that with large groups) ... although in some places you can have that removed if the service was poor and you ask.

Green said...

I was searching for wenda :) nice blog

koopermom said...

I usually tip 15-20%, unless I feel the service didn't deserve it. Then it's 5-10%!

Betty said...

I´m sooo agreeing with you! I don´t mind leaving a tip, but only as much as I want to give and what the waiter deserves!
There is way too much sushi in your pictures....something I´ve never eaten and don´t want to! :)

Unknown said...

In Germany it once has been 10%.
But that was before the switch to the Euro.
They just adopted that,means you would now pay actually 20%.
Hell no.
I'm cheap. I've worked in the Hotel business for 13 years and I honestly think 10% are enough.
Hubby is an overtipper too. But he learned a bit since being with me.
We ran into a few countries too where they don't accept tips.
I just can't remember where it was :(

Gabrielle Amanda said...

Following Wenda! I think your blog is so interesting. I may be stopping by to read on!

amy & lisa said...

Very interesting topic.

I like to tip just to be nice. I think if people are willing to wait on me and cater to all my requests they do deserve a tip...a thank you.
Should we pay their salaries? Probably not. That should be done by their place of employment and a tip should be just that...a tip. Something not expected, but thankful for.

I'm here from SITS...lookin for Wenda...and I see she's been here. Off to report her findings. :)

Laural Out Loud said...

It's so refreshing to be in Brasil right now and not have to worry about tipping! If there's a tip expected, it's included in the bill (and usually only at restaurants). I hate trying to remember what types of services require what kind of tip. I'm going for my second massage this afternoon and know exactly how much to bring.

Brenda said...

Love this post, you hit a nerve with me as well. I hate being forced to leave a huge tip.

Here in Paraguay we don't do a percentage and most people do not tip, we just leave a little something on the table. Its nice.

debi9kids said...

I am an over tipper. My husband is as well. I don't go by percentages that anyone else lays out. If my service is good, I give an awesome tip. If the service isn't so good, they are lucky to get 10%.
(must also be said that with 9 kids, we don't eat out very often...)

Sturgmom said...

Welcome to SITS! You have SUCH an interesting blog!

On tipping, my husband has been a server before and still doesn't leave over 20%. I thought 15% was standard and 20% generous. 30% sounds WAY steep to me. Maybe I'm cheap.

Kristina said...

Great blog! I loved reading everyone's responses too. I didn't know some places automatically added a tip!

Eve said...

That's very interesting. I've always wondered why wait staff aren't paid a normal wage - it doesn't seem fair. Shouldn't a tip be like a gift or a thank you for good service, rather than a requirement. I'm pretty sure that's where the 'tipping' idea got it's start. I don't want to cheat anyone out of their hard earned wages, but at the same time, I would much rather a restaurant just state an actual price for a meal, then let me decide what amount of gift I think is appropriate for the service!

Judah said...

wow what a fun trip and looks like Wenda followed you

Unknown said...

Hiya! Well, I'm from Singapore and we dont have a tipping culture either. I'd be horrid at the 10-15-20-30% calculations! :P

But yes, service staff in Japan are well-paid.

To me, I think it is a matter of the norm. When in Rome do what the Romans do. :) (OR in this case, what they don't do!)

G in Berlin said...

Interesting group of comments. In the US, waitstaff are not paid minimum wage. They are actually paid waitstaff wage, which is less than half minimum wage. Yes, their livelihood is tips. And I think (no, actually know) that 15% is considered standard. But I generally compute that 15% pre-tax and I tip separately if I am drinking wine bottles- 10% on bottles or less, depending on the tptal cost of the wine.
I also tip up depending on servive. I have been a bartender, and I have run restaurants and served customers and I am moderately demanding and tip well for good service. I have never left a bad tip (in the US less than 15%) without actually telling a manager why I was doing so. You know, waiters tip out support staff in most restaurants, so it makes no sense to stiff everyone.
Here in Germany I see extremely erratic service, based I think, on the native stinginess. It's not everyone (not my in-laws for example) but many would round change up to the nearest Euros. What putzes. A standard decent tip here is 10% and all the decent folk I know tip good service at that rate, but not on the 19% service tax (which does not go to the server but to the state). Always interesting to read how others feel about this.

United Studies said...

Same thing as in Denmark and most of just don't tip. Peter had a hard time with that concept when he first came to the US, now he leaves it up to me because he never knows how much to leave.

I am sometimes uncomfortable with the whole tipping thing, especially when we've had crappy service.

But 30%?? Sorry, just can't do that.

honkeie said...

I tip according to service, you give bad service I give bad tip. I once left a napkin on the table of a resturant that read: TIP. and on the bottom it read:
If you want one dont be such an ass.
And yes I never went back to that resturant and hope to never see her again, buttttttt
You treat me like crap and give me bad service I will return the favor.