Not tipping --a standard across Europe minus the odd spare penny-- is not confusing at all...it is as easy as sipping Hoegaarden. Europe has the right idea when the cost of food includes the costs of food, food preparation, and a descent living wage for staff.
The United States is confusing... 10 percent? 15 percent? 18 percent? If the waiter is so damn good do you tip him 50 percent and add him as a dependent on your W-4?
I'm basically a "no tipper." And I'm damn proud of it.
When I'm in Europe the only fiddling I do on money is with the currency exchange. In the United States I'll leave $1 for good will. (Now, before you waiters print my picture and post in with "Wanted as a Tight Wad" by your time clock, hold on Mac, this is all about you not me.)
I do make two exceptions in the United States: Family-owned bistros (where one spouse is in the kitchen and the other is serving,) and when I'm waited on in a classic diner environment by a woman who has waited tables for 50 years; both instances will find a fair tip of 15 percent when I leave the table.
For the rest of you, fault your management for your poor wage. Your salary is not the responsibility of your customers.
On 1 September, the restaurant Per Se --meals for under $350 each-- in Manhattan will add a 20 percent service fee to the bill, which begins at $175. Chef Thomas Keller says that the "service charge" will take the place of a tip, which he said is about 2 percent less than what patrons currently leave at the restaurant located in Columbus Circle.
Staff at Per Se will earn hourly wages. Per Se offers 15 tables and charges a flat rate per person for a five-course "French-style" dinner (a similar meal in Paris would cost $25 maximum.) But Per Se does not rush you out the door...in a typical European fashion expect to spend the evening.
The service charge at Per Se is meant to create a unified work culture with the restaurant, and afford a better wage for all employees against a double-digit rate of inflation in New York City.
If all restaurants followed suit, what would be the outcome? The $17 entree is now $21, but that is all you pay? And the waiter's hourly wage is no longer $2.74 per hour plus tips, but increases to $20 per hour?
Hypothetically, if a full-time waiter earns $109 per week in current wage, he waits on four tables and shifts groups of three people every two hours, with an average tip of about 18 percent, the waiter could earn about $48,000 per year -- with two weeks non-paid vacation.
If the restaurant management pays the waiter $23 per hour, plus benefits (two weeks paid vacation per year) that waiter now has a guaranteed, livable salary. But fundamentally too, that waiter no longer worries about pushing you out of the restaurant to fill your seat for another tip. Per Se has the right idea.
For those of you in the United States, which according to the federal government is less that 4 percent, who travel to Europe already know that when you engage a restaurant the most difficult part of the evening is getting the waiter to provide a bill. Dinner could easily be a six-hour event.
In Europe, and certainly in family-style bistros in Paris, when patrons dine for the evening the most the waiter can hope for is to shift the table once during the night. In the meantime, the waiter is: Making sure the table is served, chatting with the bartender, having a smoke, and visiting with friends who come in on a regular basis to dine or sip wine. It is perfectly normal behavior because in these cases, the waiter is the glue that holds the restaurant together. He is their public relations guy. Not accounting for size (30 tables is a big restaurant) it is not unusual to find no more than two waiters, plus the kitchen staff or the chef, serving meals -- with pride.
In the United States, waiters wouldn't be permitted to smoke, even if they wanted to, and they would not be hanging out at the bar waiting for something to do, and certainly, waiters wouldn't be chatting and laughing with friends.
The restaurant culture in the United States puts a gang of waiters in the wings to rush out food, with the main goal of serving well while getting you out as quickly as possible.
That behavior is not worthy of a tip, especially for a meal that more often than not is no match for my own gourmet cooking.
If waiters organized, went on strike, and demanded regular pay, restaurant management companies across the country would have no alternative but to give in. In the meantime don't fault this patron for your lousy wage.
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