Michael Lynn of Cornell University studied the practice of tipping and found that it’s an odd economic system with little connection between the quality of service delivered and the size of the tip. It’s especially difficult because tipping is an after-the-fact deal. A lousy tip won’t improve your lousy service.
Lynn offers a free PDF booklet about tipping (if you find the book helpful, he asks for a tip) which includes the following advice:
- Wear something unusual.
- Introduce yourself by name.
- Crouch next to the table.
- Repeat customers’ orders.
- Smile at customers.
- Get customers to order more.
- Touch customers. (Good touches only, please)
- Entertain customers.
- Forecast good weather.
- Write “thank you” or draw pictures on checks.
- Use tip trays with a credit card logo.
- Give customers candy. (Mmm… minty)
- Call customers by name.
I usually tip 15% at restaurants (rounded to some extent because I don’t like math, not because I don’t have change–I usually pay with a check card) and I almost always vary it based on service, though I tend to punish bad service more than I reward good service.
Frankly, I think not being a jerk is the best route to getting a good tip. We ate at Denny’s for breakfast on our way to San Diego and after being seated went a good 5-10 minutes without being served (which is a long time in a casual restaurant like that). We were beginning to get annoyed when the waitress finally came up, apologized for taking so long, and took our orders. Her simple apology, a mere acknowledgement of the fact that we had to wait, took care of all my annoyances. A poor tip was avoided.
Though I will say I hate tipping in other situations: Taxis, haircuts, the baggage guy at the airport. Aren’t those people getting paid a standard wage? Do they really rely on my tip (should they be)? At least waiters/waitresses actually rely on my tip–they’re paid less than minimum wage because tips are meant to make up the difference. I grudgingly tip in those situations, usually a minimum dollar amount that won’t make feel sheepish ($1-3).