|Photo: Erix, Flickr|
Want to really confuse your server? Leave a 15-percent tip.
There's nothing more ambiguous than the 15-percent tip, which could just as well be a "thanks for nothing" grat from a miffed diner who always leaves 20 percent or a sincere show of gratitude from an infrequent restaurantgoer who thinks 15 percent is still the going rate for good service. Only the tipper knows for sure.
Fortunately for servers, fewer customers today seem to fall into the latter category, which is now mostly populated by the very old and very stubborn. Surveys show the vast majority of Americans have transitioned away from the 15-percent standard which ruled the food and beverage industry for decades, with the national average tip rising to 19 percent in 2008.
Restaurant-imposed service charges are a fairly good way to gauge the shift in tipping expectations: When they first showed up on south Florida menus in the early 1980s, they were nearly always set at 15 percent. But by the time a Long Island diner faced charges for skipping out on the mandatory grat at Soprano's Italian and American Grill in 2004, the number had crept up to 18 percent, the figure that appears on most menus today.
According to Zagat, which annually compiles tip averages from across the country, 2000 was the first year tips topped 18 percent nationwide.
So what happened in the last 10 years to justify the change? As many detractors have pointed out, a percentage is automatically adjusted for inflation, so that's not the rationale for the newfound generosity. Rather -- and this is your server talking -- it probably reflects a greater appreciation for the server's work, deepened by the many more meals Americans now eat out.
Just as the public realized that folks who toil on assembly lines and sell costume jewelry at the mall deserve a minimum wage, diners have finally caught on to the real value of service. As we approach Labor Day, your server thanks you for that.
|15 percent||10481 (33.0%)|
|18 percent||3254 (10.2%)|
|20 percent||15186 (47.8%)|
|Something else (tell us more in comments)||2877 (9.0%)|