Yesterday my young, attractive and obviously upwardly mobile neighbor — I don’t know her name and she’s lived in her apartment a year to my four years — was in the hallway with me when her Chinese food order was delivered. The delivery guy waved at me. We are good friends because he delivers a brown rice lunch special to me at least four times a week.

Yes, you can find brown rice, and have it delivered, in Jersey City! My neighbor’s bill was $11.17. She gave the guy a $20 dollar bill and asked for change back. My delivery guy snuck me a look as he sighed and dug into his pocket for a wad of mangy dollar bills. He peeled off eight dollars and stacked them on her outstretched palm.

She twitched the hand holding the eight dollars indicating she expected more. He sighed again and dug into his other pocket and counted out .83 cents in dimes and pennies and carefully placed it all over the mound of crumpled bills in her hand. She smiled and gently took a single dime from her change and gave it to him as a tip as she wished him a good evening and then she vanished back inside her apartment.

My delivery guy gave me another look and left shaking his head and speaking agitated Chinese into the tiniest cell phone I had ever seen. I was surprised by my neighbor’s terrible tipping habit. Then I remembered a conversation I had with a group of waiters a couple of years ago in Manhattan. They were sort of drunk and having a good time and lamenting a list of the worst tippers that had recently been published in the newspaper.

Black Women, it seemed, were the worst tippers followed by women of any color. The general idea behind that problem, the article argued, was many women do not feel a tip should be given because the price of the service is included in the cost of the meal. Many do not understand waiters are paid as little as $2.35 an hour, they get no benefits, and tips are assumed and taxed up to the minimum wage.

When a person doesn’t tip, it costs the service staff money in mandatory taxes taken directly from their weekly pay that can never be recovered. Some of the waiters told me they would race into the street to ask these women why they didn’t leave a tip when they worked so hard to serve them. The waiters wanted to know what they should have done to get a tip and the answer routinely came back: “Nothing. We don’t believe in tipping.”

I enjoy tipping. You have to include a 20% tip in the price of any sit down meal and if you get a meal delivered to your home you need to tip at least three dollars. My neighbor should have given the delivery guy $15.00 for the $11.17 — and handed it over gladly and with a smile — as she closed the door after taking her sack of food to indicate she didn’t expect any change back.

In addition to tipping for the service provided, you also tip to be remembered next time. I am routinely quoted home food delivery times of 30-45 minutes from several restaurants when I order and I usually get my meal delivered to me hot, and with free extras like pop or dessert, in under 15 minutes because my guys know they can rely on me to give a good tip. Tipping is about building relationships.

You never know when you’ll need similar service in the future so the Golden Rule is to give a good tip as a matter of routine. I have tipped over 25% for an exceptional meal and there was one memorable meal in Greenwich Village where I tipped 40% to indicate my deep appreciation for the outstanding meal that was served with elegance and consideration over three luxurious hours. I was not raised around Big Tippers. Or even Lousy Tippers. I was raised by No Tippers.

My mother, a schoolteacher, feels she worked 35 years for lousy pay in the public school system so why should she tip someone for doing their job? She never got a tip so why should anyone else? When I ask if she was paid $2.35 an hour to teach school her eyes fog over as the entire point is missed. I always leave a fine tip when dining with mother but I always hear “You left too much!” If I am not careful, she will linger at the table while everyone else is leaving and palm the tip and put it in her purse along with the breadsticks she previously took from the table and wrapped in a paper napkin.

I have learned to stop leaving my tip on the table and to discreetly palm it into my waiter’s hand with a heartfelt “Thank You!” when I leave to guarantee the proper amount is paid to the right person. You always tip on alcohol. I am awed by people who claim to be “Big Tippers” to only watch them subtract the wine and martinis from the final bill while referencing their credit card-sized “Tip Sheet” that instructs them to leave at no more than 15% of the total cost of the food alone. When I have the misfortune of dining out with people of that nature I always toss an extra $10 on the table when we leave.

If anyone challenges me on it — and someone always does — I just tell them, “We didn’t leave enough.” I give them a look telling them I’m not picking up the extra money and neither is anyone else. Some restaurants, knowing people don’t know how to tip, now include a mandatory 18% gratuity for groups of more than three people. I find that alarming because I have never seen anyone in such a group ever go over the mandatory 18%. If you’re popping into a cafe for a cup of coffee and your bill is one dollar, you put three dollars down when you leave.

The minimum tip is $2.00 when it comes to serving or delivering food. If you’re checking into a hotel you tip at least a dollar a bag to your porter. You leave housekeeping at least $5.00 a day for every day you stay. If someone does you a favor you tip them the instant they’re done helping you.

There are some condo associations in New York that hand out a “tip sheet” each holiday season with suggested amounts for tipping the building staff because many residents don’t even think to tip their Super or the maintenance guy who fixes their leaking pipe at four in the morning.

I also tip my Post Office Mail Guy. I give him $60 a year even though federal regulations limit tips and gifts to $25. I have yet to have that extra $35 returned to me and I find the letters in my mailbox are never quite as crumpled or as torn as my neighbors. Tipping, and tipping well, is a required part of life.

You aren’t buying favors or paying into a friendship when you tip. Tipping is an expression of mutual respect and those who actively choose not to tip are wounding their chances at reciprocal generosity when they need help beyond the minimum expectation.

30 Comments

  1. I delivered pizzas for a few months when I was younger and just finishing up school.
    I remember hating having to take pizzas to dorms at the local college. The students never tipped, were slow to come down to get their food, and usually made some rude comment to show their superiority over the lowly pizza guy.
    Often, the most superior-acting students were the ones who would pay in change. That was the worst because I didn’t want to lose time counting quarters, dimes, and nickles, but I also didn’t want to come up short at the end of the night when I emptied out my lockbox at the store. We’d drop all of our cash, then subtract the cost of the pizzas delivered, then keep the extra money for our pay.
    It was a disincentive for any of the drivers to want to take pizzas to any student living in a dorm — if there was a choice between going to a subdivision or the dorms, the subdivision was the place to go unless you could grab five or six pizzas to make the hassle of a trip to the college worthwhile.
    My short time in the food industry taught me to always make sure to tip well.
    I always try to tip more than 15% and usually shoot for 25% or so. People do remember if you are a decent tipper because most wait staff are working for around $3/hour plus the tips. Without tips, they are basically working for free.
    Another important tipping rule: Always tip the bartender to insure prompt service!

  2. I forgot to add that pizza delivery people get paid an hourly wage, but they usually only work a couple of hours during the evening rush, so that money doesn’t really do much for them. Especially now that gas is $3.00/gallon. The real money that pays their bills comes from the tips they make during their short shifts.

  3. Hi Chris!
    Gosh, delivering pizzas seems like a dangerous job. I know there are some areas in town here where, if you want pizza delivered, you have to go out to the street and meet the delivery car and pay right there. Too many delivery people are getting robbed and shot on the walk to and from the car. Delivery people are an easy mark because they have something you can eat and they always have money.
    I’m glad you’re a good tipper! You are so right that without tips the service staff all work for free — especially when there is tip pooling involved.
    You’re also right to point out the great value in tipping the bar tender. One of the women I used to date was a waitress and she would always give half her tips to the bar tender. He, in turn, always filled her drink orders first and that led to bigger tips for both of them because people started drinking sooner and the more you drink the bigger tip you leave.
    😀

  4. I delivered pizzas right when I finished law school, but hadn’t been accepted into the bar and was broke.
    I only did it for about a month, but it was decent money.
    I wouldn’t want to deliver pizzas in a huge city, but in suburban Valparaiso, we always made sure to give free pizzas to the cops, fire fighters, and ambulance people, so I always assumed they kept an eye out for us.
    The pizza place owner told us that the pizza light sign on top of the car were for advertising, but they also could be seen by the cops when we were out and about. And, the cops were always out and about looking for drunk drivers and drunk college kids acting silly.
    I was always more afraid being back at the pizza place because that was the place where all of the money was kept.

  5. Hi Chris —
    Ah! I love the idea of “buying protection” with pizzas! Now that’s smart business!
    Were there ever undelivered pizzas at the end of the night? Was food just thrown out or was it somehow donated?

  6. There weren’t many undelivered pizzas because it only took about 5 minutes to make a pizza, so they’d make them as the orders came were taken.
    Once, someone didn’t pick up a pizza and after about an hour, the boss said the employees could eat it because the customer, even if he or she came in, wouldn’t want it. It was devoured in seconds.

  7. I knew a guy when I was at IU who delivered pizzas. Once, he got lost and couldn’t find an address. He ended up buying the pizza with his own money, and eating it in his car as he drove around.

  8. Hmmm… I’m getting hungry for pizza! It makes sense you wouldn’t have many false orders.
    Here they call you back after you order to make sure you ordered and that you’re not some kid trying to prank them into delivering into a dangerous neighborhood.
    You’re friend is a smart guy! That’s the best way to handle a mistake: Eat it!
    :mrgreen:

  9. The pizza places all have caller id and enter the number into their computer system.
    If someone causes problems, they’ll be flagged. There weren’t many people who wanted to risk getting banned from pizza delivery.
    There was a lady who got put onto the bad list when I was working at the store.
    She would order a pizza, eat it, then call to complain and ask for a refund. She found a way to get free food and would always complain, after eating the whole pizza.
    Complaining once or twice is okay, but if it becomes a scam to get free food …

  10. There was a scam here recently where kids were using a device to fake the caller ID — so that forced all the pizza shops to call back that number just to make sure the calls were legit. I think something like 30% of the calls over a period of three weeks were fakes.
    Scamming to get free food — now that’s pretty low — I understand if you’re hungry and desperate but say so and don’t pretend to be offended when you are not.

  11. That’s it, Chris! Caller ID spoofing is dangerous and evil. You can order stuff using other people’s numbers when you call a company and lots of other really nasty things.
    I think they had to eat their mistakes! Some places had 10 undelivered pizzas a night they had to throw away before they caught on. They thought their caller ID-linked-to-physical-addresses technology was infallible.
    😀

  12. Chris! Yeah, it was a real mess and a lot of money was lost and pizzas go bad fast so you really can’t donate them to the needy at the end of the day.
    If you block your Caller ID home phone they wouldn’t even answer the phone – you are re-directed to a Voice Mail message that says they are not accepting blocked calls. You have to unblock (with *82) your number and then call back and order. Then they call you back. I just say now, “You know it’s me! Don’t call back. Just come over here like you always do!”
    They usually reply with, “Yes, Mr. David. We’re on our way.”
    😀

  13. I found a waitstaff war stories at Bitterwaitress.com’s website that makes for interesting reading.

    ah…the verbal tip…just a bit of advice for anyone new to the game–90% of the people that tell you they are ‘huge tippers’ are frauds. The real high rollers do not need to say a thing.

    Be forewarned, the language might be a little salty because patrons haven’t been tipping their waiters and waitresses enough …

  14. At the indian place I frequent they regularly – and i mean regularly – give me a pound or so of desserts from their in store dessert counter (they have a grocery store in addition to the restaurant) without charging me a cent or even asking if I’m interested in it. This is when I order takeout from them. 🙂

  15. Wow. Maybe your neighbor thinks other people were born to serve her? I may be female, but I always tip a minimum of 20% when I eat out (or order delivery) – on the whole bill except the tax. (If the service is really bad/rude, I do leave 15%.)
    I used to go out a lot with a close friend of mine. We took turns paying. He made an excellent salary and always had the newest coolest gadgets at home. He was the WORST tipper. He would leave two bucks (no matter what we had). I was always putting money down to make up for him. I stopped going out to dinner with him because it was so embarrassing and I couldn’t understand his attitude. After all, a few more dollars wouldn’t mean much to him, but it might mean a lot to that other person.

  16. Hi Antoinette —
    I’m so glad to hear you feel it is important to tip well. I agree there are a lot of men and women who could use some sensitivity when it comes to dealing with service people. I’m glad you made up for your male friend’s deficits!

  17. I kind of understand that older people don’t realize the importance of tipping and tipping well. I do not understand why the wages are structured the way they are but they are. 15% minimum, 20% is good…more is even better but not everyonw can afford that.
    Whenever I go out to dinner with my parents I always have to linger at the table after they leave to make sure the proper amount is left for the tip.