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.