While reviewing the soon-to-be-launched pages of the Allbusiness.com Restaurant Center I came across an article published by Cornell University’s Center for Hospitality Research. The report suggests black customers do not tip as well as white customers. This is a contentious issue that has been quietly accepted as fact for years within the industry, according to the report´s author, Michael Lynn, Ph.D. an associate professor at Cornell University.
According to Lynn, "Restaurant managers, executives, and the industry as a whole should try to educate all of their customers about restaurant tipping norms. Such an educational campaign could involve informational brochures in restaurants, as well as an industry-wide effort promoted by trade associations."
Lynn, an authority on tipping has written numerous books on tipping behavior. I, however, take a different stand on the tipping point. You would have to be living under a rock to not know that the voluntary percentage of an adequate tip for acceptable service is between 15-20% of the bill. Customer education isn´t the answer to bigger tips. Better service brings better tips.
Restaurant service has declined continually over the past decade as more restaurants open and fewer individuals look to the industry as a profession. In the past three weeks, on five occasions, I have dined in a restaurant and received inadequate service. This is no longer the exception but is becoming the norm.
The industry has developed ways to educate the public on tipping over the past year. In many tourist areas, frequented by foreigners who assume the gratuity is already added to the bill, guest checks now come printed with suggested tipping standards. This ready calculation for those inept in math and social graces subliminally suggests a 15%, 18%, or 20% gratuity. The first time I encountered the practice was at the Rutherford Grill in Napa Valley. A 25% tipster would be out-of-luck, as the calculations don´t reach that stratosphere.
Owners, however, have yet to find a formula for consistently great service. It seems there are always one or two standouts in any dining room that don´t carry their share of the load. Now this is not to say that all owners suffer from this blight, but many are affected by waiters with visions of grandeur.
As owners, we must ask ourselves, is our time best spent in educating the customer on tipping practices or the server on service. I opt for the server training. Since tipping is voluntary, it´s hard to mandate a percentage that a customer must leave for good service. Yet, whether a customer tips a dime or a dollar, good service is part of the unwritten contract when a person sits down at a table for a meal.
And, until an owner writes at the bottom of the menu or posts, a sign at the door that reads, "For preferred service tip 20% before you order" the rules of the game are already set.
Good service is mandatory. Good tipping is voluntary. Waiters are rewarded for what they give.