Sunday, February 13, 2005

Group Tipping Poll

A group of eight or more people will be charged automatically a 17% gratuity at Provence Marinaside. Many restaurants have an automatic tip policy for large groups. I recently discussed this issue with a friend, who made a good point that tipping should be a reflection of the service, and should not be automatic. However, I also see that it would be a very practical policy for a restaurant to have, because typically a server will be working very hard to meet the demands of a large group table, and when several people split a check, there is always the tendency for people to miscalculate their portion (and their tip), leaving the server with a lousy tip, despite their efforts. But what if the server doesn't meet your expectations? Is it fair that they will receive a substantial gratuity no matter what level of service that they give? I don't mean to pick on Provence. Our large group received very good service, and I was happy to tip generously for that. But there was never any guarantee, was there? Tell me what you think. Vote in the poll below, and/or post a comment on this topic.

Give your opinion about automatic tips for large groups


Mark said...

Seeing as I'm the one who discussed this with you (grin), I've been thinking about it more.

My thought now is, a better policy is something like "for large groups (7 or more) a tip will be added automatically to your bill for easier portioning. At the end of the meal, the manager will discretely enquire as to the amount to be added."

Frankly, large tables mean lots of dough for restaurants (but not necessarily the servers). More wine is usually ordered "per capita" than by smaller groups, and usually more food like appetizers and such is ordered. Large tables usually only stay slightly longer than smaller tables, so the bulk means more money for the restaurant as well. Demanding an automatic fixed amount tip is obscene to me. It offers no guarantee of good service. But given the money made from large tables, a little extra effort from the management to a) make sure that the server is paid okay, and b) the customer is satisfied is proper.

One last point. I don't believe any server should make more than say $50 per hour at any one service, no matter how large the sitting may be (with one exception - if the table is so large that they cannot serve any other tables, jack it up to $75 per hour). If a group of say 12 people occuppy two large tables for two hours, and spend on average $80 per person ($960) - convention (or restaurants enforcing tips) says they should be tipped $165 for their work. When did servers all of a sudden become paid higher than lawyers and chiropractors? I'd top out that tip at $100, then move it up or down depending on the quality of service.

One last point. I do not calculate my tips on the full (incl. tax) amounts. Never, esp. given the tax on booze. Nit pick maybe, but since restaurants almost universally list prices SANS tax in their menus, I tip based on those prices.

Anonymous said...

I rather like the idea of having the manager ask about how much to add, though this would probably be difficult to implement smoothly in practice. I've been at large group dinners where it would be impossible for the waitstaff to figure out the person out of a table of 8+ to whom the question should be asked.

For me, the question of mandatory tipping depends on the type of cuisine and the service provided. If you're a large group doing something that's served a la carte and/or family style and with no expectation that everything will arrive all at once (e.g. dim sum, all-you-can-eat sushi, most Thai and Indian), it could be easier for the waitstaff to serve your table because they can bring several items out at the same time (or not) as they become available, and the effort required to serve a large table becomes the same or less than several small tables.

In places where there is an expectation that food for the entire table will arrive at roughly the same time, ensuring gratuity might make sense because it's more work on the kitchen's and waitstaff's part to make sure that everything comes out at once (especially if someone ordered beef stew, someone else ordered seafood and a salad, and someone else ordered a salad -- and keeping everything respectively hot and cold becomes a challenge). Still, in large groups I've been part of, providing appropriate (and usually generous) tip has never been a problem.

The real problem comes up when a restaurant adds mandatory gratuity, but the service for large groups is abyssmal -- and the mandatory gratuity ends up being higher than what you would have tipped given the quality of food and service received. It makes one wonder whether the mandatory gratiuty served as a disincentive for the waitstaff to serve large parties adequately. For example, the old Georgia St. Bar and Grill, now no longer open (there is culinary poetic justice!), had both mandatory gratuity and notoriously slow service to large groups (apparently they were pretty decent for 1-3 person lunches), especially on weekend afternoons...waiting 1 hr plus for a soup and sandwich that's only marginally better than the local Quizno's is just WRONG! Needless to say, after a couple of instances of this, we voted with our feet and took our business elsewhere -- and told most of our friends and acquaintences to do likewise.


Dumpling_Girl said...

Thanks to both of you for your comments. All good points. I also think that the manager discreetly finding out the desired tip percentage would be awkward. I would prefer the bill to include at the very bottom a "suggested gratuity" showing the calculations for 15% and 20% (and the respective totals) at the bottom of the bill, separate from your actual bill. One more note about tipping from me. To take the comparative approach to all this, consider this - for all group sizes, it is customary not to tip at all in Australia, and their level of service, in my limited experience in Melbourne, seems to reflect a lower set of expectations, while in Japan, standards of service remain high, again without tipping. The food prices are probably a little higher because of this. But I didn't really notice this in Australia. Presumably, employers in both countries pay their servers enough in hourly wages. I must admit though, it is quite fun to travel to these places and not feel like you have to tip.

Jeanette said...

I'm not a big fan of mandatory tipping,... but have you ever gone out with a large group of people.. and at the end when you're calculating out the bill... realize you're short, and despite the fact that your portion of the meal cost about $20, you find yourself shelling out an extra $15? Okay folks! who didn't pay their bill, never mind the tip?

I've also had arguments about how much to tip... ranging from under 10% to 25%, or better yet, no tip at all! So, even if I leave a generous tip, it would seem incredibly stingy because my dining companion doesn't believe in tipping. (apparently they don't tip in England.)