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On Tourists and Tipping - by Frank Bruni/NYTimes

Brooklyn, New York
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On Tourists and Tipping - by Frank Bruni/NYTimes

…nytimes.com/2008/…more-397

A reader wrote me with the following story: “My boyfriend and I were dining at Bombay Masala near Times Square when the British trio next to us got up to leave. The waiter looked at their check and told them they had left $60 on a $59 check, and that $1 was not an acceptable tip.

“They said they had paid the bill and would not pay more,” the reader continued. “In the end they added one more dollar and stopped by my table to vent about ‘this whole Americans-expect-tips thing.’ I believe they honestly felt the waiter was trying to rip them off.

“Can a restaurant legally add a service charge to the bill at their discretion?” the reader added. “I’ve heard servers bemoan the nonexistent tips of international tourists before and have wondered why restaurants in tourist Meccas don’t add the charge automatically. I was wondering if you could weigh in on this.”

I’m not a lawyer, so I can’t give a definitive legal answer. I share the reader’s e-mail to me not as a springboard for a legal discussion, but as a way of opening the door — by which I mean the Comments forum — to anyone out there with big thoughts on how servers can be spared the financial cold shoulder from tourists whose countries have tipping customs different from ours.

On the legal front, though, I bet discrimination complaints would ring loud and clear — and rightly so — if restaurants, sizing up individual tables, added fixed gratuities on a case-by-case basis. How would a restaurant know that a given table comprised foreign tourists and not foreign-born people living in the city? Even if they could determine that, wouldn’t it be the grossest, most objectionable kind of profiling to make tipping assumptions based on diners’ appearances, accents and addresses?

I simply can’t imagine such a scenario, and I definitely, definitely wouldn’t endorse it.

It is indeed legal for a restaurant to have an automatic-gratuity policy applied in a uniform fashion, and this is manifest in the large number of restaurants out there that add set gratuities for parties of a given size: usually, parties of six or more.

It’s manifest, too, in the smaller number of restaurants that announce from the get-go that each and every group of diners, no matter the size, will get a bill with the gratuity already added to it. This happens at places ranging from the Red Lobster in Times Square to Per Se in the Time Warner Center.

Is a required gratuity a good thing? That’s always a heated topic of debate. It protects servers who rely on tips for the bulk of their income, so in that sense it has a real function and value. And to those diners who wonder why servers’ salaries should be our responsibility and worry, in the form of the tips we give: if restaurants were structured differently and the restaurant itself paid the server what it would have to so that tips ceased to be necessary, believe me, the cost of the dishes we eat would rise. In the end, we’d be paying the equivalent of the tip in the increased bill itself.

The problem I have with required gratuities is that they set up a system that may be less likely to reward superior service, and that denies diners a reasonable way to protest inferior service.

If a diner knows that he or she is on the line for 15 or 18 or 20 percent regardless of the service’s quality, he or she may not adjust the tip upward for exemplary service, because he or she wouldn’t have been allowed to adjust the tip downward for abysmal service.

As for how to protect servers in restaurants without set gratuities (which is the majority of restaurants) from foreign tourists who refuse to bow to local tipping customs, I just don’t know. I wish I did. Because the servers in those circumstances deserve better, because the tourists in those circumstances are behaving in a closed-minded, arrogant fashion.

Mineola, New York
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1. Re: On Tourists and Tipping - by Frank Bruni/NYTimes

It is problematic not only with tourists but with many foreign born customers. My son was working as a waiter a couple of summers ago and would routinely get groups of foreign customers who were very bad tippers. It was not unusual at all for them to run up a $100 food and bar bill and leave $2.

On the other hand, I resent when a tip is automatically added for a small table and am reluctant to give any more than they have already billed. I will also think twice about coming back.

It is not any easy problem...

New York City, New...
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2. Re: On Tourists and Tipping - by Frank Bruni/NYTimes

It amazes me that anyone planning a trip wouldnt discover that tipping is common practise here and decide to pick another locale if tipping is such an issue for them....

And, its been awhile since I visited the UK, but isnt some token tip common, the way it is in France? And token meaning more than $1 on a $59 check.

Halifax, United...
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3. Re: On Tourists and Tipping - by Frank Bruni/NYTimes

I can't remember which place it was but a couple on the table behind us practically wet themselves when they read that service was included !!

Personally I always round up ($78 will get left $100) and generally always try and leave at leave 15-20% tip

What is the norm btw ??

Yalesville...
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4. Re: On Tourists and Tipping - by Frank Bruni/NYTimes

Well, I guess this will get the tipping gurus typing, eh. I'm not sure what the exact tipping climate is in the UK - would someone enlighten me, please.

A friend of mine advised me when I was visiting London a few years back that don't worry about tipping too much, 'they don't expect it'! Is this true?

In spite of this I always tipped as I would have done here in the 'States

Thanks for any advice.

Poppa

New York City, New...
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5. Re: On Tourists and Tipping - by Frank Bruni/NYTimes

I think it's usual for Britons to leave about 10% on a bill (been researching this for my upcoming trip).

Not in Australia though - we generally just round up, unless the service has been out of the ordinary. There was a post on one of the Australian boards by an American who'd been leaving 20% and getting strange looks, and asking if she knew the currency! She wanted to know what the procedure was. And we have not heard of tipping coat room attendants or per drink at a bar.

It does annoy me here when a tip is added based on my accent. I agree with Bruni there.

Belfast
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6. Re: On Tourists and Tipping - by Frank Bruni/NYTimes

When I go out for a meal I leave between 10% and 20% depending on how my evening was. I have been known to leave nothing when I was served food that I wouldn't have fed to my dog.

If I get good service I'll tip well, if not then kiss the tip goodbye. For those that don't tip - poor show. I'm sure these people who can afford to spend $59 on a meal could afford another $10 on a tip.

New York City, New...
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7. Re: On Tourists and Tipping - by Frank Bruni/NYTimes

I spend a lot of time researching destinations and their cultures (and even attempt to learn some of the language) before any trip. I know I'm atypical, but it amazes me that people who travel make no attempt to do this.

In fact, I would be happy, for a fee, to do this research for you and supply it to you in a nice report! The report would also have the best restaurants for your budget/style and how to get to and from the airport. For a bigger fee, I could put a whole itinerary together!

New York City, New...
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8. Re: On Tourists and Tipping - by Frank Bruni/NYTimes

Please...no...not again...

West Palm Beach...
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9. Re: On Tourists and Tipping - by Frank Bruni/NYTimes

Caz, you must take into consideration that your server did not cook the meal, and so should not be penalized if you don't like the food. If you have a complaint about your food, you need to talk to the manager.

Here we go again!

Durham, United...
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10. Re: On Tourists and Tipping - by Frank Bruni/NYTimes

Uh oh... LTT's in trouble..

Anyway, Kate is right that people here that are familiar with tipping usually leave around 10% at restaurants (more for better service) and round up on things like taxis, hairdressers but rarely tip on other things and never for drinks.

We are also aware that our servers here are on minimum wage (albeit a wage higher than your minimum)so this has become our 'norm' most of the time too.

I've mentioned before that one of my favourite local restaurants has started adding on the gratuity too for parties of as little as two people - as one of the previous posters said, that can make you feel as though the tip has been taken care of, even though I might've left more if it hadn't been. (But certainly would've taken it off the bill if the service had been shoddy)