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Tipping creep

These days we not only have to contend with entree creep when we eat out, we also have tipping creep. (Entree prices creep, that is -- the fact that they have crept up in the past couple of years so anything under $20 now seems moderate, even inexpensive.)

Anyway, I was struck by tipping creep once again when I ate at a high-end restaurant last night and was figuring out the tip on a large check. ...

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I remember when I did a story on tipping awhile back, I discovered that in the '40s and '50s, 10 to 15 percent was standard. These days you would leave that only if the server poured soup in your lap.

It no longer seems appropriate to leave even 15 percent if you get decent service, and certainly not 15 percent figured on the check before tax. These days the server will think he or she did something wrong if you don't leave 18 percent. And in a fine restaurant with several people waiting on you, you should probably leave more.

I interviewed Michael Lynn, an associate professor at Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration, for the story and asked him why tipping creep was happening. His response was kind of depressing. He's been doing research on tipping for over 20 years, and he believes the main reason people tip is because they want the server to have a good opinion of them. (Assuming they like the server.)

"If people are tipping to get something [such as making the server like them]," he told me. "it depends on standing out, and to stand out they have to go above the norm. Then the norm creeps up."

Between entree creep and tipping creep, what I left for a tip last night seemed like an awful lot of money for decent but not wonderful service.



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