A little bit of simple math is all that's needed for tips


I've always thought it ridiculous that some people actually spend money to buy those little laminated cards that feature a table showing how much various tipping percentages will cost them.

These otherwise-sophisticated folks pull out such cards when paying the check in a restaurant. I mean, is 10, 15 or 20 percent really all that difficult to compute?

Even grade-schoolers counting on their fingers should be able to work out 15 cents on the dollar (the average amount tipped these days for good service) without a hitch. If such computations do somehow put them into a sweat, why not take a wild stab at it and then round off at a convenient amount?

It might conceivably be more of a challenge if someone were stumped about how to reward a less-than-impressive waiter with, say, an 11.347 percent gratuity, but there's really no point in torturing both yourself and the waiter with oddball fractions anyway.

After all, you're an adult. You file your taxes. You buy big-ticket items. You add up change to buy a newspaper. Now practice those basic multiplication tables all the way to the restaurant and figure the tip in your head without a cheat card or pocket calculator.

Tipping, of course, is a controversial topic in many ways. Personally, I'm most generous to cab drivers, an acknowledgment that there's inherent danger in their occupation. (Of course, I'm less charitable to any wild men who make my ride a "white-knuckle flight.")

I also tend to be generous to waiters, or servers as these men and women are now more frequently called, in part because I was one while in college and know the behind-the-scenes difference between good and bad service. I realize that the basic requirements of the occupation are to (1) cordially acknowledge the customers' existence when they're seated, (2) make sure they receive basically what they've ordered, and (3) provide enough personal contact so that they don't feel like abandoned children.

Tips come and go with economic trends.

"The last two years, tipping has decreased because a lot of business people with expense accounts had to cut back and aren't as extravagant," observed Maryann Harp, claims manager for Veterans Cab Co. of San Francisco for 15 years. She noted the bulk of driver earnings are from fares, not gratuities.

If service is good, customers generally tip 15 percent to 20 percent of the amount on the meter, or at least a dollar if it's only a $5 or $6 fare, Harp said, but "If you didn't like the service, it's certainly not automatic that you tip at all."

There are more than 2 million waiters in this country and it's the fastest-growing occupation today. Ninety-five percent of those incomes are derived from tips, according to the Waiters Association, which has 1,500 members.

"Eighteen percent to 20 percent is considered a good tip, and anything over 20 percent is extraordinary, but always base your tip specifically on the service," explained Vivienne Wildes, president and founder of The Waiters Association, based in State College, Pa. "Generally, busboys are taken care of by the waiters or the restaurant, while the maitre d' already receives a decent salary."

In the case of large parties or banquets, you can include an extra tip for extraordinary service. But always check the bill first to see how much of a gratuity already has automatically been added by the establishment, she counseled.

"At a hotel, the bellmen and doormen should get tipped because most of what they bring home is derived from tips, and a dollar per bag is common," advised Richard Muetze, head concierge at Chicago's Stouffer Renaissance Hotel and president of the Concierge Association of Illinois. "There isn't, however, any reason to tip the front desk."

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