Color of Money: Diners should tip servers 20%, no matter what

Michelle Singletary on

WASHINGTON -- Tipping is not about you.

When eating out at a restaurant, many diners believe that they should be tipping on a sliding scale based on the service they receive -- good or bad.

In keeping score, the scale may go something like this: Having to constantly ask for the water glass to be refilled? A deduction of 1 percentage point. Bringing the appetizer after the main entree with no apologies? Another 3 percentage points off the tip.

Can I be honest and convict myself?

I was on the side of the sliding-scale crowd. I tip, always. However, I hate the tipping system in America because it's not about rewarding someone for superior service. It's about guilt-tripping patrons to pay up.

Employers -- either to increase their profit margin or because of concern they will lose business due to higher prices -- force customers to supplement their employees' wages with tips.


But the price of my meal should include what it takes for the company to make a fair profit and pay their workers a living wage.

I'd rather pay more for my meal than deal with the discomfort of having to decide how much to tip based on my opinion of a job well done -- or not.

When people fail to tip appropriately, they can be skewered publicly, which is what happened recently when a New Jersey lawmaker went on Twitter to humiliate a customer who left a 74-cent tip on a $119.26 tab. In his defense, the customer said the service was awful.

I discussed this in a previous column, which garnered so much response that I asked Washington Post food reporter and columnist Tim Carman what he thought about gauging gratuity based on the service you receive.


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