The tipping point

Every once in a while, one of our neighbors throws a big shindig complete with a practice I'm still unsure about its function in society: valet parking. I can't seem to talk about valet parking without mentioning my questioning of tipping, so let's kill two birds with one stone.

There have been a couple of times where I thought valet parking was great. Be it a play or some bar where parking was limited, I didn't want to hunt for hours looking for a spot. Both times it was convenient and pretty inexpensive, but something didn't seem right. Seeing the amount of cash I could've spent on a meal at one of my favorite places was going to a guy that simply parked my car. Then I started thinking some more: I'm driving my car to and from the place, but parking myself is out of the question. Um, what?

What's even more puzzling is the last time I had to go through valet parking. There were no alternatives: it was either pay $7 or hunt for an open parking meter. So, I just played along and let my guard down. The sign at the valet's station said the tip was a part of the total price. That eased up some of my uppity feelings, but maybe that explains why it took nearly thirty minutes until I got my car back. When I got back into my car, I didn't give an extra tip for several reasons. I don't think I was in the wrong in this instance.

When it comes to tipping, that's where I'm almost completely in the dark. I remember how my parents tipped and that's what I've done. But it never ceases to amaze me about the unwritten laws of tipping. (Notice I didn't say "rules" -- they are laws.) I especially notice whenever I go to bars.

Other than happy hour drink specials (which I rarely go to), I rarely buy drinks in a bar. Why? Because I don't understand why I should pay an extra dollar or two for a tip. Sure, I understand when there's a level of skill in making a mixed drink, but grabbing a bottle of beer out of a fridge warrants that as well? And by the time you've paid for the drink, you've dropped almost the same amount you could spend on a six-pack at the grocery store.

Truth to be told, the angle I'm coming from is from zero experience as a server. I've never tended bar or waited tables; I've just stocked media at Best Buy, done promotions work, produced and anchored reports. So my angle is very skewed, but I wonder why the favoritism towards the service industry and valet parking.

I discussed this with a former coffee shop employee recently and I believe he said he rarely got tips. My memory is hazy, but he may have never received any tips. I find that baffling because if there's a job where there is a lot of skill in making something, it's making a coffee shop drink. It's not easy trying to remember something like "Tall Lemonade Iced Tea with Black Tea, Sweetened." Just think about the orders with multiple drinks. Yikes.

Clue me in here. Is there something about the pay scale where a server with great customer service gets a little bonus every time? Does a small tip (or no tip at all) really mean you're a bad server? Why can't other fields allow tipping? What about cheapskates like me that over-analyze life and watch every dollar I spend? Am I to stay away until I can grow some sensible, self-assertive legs?


Leah Shafer said…
Well, I am a former waitress and bartender and I still have some tipping issues/questions. I certainly want to be generous with servers, but in a bar situation, it can get pricey.

What I find most fair is to drop a credit or debit card and at the end of the night, pay a 20 percent tip on the total bill. I almost always drink beer and a $1 tip for a $3 Miller Lite seems sillly. Even if I'm paying cash, I drop that card so I can just leave a percentage at the evening's end and not have to tip so much for every round.

I happen to hate valet--especially complimentary-but when forced, I do tip $2 for my car.
Kev said…
I'm not a fan of valet parking either; I guess I'm just enough of a control freak that I don't like to relinquish my car keys over to anyone. I'll only use it when there's no other alternative.

One of the weirdest tipping situations took place on my New York trip in January, when the Olive Garden in Times Square included a mandatory gratuity on the bill for a party of three. Some people have told me that this may be because tourists, shocked by the NYC prices, were leaving very small tips to compensate. (The bill for the three of us--for typical chicken parmigiana and a soda, no alcohol--was $70 including the required tip.)

However, we did enjoy a fortunate situation where, despite a projected wait of over an hour, a host took us to a table in the bar area with no wait at all. If he got the bulk of that tip for giving us a break on the wait, I have no problem with that at all.
jen said…
i earned $2.13 an hour (no, there weren't bonuses) as a waitress, and that was about 4 years ago. yes, as in less than half of minimum wage, because the state assumes that you will make up most of your earnings from tips. bartenders made slightly more, but still never got minimum wage either. we relied on tips as our total income, with our "pay" being used for taxes (oh, and we would still have to pay out at the end of every year too), so unless i get godawful service, i do try to tip well. even for horrible service, i leave something, if only for tip-out reasons. dining and drinking out is a convenience, and you have to pay for conveniences.

employees at coffee shops on the other hand make retail equivalent wages (at least we did when i worked at various coffee shops). in those cases, tips are just sweet little perks for a job well done. oh, and little memorization is needed when you just write an order on a cup....

as for the valet thing, well that's a convenience as well. you said it yourself, you didn't want to hunt for a parking spot or meter. if you're not willing to drive around or walk from a remote lot, then you should have to pay for door to door service...
Fifteen percent is the minimum, especially if one is high maintenance. If you keep your server flying back and forth from the kitchen and leave a sub-standard tip, you're going to be remembered. I tip 20% unless the server is terrible. But then again, I waited tables at Burgerworld, I mean Chili's for two years.