Hey, big spender
How to tip on booze
By Tim Protzman firstname.lastname@example.org
This is the time when you give or receive a holiday/end-of-the-year tip. And even in a tough economy, you’ll get a little something and hopefully you’ll give a little something.
The word “tip” has erroneously been described as an acronym for the words “to insure promptness,” but E. B. White’s little Elements of Style handbook would differ. It suggests the use of “ensure,” so it wouldn’t be a “tip” but a “tep.” Anyway, tip means gratuity or an extra amount or commission added to the bill to pay the person, not establishment, for service provided.
Now tipping is as American as apple pie, as long as it’s a reward and not a surcharge. I’ve eaten meals where the tax and tip were included and most of the time the waitstaff was excellent. Then there’s the “I’m guaranteed a tip on this already so you really don’t need your water glasses filled or a second basket of bread” attitude. This borders on socialism and is un-American. Also, I usually don’t respond to a jar next to the cash register labeled “tips.” In my opinion this is begging, but when I receive exemplary service — a great smile, a friendly touch, a speedy order — I drop something in. Because for the most part, waiters, waitresses, servers, counter help and anyone who provides me with food does a great job and deserves at least 15 percent of the bill as a gratuity. And I always tip on the pre-tax amount, never the tax full amount.
What I want to explain in this column is how to tip on those odd items. Like an expensive bottle of wine. A couple of mixed drinks. A fancy cocktail. And things like haircuts. Each has its own tip system, which the holidays make even more complicated.
Barbers and hairdressers, taxi drivers, coffee shop counter help and carwash attendants typically all get 10 percent. From Dec. 15 through Jan. 1, bump it up to 15 to 20 percent.
UPS, FedEx, the van driver at the retirement home, your garbagemen, the mail woman and the paperboy only get tipped during the holidays. It should be $15 to $20 depending on the frequency of their visits. If you see Evan from UPS every day and he lugs a 35-pound box of Omaha Steaks up to your third-floor apartment once a month then, he should get $50 to $60. Same with your hairdresser. Do you see her once a week or every other month? The more contact (which equals more work performed) the more gratuity. The rule of thumb is if you’re on a first-name basis with any of these service workers then add a little more. You do not have to tip the cab driver who took you to the airport to go visit grandma over Christmas more than 10 percent, unless you regularly ride with him.
Tipping on alcohol
I generally tip better when I’m on alcohol. But how do I know how much to tip? It depends.
A $110 snifter of Martell XO doesn’t take any more extra work to pour than a Jagermeister, so I’d go with $8 to $10 or 7 to 9 percent. Something that takes work, like a Pink Squirrel, a frozen Grasshopper, a Sazerac or anything from a blender should get about 15 percent. This also includes drinks made from coffee that the barkeep brews up just for you. Layered Pousse Cafes or rainbow drinks, anything with fresh squeezed fruit, coconut milk or juiced vegetables should get an automatic 20 percent tip, as does anything that’s set on fire.
Remember this the next time you ask your local barista at the coffee shop. Froth, flavors or elegantly crafted whipped cream means an extra tip.
How to tip
You’re at a ski lodge listening to music. You order two rum and cokes. It comes to $9.50 and you leave a ten spot. Hey big spender! Stop. Turn around. Reach for your wallet and pull out another dollar. Any drink order over $7 gets a full dollar. A $20 order gets at least a $2 tip. And these are just the drinks you order over the bar. A tab or a printed bill will cost you 15%, unless the service or drinks were abysmal.
The secret to tipping on drinks ordered over the bar, without a waitstaff go-between, is simple.
Tip big on the first round, less on the middle rounds and moderately on the last round. You walk into a bar and order three Bud Lights. It comes to $12. You leave a $4 tip. The next three rounds you leave $1, the last round you leave $2. It adds up to $9; that’s exactly 15 percent of the total $60 tab. The difference is you got their attention upfront. She knows you’re not cheap, and hopefully she’ll move quicker, notice you quicker and get your drinks quicker. Be careful, because if you’re drinking a mixed drink, a well-tipped barkeep will pour on the heavy side, out of gratitude, and you could be over the limit to drive without planning to be.
Wine ordered by the glass and served by your regular waitress is added into the bill and gets at least 15 percent. If the service is really good, go to 18 or 20 percent. If the food was awful but the service sharp, 15 percent is fine, and I’d clue the waitperson in on why they’re not getting the 20 percent they deserve. If the food was good and the service not up to snuff, 7 to 10 percent is fine. If things start out bad and get worse, leave. Pay and tip 15 percent on anything you’ve eaten and explain why you’re leaving. Don’t argue, just leave with dignity. This happened to me and I left $35 to cover the bread, water and salad. The server said, “But you ordered a whole meal!” When I suggested he eat it he looked scared.
Tip 15 percent on any bottle of wine up to $60, after that 12 percent is fine. For any wine over $125, 10 to 12 percent is fine. Add 3 percent if a wine steward comes over and decants or helps you choose a wine. Most wine lists are reasonable and fair, but the wine costs as much as two or three entrees, and it’s easier to present. Most anyone can pull the cork. The more involved the sommelier, wine steward or server is in your wine selection, the higher the percentage. Presenting food quickly, correctly, with good cheer is an art. Treat the server as such when they hit the mark. But just because they wrote the name and bin number down of a wine you chose from their wine list, pulled the cork and poured a glass doesn’t merit an automatic 15-percent gratuity.
These little rules will leave you feeling generous but not gouged and will encourage the server to try even harder the next time.