Higher price. Higher tip?

Is there a greater imperative to tip the more fancy (and expensive) the restaurant?

People always amaze me when they say something like, “well, I tip at fine dining restaurants but not at regular restaurants.”

If you ask what the difference is, normally the reply is something like, “that’s just how it works”. Some people will say that the wait-staff do a lot more at fine dining restaurants. That’s difficult for me to confirm or deny, because despite my claims that my research funding should be extended to cover fine dining the University thinks otherwise. So I can’t really comment on the quality of service in such places, but I expect that the standard of service is indeed considerably higher.

I’m also confident that prices are higher to match.

Furthermore, I suspect that the wait-staff are either specially trained or are just better than average wait-staff and, as such, are probably paid more as a result. Which, of course, is part of what feeds into those higher prices.

So then, why tip in places that are already charging more?

If tipping was really about some sort of social justice, whereby people tip to balance out inequities in the free-market system, then shouldn’t it work the other way around? In such a case, people would surely tip the minimum wage employee at the local pub who brought you your parma and chips.

On the other hand there’s not really a lot of service in that.

But if tipping was about adequately compensating those who have served you, then the higher prices, and commensurate higher wages, should already have taken care of it, making tipping unnecessary.

That is unless one just believes in tipping. Which is fine. But one obviously doesn’t ‘believe’ in tipping if they only do it at expensive restaurants.

Some people seem to insist on, it seems, tipping (or tipping proportionally more) in more expensive restaurants on the grounds that … well … the restaurant is more expensive.

Is it because that’s what the elite do? Do they throw money around to demonstrate their wealth and show their compassion for the little people at the same time?

Perhaps, for those who do not frequent such places so often, they feel that since they are treading on the turf of the privileged they had better play the game or else they’ll be seen as wannabe’s who somehow escaped great unwashed masses to play rich for an evening?

I’m sure people have their reasons for tipping when the restaurant is considered fine dining, but not anywhere else.

I just have no idea what they are.

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7 Responses to Higher price. Higher tip?

  1. thomasthethinkengine says:

    Hey, you should put one of those “contribute” buttons on this blog. You can hook it up so people can choose to put money into your bank account via paypal.

    No disrespect intended, but I suspect the eventual amount collected would create a data point that would help prove the correlation you are trying to investigate in this post…

  2. Gus says:

    Ok, so i’ve got some ideas. People tip more at “fine dining” places for a few reasons.

    1. People tip in expensive places because they can afford to. Compare the economic/financial situations of the patrons of an upmarket restaurant vs McDonald’s.* You could measure it a number of ways – disposable income at a macro level, down to “how many dollars do i have in my wallet for this meal” on a transactional basis.

    2. The follow on from ability to pay may be the fact that pretenders at expensive restaurants feel the need to fit in. You allude to this towards the end of your post. I would be guessing at the reasons here, but desire to fit in (especially in group situations where someone may be out of their normal comfort/price zone and need to fit in) is one. Also the feeling that this is what is done, and failure to do so will be bad (although in Australia the consequences are very different to the US i would imagine).
    It may be a desire to impress your date either by showing that you know what you are doing or that you simply have money. The size of the tip here may indicate which one of these alternatives is a greater driver.

    3. The perceived value of the experience could play a part. Someone may receive a bill at the end of a nice meal at a nice place and have been willing to pay more. Again, I can think of two situations here – genuine surprise that the bill was under my expectations. This is the window that i will tip within. For example – a $60 bill for something i expected to pay $100 for could mean I split the difference at $80 – they get a 33% tip and I am still $20 ahead. Win win.
    The other situation could be that I enjoyed myself so much that i felt they deserved a tip. For example, a group party that went well. There may not have been any service offered that was above expectations, but for some reason I placed a higher value on the experience than they charged me for.

    I am rarely surprised by the experience at McDonalds, and the nature of a high volume, transactional focused business model means that there is no additional perceived value added.

    4. Perhaps I believe in paying for a “service”, regardless of the situation of the person serving me. I order a glass of wine, I get a glass of wine is the same as ordering and receiving fries at McDonald’s. However, if I order a particular wine and the waiter goes out of his way to suggest a better match for my meal, maybe that’s a value added service. Kinda like when I only order a small meal and they ask me if I want it upsized…. no, that’s just upselling. However, if they were to suggest a particular burger (eg: no lettuce) to match my particular palate, maybe I would give them a tip.

    5. The transactional process that exists is more conducive to tipping in upmarket restaurants. At McDonald’s, they have my money in their bank account well before I get my meal. I have no opportunity to assess the service or quality of the food. I can’t choose to stick it to them by not leaving a tip, but there is no way I’m going to calculate a 20% tip (hey, I can be generous!) on a $6 value meal after I have sat down and eaten. Perhaps if they had a tip jar or credit card machine at the table….

    An upmarket restaurant gets paid at the end of the meal, often with a waiter/ess watching you count the money or sign the credit card slip. It’s harder to say no.

    It’s just some thoughts. I might leave it there, as at 700 words I have now written a good 1% of your thesis. right?

    *for the record, i have nothing against McDonald’s or what they sell, it’s simply a convenient comparison.

    • tippingoz says:

      Yeah that’s about 1% of the thesis. Assuming that took you about 30 minutes to write that reply, I should be able to knock over the rest of the thesis in about a week.

      There are some good points in there though. Things worth thinking about. Cheers

  3. Kim says:

    Is there a greater imperative to tip the more fancy (and expensive) the restaurant?
    The answer is yes. I know you poor, slovenly students don’t get to spend time at fancy restaurants but if you spent more time working and less time in a slothlike bohemian trance then perhaps you too could eat at Cutler and Co or Press Club or you get the drift of my insult.

    I certainly feel the imperative to tip the more fancy the restaurant. In fact I went somewhere sort of fancy (this means pants aren’t optional) on Saturday night and I felt the tip wasn’t sufficient. The service was great. The guy was funny and laughed at my jokes. That’s right, my jokes.

    But it isn’t just waiters with a good sense of humour that induce that sense of tipping more. I suppose there is an aspect of “doing like the rich people do.” There is also the percentage factor i.e. i’m spending $100 for my meal so a $5 tip for the great service ain’t a huge impost.

    I don’t feel the social justice aspect though. You ivory tower types are obsessed with social justice. I ain’t tipping some greasy teenager when they slam down some pile of MSG laden grease that I paid $9 for the pleasure of…well it ain’t pleasurable. However I occasionally leave my change, which wouldn’t be far off the fancy restaurant percentage scale of tipping. So maybe I am into social justice. Damn it, damn you all to hell!

    • tippingoz says:

      I’m not slovenly. Wait, what’s slovenly? Well, whatever it is, I’m pretty sure I’m not it.

      Don’t worry though. Just because you leave the change as a tip at a burger place doesn’t necessarily mean you’re into things like social justice or equity or anything like that. You might be doing it simply because you cannot be bothered to fumble about with the change.

      So even though you might tip in similar proportions at burger places as you do in fine-dining restaurants, the two actions may have very different meanings. At the burger place it might mean little more than not wanting to carry around small amounts of change. At the nice restaurant it might reflect your feelings towards the waiter/waitress, along with your perceived position within society and the responsibilities that, you feel, come with that.

      I’m not saying this is the case. Its just a possibility.

      • Kim says:

        PhD Man,

        You are right. This is the case. I often have strong feelings directed towards high brow waiters/waitresses. Very strong. Sometimes they get in the way of good service. Other times though…

        That Gus guys riposte is excellent. A little long for a riposte I suppose but a good comment anyway. I’m on the Gus bus! His comment is structured. Logical. Numbered points as well. Better than all the drivel I wrote at looniversity.

        Anyway I don’t really know why I am at this website writing a reply. Pornography is not just going to download itself you know.

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