The Moneyist: If I don’t tip more than 15%, should I stay at home?

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Dear Moneyist,

Tipping is supposed to be a “gratuity” not an obligation. Now it is perceived by many, if not most, as stealing from the employee if you do not leave a tip.

I was recently told that not leaving a tip is taking food from their children’s plate. In many establishments the tip is compulsory. The house adds it to the bill and collects it even if the service is lacking.

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In some establishments the wages plus tips means the waiter/waitress takes home more per week than I do. Here is my question: Should I consider an establishment beyond my means if I consider the meal affordable, but consider the meal plus 15% too pricey?

Steve

Dear Steve,

Not everyone tips 20%, but most establishments recommend it. And so do I.

More than half of Americans aged 65 and over tip 20% or more at restaurants, the highest of any age group, according to a recent survey by CreditCards.com. Just 35% of people under 30 tip that much. Women are better tippers than men and have a median tip of 20% versus just 16% for men. Diners in the South and West tend to tip less, while married people tip more than singles. Perhaps it’s easier to stiff a waiter or waitress when you’re not being watched by your significant other.

“Tipping at sit-down restaurants has always been the standard in the U.S., but that’s not necessarily the case in other countries,” according to Matt Schulz, senior industry analyst at CreditCards.com. I also recommend tipping the takeout guy. Here’s why. I also believe the $1 tip is dead, even for barmen and coat check assistants. I do have a line: I don’t like being guilt-tipped with an iPad at stores where I buy coffee for $4 (already a hefty sum for some java).

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Service staff generally get paid pretty poorly and restaurant owners tend to include their potential tipping in their bill. I don’t know how they deal with the public all day long. They go to the restaurant feeling overworked and under-appreciated, and need to deal with demanding customers who want everything just right. The general public is not easy to deal with. It’s no surprise that so many out of work actors work as waiters. When they put on that apron, they must perform.

In the bigger scheme of things, it’s always better to leave 20%. It’s a social norm. It’s expected. The service would need to be really bad to cross that line and leave less than 20%. Americans like to spread their wealth around and are among the most generous tippers. I like that about America. In Europe, people don’t tip barmen and in the U.K. and Ireland, the general rule of thumb is 10%. When I go back there, I always stick with the 20% tipping level. I encourage you do to the same.

Waiters have a median income of $20,820 per year. The next time you tip, remember that.

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Do you have questions about inheritance, tipping, weddings, family feuds, friends or any tricky issues relating to manners and money? Send them to MarketWatch’s Moneyist and please include the state where you live (no full names will be used).

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Hello there, MarketWatchers. Check out the Moneyist private Facebook group, where we look for answers to life’s thorniest money issues. Readers write in to me with all sorts of dilemmas: inheritance, wills, divorce, tipping, gifting. I often talk to lawyers, accountants, financial advisers and other experts, in addition to offering my own thoughts. I receive more letters than I could ever answer, so I’ll be bringing all of that guidance — including some you might not see in these columns — to this group. Post your questions, tell me what you want to know more about, or weigh in on the latest Moneyist columns.

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