Thursday, March 06, 2008

Another Tipping Question

A question from C. Ewing:

Let us assume that you frequent a local establishment at least once, sometimes twice a work week. You tend to get the same waitress fairly frequently since your break coincides with her shift. She's always a quite capable waitress. You tend to tip fairly well (let us say %20 for sake of argument), because she is always pretty good at her job.

Today, however, she is off her game. Now, from casual observation you can't tell precisely why. Do you leave your usual tip as a sign of good faith? Assuming, naturally, that there was good reason for her to be off her game, and so she wasn't simply flaking on you. Do you leave a reduced sum, so as to indicate your displeasure with her performance? Are you obligated to give her the set amount you have been leaving, since this has been your established tradition?

What role does tipping play once a relationship (if that's the right word) has been established? Is it no longer a rewards program? Does the expectation and meeting of that expectation imply an obligation? Do you go on faith this once, but give penalties later if she continues to falter? It seems odd to penalize when it is not clear that she is at fault. But I'm more curious about whether or not there is now some implied agreement/obligation that you have slipped into.
Great question.

It strikes me that the word "relationship" is entirely appropriate here. By coming to know the waitress, there is some sort of friendly relationship that has developed and friendship does come with moral responsibilities to care that purely contractual relationships, as you would have, say, with a waitress you've never met. A care-based relationship is one where you have to take the needs of the other person seriously and it seems that in this case, her needs may be greater than those days when she is much better at her job. So, paradoxically, perhaps you should tip better for worse service.

But then again, this is not the friendship side of the relationship here, it is the business side. You could offer comfort, "You seem down tonight. Everything ok?" or a kind word, but when it comes to tipping, hey, business is business. This is why it is often a bad idea to enter into financial arrangements with friends, it is never clear where the friendship ends and the business starts. What you would assume from a friend may be inappropriate from a business partner.

Personally, I would follow the advice of a very wise colleague who says "Err on the side of generosity." Your sense of things being off are likely a good indication that someone who is generally good to you and as a caring person and someone with long-run interests, it is better to grease the palm than bite the hand that feeds you...or at least brings the food that feeds you.

Thoughts? How many out there adjust the tip they give based on service anyway? I've heard it said that people tend to be constant tippers regardless of service, some folks straight 15 percenters, others higher and that barring significant deviation, they rarely change. True in your case?