From the Eyes of Consumers

In my days as a hostess, I’ve heard a lot of excuses for why people don’t tip. “Bad service”, “I’m too poor to tip” “I’m already paying too much for the food, why should I have to pay extra for the service?” and so on. Unfortunately, in my interviews, I never got a chance to ask any folks like those mentioned above about the reasoning behind those responses. I did get the pleasure of interviewing several consumers, both adults and adolescents, who think that tipping in restaurants is very important. Their responses were consistent in some ways and surprising in others.

The two most interesting interviews to me, I think, were the high school students that I talked to. Both of these kids have jobs and eat out at sit-down restaurants (where they pay for themselves) with varying frequency. However, both of them, when I asked how often they tipped in these situations, immediately answered “always”. I found this to be a refreshing answer, because in my experience talking to servers, its young people who they’ve found to be the worst at tipping. When I asked them how much they tipped on average, one of them told me 15% and the other just said “oh, a dollar or two”. These kids don’t typically spend more than $20 on a meal, so I found these answers satisfactory. I came into this project with a pretty concrete idea of what I’d find in these interviews, and talking to these high school kids really surprised me. Though after I ended up interviewing their parents, I understood how much of an influence the actions of their parents can have on kids that age.

The most fascinating answer, across the board, was when I asked my consumers why they tipped. This was the only answer that everyone had to think about for a few moments. The high school students told me that they did it because it was “socially acceptable” and “good etiquette”. The adults that I talked to answered it a little bit differently. One woman, who lives alone, spoke about how it was an extra little thank you for all of the hard work that the servers do. A husband and wife, who have a family, both talked about how important it was that the servers get a “supplementary income” because most of them get paid minimum wage. They also talked about how good tips “mean a lot to a server, and how a great tip can really make their day”. Both husband and wife worked as servers when they were college students, and individually they spoke about how they feel a kinship with wait staff and know that, in almost every instance, the staff work hard and deserve the tip that they get.

The very last question I asked my consumers was whether there was a situation where they would tip less or not at all. Of my five consumers, two said that there were situations where they wouldn’t tip at all. These were my high school students, and one said that he wouldn’t tip or would tip less if the server was “deliberately inconsiderate or rude” and the other one recounted an experience where she was at a restaurant and asked for a little bit of extra sour cream and was charged almost three dollars extra for an unnecessary amount of sour cream. She was displeased and didn’t leave a tip. She assured me that this was the only time that she has ever not left a tip, but admitted that she probably should have spoken to the server about the extra charge instead of not tipping at all.

My three adult consumers, when asked whether there was a situation where they would tip less or not at all, said that they would certainly tip less (10% or 15% rather than 20%) if the service was bad. Two of them specified that they would tip less only if they knew it was something that was the server’s fault, such as a bad attitude or being inattentive. The other consumer said that she would probably tip less if the service was slow, her food was cold or her order was wrong and they did nothing to fix it. All assured me that these were very rare occurrences, and none of them could remember an incident in recent memory where they had received such service.

Something that one of my consumers said, outside of the “official” interview really stuck with me. I’m paraphrasing, but it boils down to this: “I think everyone, at some point in their life, should have to work in the restaurant business. It teaches you a lot about respect, patience, and how it feels to be treated poorly by somebody who doesn’t even know you. People would be a lot nicer if they were all forced to walk a mile in their shoes.” I’ve definitely thought about this before, but I thought that he articulated it nicely. In our interview, this consumer talks about how he was in the restaurant business for a long time, as a server and a busser in multiple countries. He told me that this is the reason that he likes to think of himself as a “generous tipper”. Because he knows how these servers often have to live off of their tips, and he would never deprive anyone of that.

While there are still more people I would have liked to talk to (for example, those who I quoted in my first paragraph), I feel as if consumers understand wait staff a little bit better than I thought that they did, particularly the adults. This was a very interesting last minute addition to my project and I’m very glad that a classmate advised me to talk to consumers as well as to wait staff. Talking to those young kids really put a lot in perspective for me. If they, who pay for a lot of food with their own money, can afford to tip when they sit down to eat, than so, certainly, can anyone else. And if you can’t afford the tip, well, there’s a grocery store across the street that has sushi.