To Tip or Not to Tip

     After a busy Sunday night at Dover Delite, I pick up the last order ticket as it slides from the printer. Exhaustion floods through me as I scan the small label that reads, “Ginger: 1 Quart, x3.” My eyes flick to the clock: one and half minutes until we close. Reluctantly, I lift the 3-gallon tub resting on top of the ginger ice cream and reach way down to the bottom of the cooler to scrape at the brick-like dessert. Our staff waited the twenty minutes past closing time that it took to hand-pack the three quarts of our hardest ice cream to scoop. Expecting to see any sign of green as I glance over at our tip jar, I roll my eyes as I realize that the customer decided to order so close to our closing time and still didn’t tip.

     As someone who works for exactly minimum wage in New Hampshire, $7.25 per hour, I find myself questioning if it’s really worth it to work somewhere where I rely on tips for most of my income. Income from tips is built into the food service industry with the idea that if you provide great service, then customers will reward you with tips. However, no matter how good the service is, people often don’t tip as much as they should if at all. This may be because people are unaware of the amount they should tip or simply because they don’t feel like dropping an extra few dollars. So, how much should we really be tipping for services and why is it even important?

     For me, tipping is something that I always think about regardless of whether I’m dining in, ordering take-out, getting delivery, or being served by a behind-the-counter worker. It’s a courtesy rather than something that I consider to be a burden on my wallet, and the amount I tip relies on the quality of service and the amount of work that an employee is doing. Depending on the type of service, I generally tip between 10% and 20% of the cost of my food.

     To really understand how much we should be tipping, we should answer the question of why it’s important to tip in the first place. For one, employees often see tipping as a sign of appreciation for the hard work that they do. Natalie Lessard (‘22), a hostess and server at Street in Portsmouth, said that tipping “almost feels like [the customer is] appreciating me. It’s probably, for them, just another transaction. But for me, I’m like, ‘thank you so much.’”

     Another important thing to remember is that workers in the food service industry often rely on tips for much of their wage. Lessard said that most of her income comes from tips rather than the minimum wage that she is paid. “I think that if it’s in your capability, then yes, you should tip because, even though it’s a dumb system and we shouldn’t have to rely on tips for our wage, it’s the reality for a lot of people in the service industry,” she said. Especially for waiters and waitresses, the tip that you give can make all the difference.

     Pay for waiters and waitresses in New Hampshire varies by restaurant, but according to GlassDoor, the average hourly wage is $4.00. While, in theory, this means that better servers will receive higher pay from tips, it also means that we, as consumers, have to do our part in the food service industry by tipping the right amount for the service we receive. For waitstaff, I tend to tip between 15% and 20%, but never below 10%.

     Tipping workers in the service industry is particularly important now because of the current state of the economy. “Especially considering the increasing prices in stuff like gas, I’m having problems getting gas because it’s a far drive to where I work… without [the tips] it would be much harder for me to get to the places I need to be,” said Margeaux Burnham (‘22), a behind-the-counter ice cream scooper and server at Kilwins in Portsmouth. As someone who also has a twenty-minute commute to my job at Dover Delite, I understand the struggle of weighing whether the amount I’m paid is worth the gas money. The tips we receive help to account for the rising prices in our economy that aren’t followed by the same rise in minimum wage.

     Given so many reasons to tip workers in the service industry, why do customers choose not to? Many people who are financially able to tip choose not to, not because they are malicious or they don’t appreciate the service, but because they don’t want to spend any more money than they are obligated to. I often go out to dinner with friends and hear the excuse that they can’t afford to tip, but then they go and buy an entirely new wardrobe the next day. Gracie Gallagher (‘22) put it as, “if you can afford to go out to dinner, then you can afford to tip. I feel like that’s kind of something to live by.”

     Another common issue that customers face is knowing what an appropriate tip should look like for a specific service. While many agree with my philosophy that the amount that we should tip depends on the quality of service and the work that the employee is doing, I also agree with Lucy Picard’s (‘23) claim that we should always tip something for food service, even when the quality may be lacking. “I’ve had servers that are more rude, but I still tip them because everyone has a bad day and I understand if they’re not feeling it,” she said.

     In contrast, Zach Serrano (‘22) said that he always tips “based on how I felt the service was. I tip based on quality, not based on my obligation to tip.” While Serrano’s criteria align with how I generally tip, I still always give workers at least 10% for the same reason that Picard mentioned. I feel strongly that it’s important to be practical while tipping, but also empathetic. While using both of these standards, how much should we really be tipping?

     Being served by someone behind the counter, such as an ice cream shop or a pizza-by-the-slice kind of store, is an instance where I will tip about 15%. “At [Durham House of Pizza] I’ll give a 10% tip, which is usually a dollar. I don’t feel obligated to tip 20% because oftentimes I’m just getting slices, and they’re literally moving a slice of pizza to a box… I’m not gonna tip 20% for doing 30 seconds worth of work,” said Serrano. Considering the amount of work that goes into relocating a slice of pizza, I understand where Serrano is coming from. At an ice cream shop, however, I generally tip more because of the work that goes into scooping the ice cream.

     While working at Kilwins, Burnham expressed that she doesn’t usually expect tips, but she appreciates them. She said, “it’s less of a ‘you have to tip’ and more of a ‘we’ve done all this for you, please don’t just leave us hanging.’” Many times, stores with behind-the-counter service share the tips they receive with all of the employees working there, so by under-tipping your server, it’s actually a disservice to the whole staff. 

     Tipping for takeout is something that is often overlooked, including by me. I have never been one to tip for takeout because I picture an employee seeing my online order and simply placing my items in a to-go bag, but after speaking with Gallagher, I realized how difficult it can be. As a hostess and expeditor for Lilac City Grill, Gallagher explained that she is responsible for taking orders over the phone, plugging them into a complicated computer system, sending it to the kitchen, helping other expeditors bag items, seating and cashing customers out, cleaning tables, and making sure the take-out orders are correctly put together. “You’re doing so much work for every single order and so when you don’t make any tips it’s kind of disappointing,” she said.

     Gallagher said that she is responsible for other duties in the restaurant, as well. “It’s so short staffed, so you’re also running food when you’re not supposed to be running food,” she said. Now that I know the amount of work that take-out staff is responsible for, I try to tip about 15% of the cost of my food. 

     Delivery is a service that I always tip highly for since it requires the delivery person to drive my order to my house. It’s convenient for me, but, since I live pretty far from the nearest pizza place, I know that it’s especially inconvenient for them. “[Delivery] is where I’ll tip 25%. That’s the only scenario in which I consider [tipping high] at all because you’re actually driving out to me and you’re driving to my house,” said Serrano. A 25% tip seems high initially, but if you’re ordering a $9.99 large cheese pizza from Domino’s for delivery, that’s only a $2.50 tip. That’s a small price to pay for someone to deliver a hot dinner to your doorstep while you binge-watch a favorite Netflix show. 

     Tipping doesn’t just benefit the employee, it can also leave you feeling satisfied that you made someone’s day. Working at an ice cream shop, many times people would throw whatever coins or dollar bills they had into our tip jar after ordering. Occasionally, a customer would tip way over 15%, sometimes even twice their original order. I remember how excited our staff was after getting a $50 tip from a woman who wanted to support our college education and had been going to our store for years. 

     Lessard shared a similar experience at her previous job at Pizza Spinners. “There was this woman who would order delivery and no matter how much the order was, she would tip 50%. The delivery drivers loved her and she would always get special treatment at Pizza Spinners. It’s the best feeling ever,” she said. At the end of the day, how you decide to spend your money is up to you, but your tip might make all the difference to that ice cream scooper.