The costs of eating out go beyond the price of your meal. It's time to take a look at the increasing cost of tipping.
How much do you typically tip on a $2 pint at a dive bar? Or a $30 steak at a fine-dining restaurant? And how quickly can you do the math without a calculator? Rachel Hutton, senior editor of Minnesota Monthly magazine, speaks with Steven John of MPR News' All Things Considered to offer a few tips on tipping. An edited transcript of their conversation follows.
STEVEN JOHN: Is 20 percent the new 15?
RACHEL HUTTON: Apparently so. Last year, when Zagat polled frequent diners, it determined the national tipping average to be 19.2 percent, up about a percent from a decade ago. When Jason DeRusha recently talked to local servers about this issue for a story in the magazine, most reported that they've come to expect 20 percent.
JOHN:That's for full-service dining, right? What about counter-service or takeout?
HUTTON: Most diners I know say they tip a little less for counter-service, considering that if they want a beverage refill or another course, they have to procure those things themselves. For takeout, I usually give between $2 and $5, depending on how many dishes I've ordered. It's a little compensation for the time the staffer took away from his or her other responsibilities to place, track, and pack up your order.
HUTTON: I think most people tip 10 to15 percent of the bill. More if the delivery person is wearing a spandex superhero costume, and more yet if it's raining or snowing.
JOHN:How do you feel about receipts that suggest tip amounts?
HUTTON: As suggestions, they're appreciated, especially for non-math majors. Though I've seen several new counter-service restaurants around town use iPad-based payment systems that are programmed to offer the option of tipping either 15, 20, or 25 percent, which I think many diners would find to be a little high. There is an "other" option for those who prefer to tip less, but clicking it can feel a little shaming.
JOHN:Does the form of payment -- cash, check, credit or debit card -- make a difference in tip size?
HUTTON: The Minnesota Restaurant Association has researched this and concluded that customers do tend to spend more when they pay with cards and, therefore, would leave a slightly higher gratuity. But that additional gratuity isn't always benefiting the server. Credit card companies charge fees to businesses, typically between 2 and 4 percent. A few restaurant owners, including the local heavyweight Parasole Restaurant Group, take the tip portion of that fee out of their servers' gratuities.
JOHN:Are there other new technologies that have affected tipping practices?
HUTTON: There's a local company producing a new system called Point of Sail that I've seen used at Icehouse in Minneapolis. Each server carries an iPod touch and uses it to send the order to the kitchen right from the table. Servers input orders by seat, so the bill prints out automatically split for each diner. These receipts apparently increase tips, I suspect because it eliminates the tragedy of the commons scenarios that can happen in groups where people underestimate what they owe.
JOHN: Will Americans eventually go the route of Europe and simply include the cost of service in the price of the food?
HUTTON: I think the initial sticker shock would probably be too off-putting for diners for that to happen. There are several local restaurants that have taken different approaches to tipping, including having servers voluntarily share a portion of their tips with the rest of the staff, to better compensate wage-only staffers, such as dishwashers and cooks. A few years ago, Victory 44 in north Minneapolis made waves when it dispensed with its wait staff and had the cooks serve the dishes they created. In my experience, these chef-servers -- chervers? --aren't always so polished, but are, of course, extremely knowledgeable about the food.