Tipping in a recession is a dilemma. Do you stick with the 18 to 20 percent formula or retreat to 15 percent? Do you skip an appetizer, a glass of wine or a dessert to lower your dining bill and thus your tip?
It’s a subject that millions of diners and travelers are wrestling with.
A lot of people whose income has vanished or shrunk because of layoffs, salary cuts and shrinking fixed incomes have cut back. Instead of going out to dinner every week, they settle for once a month. If they take a trip, they trade down, choosing less-expensive accommodations and restaurants.
As a result, minimum-wage wait staff, bellhops and hotel housekeepers have taken a huge hit, if they’re not among the nearly 10 percent of workers who are jobless. There is nothing wrong with cutting back, but give pause when you think about stiffing your waiter or hotel maid to save a few dollars.
“I believe that customers are tipping a smaller percentage of the bill,” said Michael Lynn, a professor at Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration. “I base that on anecdotal encounters, lots of things on the Internet – servers say they are making less money.” A server quoted in The New York Times put it this way: “In New York, the average tip is 20 percent, though some tip as low as 15 percent and some as high as 30 percent. These days our tips are closer to 17 percent, with a range of 10 to 25 percent.
“This drop in tips registers to $60 less a night. Over five shifts a week that is $300 less per week! But we are working just as hard as we used to, perhaps even harder, trying to get people to forget their troubles for a few hours. … It’s not fair for people to take out their economic troubles on the server. If one cannot afford to tip, then perhaps that person should be ordering less.” Lynn, who has done extensive research on tipping, said that “during bad economic times, people become more price-sensitive.”
At hotels, Lynn said, only two-thirds of guests normally tip maids, who should get $1 to $2 a night.
In bad times and good, Lynn said, servers can increase their tips by using tested techniques found in Mega Tips, published by Cornell’s Center for Hospitality Research and available for free on the Internet (Google “mega tips”).
Among Lynn’s 14 points (most effective in casual-dining restaurants): Wear something unusual, introduce yourself by name, smile, squat next to the table, repeat customers’ orders and write “thank you” on the check.
At hotels, it’s hard to miss the bellhop, who usually gets $1 to $2 a bag, unless you are traveling light and politely wave him off. But there is little a housekeeper can do to earn a few extra bucks except to hope that guests remember.
If you are traveling abroad, where there also is a recession, keep in mind that tipping customs vary by country, so consult with your travel agent, a government tourist office or the worldwide tipping chart.
In Europe, many hotels and restaurants add a service charge to your bill, so additional tipping isn’t necessary. In Japan, tipping is considered an insult. That feeling is changing, but it’s best to inquire about the proper way to reward someone.
Even in a recession, there are no hard and fast rules for tipping. And whether at home or abroad, tipping is a personal matter. But however you feel about tipping, keep in mind that workers at the service end of the business are getting hit as hard as if not harder than anybody. Why not give ‘em a break?
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