How Not to Tip, Vol. 13, Issue 36

First of all, Etiquetteer is writing about restaurant tipping only, and not the myriad of other service industries in which tipping is conducted. Let's establish that Etiquetteer has never been a fan of tipping. It is, however, the prevailing system in the restaurant industry, and regardless of how widely it's disliked, it isn't going away anytime soon. This means adapting to the prevailing tipping system of 15-20% of the total bill, depending on who you talk to. (Etiquetteer says 15%; other writers, and almost all restaurant server blogs, say 20%.) This also means tipping on the full amount of the bill if you are using a discount, coupon, or gift card. It is considered a kindness, when paying by credit card, to tip in cash so that the staff don't have to claim it separately when their shifts are over.

Bad service is the most legitimate reason not to tip fully, or not to tip at all. Etiquetteer encourages you not to be petty over brief delays in service - well, really, Etiquetteer encourages you not to be petty. Now if a waiter forgets an entire order for a member of your party (and this has happened to Etiquetteer), if a waiter spills a strawberry margarita on your head, etc., then you have sufficient grounds. Etiquetteer acknowledges that bad service happens, and that there are waiters and waitresses (Etiquetteer dislikes the term "server," but recognizes that that is an individual choice) who consistently perform poorly. Before tipping less than the standard percentage, consider also the circumstances. If the restaurant is full to bursting (think New York Saturday nights before the theatre, or Sunday anywhere after church - see below), delays in service are understandable; allowances must be made.

Quite possibly the worst, and certainly the most offensive, excuse not to leave a tip is proselytizing. Recently Etiquetteer discovered Sundays Are the Worst, a heart-breaking and angering blog about how poorly a segment of those who profess Christianity treat those who serve them. Pastor Chad Roberts and his congregation have created what might be the most innovative way ever to minister to a community in need; read how it came about here. Etiquetteer could spit tacks at some of the behavior exhibited - so much so that readers will have to peruse for themselves rather than read examples here. The Word of God may feed the soul, but it doesn't sustain our bodies as well as those who leave tracts instead of tips might light to think.

It's also worth pointing out that in a nation in which All Are Created Equal, it ill becomes anyone of any religion to behave as though they are "better" than anyone serving them. This doesn't mean that we all have become Best Friends Forever with those serving us, but it does mean acknowledging our Common Humanity.

Restaurant Closing Times, Vol. 12, Issue 3

Dear Etiquetteer: How long prior to a food establishment’s posted closing time is a reasonable minimum to expect to be able to arrive?  For instance, if the closing time is 9:30 pm, should one feel comfortable arriving at 9:15, expecting to be seated and served?  Then how long after that posted closing time is acceptable time to linger?

Is there any difference in the etiquette based on the type of establishment?  Fine dining will likely be a time consuming affair with many courses.  Casual dining establishments will likely have a shorter turnover time, but still involve seated service. Counter service places like coffee shops, have a percentage of patrons who sit and enjoy their purchases and their books/papers/homework/web-surfing/chatting with friends, while others purchase and go.  Do these difference in service styles make a difference to the way in which a patron should observe the posted closing time, and the service they should expect to receive?

Thanks much for your thoughts on the matter.

Dear Hastened:

Your query made Etiquetteer wonder if you still have a bruise on your coccyx from the doorknob hitting you on the way out.

Two competing considerations work against each other here: consideration for diners to be able to enjoy their meal, and consideration for the staff who cannot finish their work (closing the restaurant) and go home until all diners have left the restaurant. Etiquetteer believes that any diner who finds the door to a restaurant open should be able to expect a restaurant's full service. But diners arriving at such a time that they can expect still to be dining after closing time show courtesy to the staff by ordering decisively and not dawdling over coffee or paying the bill. Restaurateurs eager not to pay staff overtime would do well to lock the door against late arrivals, opening it only to allow departing patrons to exit.

You are correct that how this is handled is guided by the style of service provided, although courtesy is the common thread among each. White-tablecloth restaurants with extensive wine lists can't really expect to rush patrons through a dinner that extends well past closing time. They can manage this by not accepting reservations, or walk-in diners, after a certain time. For instance, if a restaurant's posted closing time is 11:00 PM, they can decline to accept reservations after 10:00 PM. Casual restaurants should do the same, but may also emphasize closing time when greeting late arrivals ("We're closing in ten minutes.") Sometimes restaurants make it clear that service is reduced before closing; Etiquetteer knows one popular pub that makes it clear on the menu "Only pizza after 10:00 PM." In a coffee shop or diner, Etiquetteer sees no discourtesy in a general announcement made by the manager "Ladies and gentlemen, we'll be closing in ten minutes." Young Etiquetteer briefly worked for a Popular Doughnut Chain many years ago, and for the closing shift this announcement might have been made individually.

Not long ago Etiquetteer joined a party of five arriving at a popular Chinese restaurant five minutes before its closing time. To its credit, the party was ready to order almost as soon as it was seated. But conversation  captured the enthusiasm of the party more than the excellent cuisine. The staff, not eager to stay later than necessary after a long day, made a point by beginning closing the dining room about 15 minutes after dinner had been served. They stacked chairs at other tables and brought out the vacuum cleaner, beginning closest to Etiquetteer's table. Given that the total bill for a party of five, including tip, would not have reached three figures, Etiquetteer can't fault the staff . . . but would have wished for five more minutes of vacuum-free dining.

Speaking of not dawdling over paying the bill, Etiquetteer was both interested and dismayed to read this article about restaurant technology. Etiquetteer does not like to think such applications are necessary because public education should at least provide enough knowledge of math to manage splitting a restaurant check, and because Etiquetteer finds that the longer a party parses a check, the less joyously the occasion is remembered.

Etiquetteer would absolutely love to hear your own queries about Perfect Propriety! Please send them to

Tipping, Vol. 7, Issue 11

Dear Etiquetteer:

I went to a concert last night at [Insert Name of Popular New England Concert Hall Here] and tipped my usherette $2. She seemed very surprised. Is tipping ushers/usherettes at concerts or at the opera still appropriate? Thank you.Dear Tippety Tip Tip:Etiquetteer believes the custom of tipping an usher for showing one to one’s seat did not cross the Atlantic from Europe to the New World. While Etiquetteer has never known this to take place in the United States, reference has been made to it on the “other side,” particularly Paris. Etiquetteer’s beloved Cornelia Otis Skinner writes about the “harpies” or “vultures” she had to tip at the Comédie Française during the 1920s in her delicious memoir Our Hearts Were Young and Gay. (While for decades ushering in the United States was a profession only for men, in France it seems to have fallen exclusively into the province of women.) And in the 1936 film version of Camille, sharp-eyed viewers will notice the resigned shrug of the lady usher when handed an inadequate tip by the Baron de Varville. So if you’re left of the Atlantic, by all means tip your attendant. And if on the right, keep your two dollars handy for the coat check.Lawsuits related to tipping have made the news quite a bit in 2008 already. Starbucks lost a class-action lawsuit by baristas who had to share their tips with shift supervisors. American Airlines lost another class-action lawsuit brought by skycaps who were deprived of significant income when the airline began charging $2.00 to check a bag curbside, but didn’t explain that it wasn’t a tip. Unfortunately for the skycaps, American Airlines has now posted signs at Logan Airport, Boston, that tipping is prohibited.Etiquetteer deplores tipping anyway, but is disgusted by management “skimming” tips from employees who are often underpaid. As long as tipping has to be part of the American economy, it might at least be transacted honestly. And related to that, Etiquetteer was surprised to hear from waiters and waitresses how often they have to claim tips given on credit cards, and how often tips are “pooled:” shared equally among all waiters and waitresses on a shift, whether they’re any good or not. If you want to be sure that a superior waiter or waitress is completely tipped, please tip in cash.

Other People’s Behavior: Two Different Situations, Vol. 4, Issue 12

Dear Etiquetteer: I, like you, am someone who has a public website. On a number of occasions, people have written to me about my site, and I have responded with what you call a Lovely Note. However, this has occasionally been seen by the reader as in invitation to become Best Friends Forever, and I always reply to their e-mails, because I think it's horribly rude to go without responding.How do I word my replies to these lovely but misguided folks who think that, due to the fact that I write about my life on-line, they are candidates for my new buddy? Do I give them the cold shoulder (seems rude)? Write shorter e-mails with little to no actual content (a "wingnut form e-mail," if you will), or be direct? I'm unsure as to what is Perfectly Proper. Dear Webbed: Just like celebrities, "celwebrities" also have their, ahem, devoted fans. That sounds so much more polite than "lunatic fringe," don’t you think? As with most human relationships, balance must be used, in your case to express gratitude for interest in your website while also maintaining your privacy. And this balance is nowhere better expressed than in Max Ehrmann’s famous poem "Desiderata" Not only must one " . . . listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant, they too have their stories," but even more important one must "Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection." You see how difficult this is, ‘cause let Etiquetteer tell you, give the dull and ignorant an inch and they’ll take 45 minutes. Using these guidelines, Etiquetteer suggests brief, pleasant, but neutral e-mail responses with only a minimum of specific content, such as:
  • "Thank you! It’s been interesting to hear from so many people about [Insert Topic at Hand Here]."
  • "Thank you for those comments. A different point of view!"
  • "Your support is really appreciated. Thanks for writing."

Etiquetteer encourages you to remember that there is a difference between a cold shoulder and appropriate reserve. While tempted by guilt or pity to respond more effusively, remember that only courtesy is required. Best of luck as you continue your e-fan-mail.

Dear Etiquetteer: So many times I want to write you with the thousands of scenarios that run through my head. This time I really need some help. It seems that nearly every time my husband and I go out with a group of people he picks up the check, bar tab, whatever the bill may be. This drives me crazy! I spoke to him about this and he agrees that I'm correct but does not know what to do. I think he is uncomfortable discussing the bill so he just avoids the situation by paying for it! It's very sweet and if we had all the money in the world I would not mind. Since that's not the case, what are some tools we could use to avoid the embarrassing "bill moment?" I hate to sound so frugal but it’s a habit that needs to be broken. Dear Mrs. Check Grabber: The stereotype of "the American who pays" went the way of café society and transatlantic crossings (as opposed to cruises), but even if your husband were to bring it back, he’d need fabulous wealth or possibly ill-gotten gains to do it. Etiquetteer really encourages neither approach.The danger of always paying the check is that one day, perhaps, that will be the only reason your friends want you there. Etiquetteer knows that your husband has more interesting qualities than this. We must now devise a way to put them into the foreground, which means eliminating his icky feelings about settling the check.First, your husband needs to give others at the table the chance to pick up the check first. Even if he has to sit on his hands (or if you have to sit on them) Hubby should restrain his Hospitable Impulse and let someone else take the initiative. (And Etiquetteer thinks that, after all his largesse, some of these friends ought to be taking him out.) It is not bad for people to pay their own bills when dining together in a restaurant. Hubby must understand this.Now if this doesn’t work and Hubby actually has the check in hand, you may need to take it from him deftly and either pass it to someone else ("Hubert darling, since you’re the accountant in the group and you ordered the extra appetizer, would you please go over the bill?") or figure out yourself what you and your husband owe (including tax and tip), add it to the check, and pass it to the person next to you who is furthest from your husband. Of course, this also assumes you’re sitting next to him, which is not Perfectly Proper when dining away from one’s home . . . let’s hope you’re sitting not-too-far away.

Find yourself at a manners crossroads and don't know where to go? Ask Etiquetteer at!

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