Tipping at Bars and Taprooms – A Master Class

Tipping at Bars and Taprooms – A Master Class

by Mark E. Lasbury for Indiana On Tap

“The people who are servicing us are making our lives happier and better, tipping is a small way to honor people right back.”   – Patricia Rossi, Everyday Etiquette

That quote makes complete sense until you break down tipping just a bit further. As Lorraine Glennon put it in Consumer Reports (Feb. 2019), “Why do people tip at all, when they know they will likely never return to the same establishment and thus don’t need to tip to ensure high-quality service in the future?” One can ask, is tipping a rational act?

Tipping habits. Do you tip better at your local watering hole than at a place you won’t be back to in the near future? If you do, why? Is it because they know you and you want them to like you, or because you have a personal connection? Is that rational – people at other breweries probably work just as hard for you.

I’m sure I buy into all of this. If you consider me a man, I tip well, but if you consider me elderly, I tip poorly? image credit: Wait But Why

People who are greeted tip more, and servers who introduce themselves to patrons have customers who spend more and tip more. This supports my idea that personal knowledge, even cursory knowledge, induces people to tip better. But is it logical – are people who introduce themselves to you giving better service?

Andrew Coplon started a company called Secret Hopper to help breweries get an idea of feedback from patrons, and they write extensively on craft brewery customer spending and tipping habits. Andrew and his secret hoppers have found that people 21-25 tip the best, even though people aged 41-45 spend the most. The logic is there for those observations; more young people work as tipped servers, so the fact that they tip more is because they are basically tipping themselves. As for the 41-45 and older groups, when they learned to tip the expected percentage tip was less, so it isn’t surprising that they are slower to grow in their tipping habits.

Women spend more then men at breweries, but do they tip better? I have both survey and anecdotal evidence that they don’t. Several studies have shown that men tend to tip a bit more than women, although one of five studies I looked at showed a slightly larger tip average for women. On the anecdotal side, one server in Virginia called groups of women the worst tippers over all, and a local bartender and chauffeur says that she is much more likely to be stiffed by a group of women. Her theory – women are more likely to let a male take care of payment and tipping in most social situations, so when they are in a women-only group, they just don’t think about tipping; tipping is less likely cross their minds. Like I said, it’s her theory so don’t come after me.

Also noted in a 2015 study and updated in 2017, men are more likely to tip the same no matter the attractiveness of the server, but women are more likely to tip an attractive server 3.01% more – and that includes “attractive” female servers. How they define attractive wasn’t listed in the summary I read, but isn’t that sort of in the eye of the beholder?

Secret Hopper collects data on brewery patron spending and tipping. They also report back to breweries how their encounters go. You could be a secret hopper. image credit: Secret Hopper

Again from Secret Hopper, lone drinkers spend more, and therefore tip more. The average party size when visiting a brewery is 3.13 guests, but a lone visitor spends $29.90 (10.8% of all brewery visits) while the average person in a group of two spends $22.70. And parties of three – six spends have a per person tab that drops to $22.12. But when you get to parties of seven or more – it goes down to about $21/person. As spending goes, so go the tips.

Is tipping a rational behavior? So, if you want to be rational and your tip is related to amount spent, then tip like you are always in a party of the same size, tip like a younger man, and think about your personal experience in this single situation. At least you would be taking some issues out of the mess. But it isn’t easy, most things we do are plagued by irrational biases and sub-conscious manipulations. AJ Jacobs wrote about all the ways our own minds and other people can manipulate our beliefs and actions, even when we believe we are acting rationally. His book, My Life as an Experiment, includes a section on his attempt to live completely rationally.

It didn’t work out well, but he did learn about the many ways our own brains trick us and how others can do it too. His conclusion, “I have learned this much about myself and my deeply flawed brain: I have to believe, irrationally, against all evidence, that humans can be rational.” Of course, he doesn’t tell us how to do it, and he admits that even when knowing about the biases that exist, we still fall victim to them and allow our brains to trick us into thinking we are acting without bias.

The question then becomes, if tipping is governed by a bunch of irrational thoughts and conceptions, and both servers and patrons acknowledge that a customer is basically getting something first (service) and then being allowed to decide who much to pay for it (tip), then why are so many people loathe to get rid of tipping and think the system works?

This is writer AJ Jacobs during is year of living biblically. Tell me that’s not really Jesse Rice. image credit: AJ Jacobs

Whether or not tipping itself is rational or our approaches to it are rational, it’s probably here to stay. Less than 50% of patrons in a large study wanted to go to a non-tipping situation, and men like the tipping dynamic more than women. Also, surveys have shown that the majority of servers want to keep the system as well. A 2016 study from UC Irvine determined that no-tipping policies in lieu of a fee or $15/hour minimum wage actual lower overall server income.

Some restaurants in NYC have eliminated tipping, adding the cost to their menu prices, but it isn’t taking off. Would you be willing to pay an extra buck a pint and not worry about tipping? The process seems to take away some power and incentive from both the servers and the patrons. For example, nearly 40% of servers admit that they have given substandard service based on the belief that certain groups are going to tip them poorly.

Rational reasons to tip better. There are viable arguments to be made that you and I should be better tippers. For instance, tipped workers are twice as likely to live below the poverty line as compared to non-tipped workers (see the study here). That alone is a reason to err on the side of generosity in tipping.

The federal minimum wage for tipped workers (people who make at least $30/month in tips) is $2.13, the same as it was in 1991. At that point, it was 50% of the non-tipped employee minimum wage; now it stands at somewhere between 14 and 28% of the standard minimum wage. Only seven states have gone to a single minimum wage regardless of whether the employee is being tipped or not.

Celebrity chef Mario Batali settled a tip skimming lawsuit at his NYC restaurants for more than $5 million in 2014. image credit: Block Club Chicago

In the restaurant industry there is also rampant violations of tip crediting. In 2018, 5700 investigations by the Dept. of Labor collected $42.8 million in back wages, according to a DOL spokesperson. I’d really like to believe that craft beer doesn’t have that problem, but that’s probably irrational.

Finally, despite sometimes not getting the proper tipped amounts to a worker, some breweries and restaurants use tips as a way of gauging employee engagement with patrons. Studies show that more personal service (engagement) leads to more spending and bigger tips, so employers sometimes consider bigger tips as a sign that servers are doing a better job. Do you want to be the reason someone is let go, just because you tip poorly as a protest to tipping in general? Again, tip generously, but if you feel you have to make a point with your tip, try to make sure it’s a rational point.

A couple less visible issues in tipping. There are other things to think about when tipping too, things fewer people consider. Twenty percent is a good general rule to start with, and then start adding dollars or cents as you think the situation warrants. But what if a brewery or restaurant does something called tip pooling?

Pooled tips are meant to level the playing field within a tipping environment. So shifts are going to get more tips because there are more customers. Some patrons are going to tip poorly and this tip pooling reduces the damage done by this. In general, the tips are collected over time and then divided amongst the staff. But how they are divvied up is the crux of the matter.

Just because you see a tip jar, it doesn’t indicate that a place is or isn’t tip pooling. If you care, ask. image credit: SHRM

Sometimes, the total of all hours worked by the tipped staff is divided in the total tips. This defines a single share of the tips for that time period. Then, each staff member is given one share for each hour they worked. This can eliminate the argument that some people work more hours and yet aren’t paid commensurately from the tips.

However, not every hour worked is the same. And not every worker is the same. Therefore, there exist many other possible ways to divide pooled tips, point system, observed merit based systems, etc. The good of these systems is seen in how they can reduce the impact of a single slow shift, how they encourage working as a team, and how they can permit employees to police each other for the benefit of all.

On the other hand, incentive to do better can be reduced; pooling tips eliminates justified compensation from a killer shift, and even more beyond their control – some people will tip less when they find out that tips are pooled. Furthermore, the more anonymous “tip jar” that can be used for pooling tips removes some of the personal relationship and can reduce the urge to reward a person instead of a jar.

When tipping in a pooled system (if you know it to be such), take into account that you are still giving money to people, not a cold, impersonal entity. Also, consider that if you look to punish a single server, you are really punishing the entire team. Finally, you could also be tipping people you don’t see as much. Bar backs, kitchen staff, other back-of-house staff could be included in the pool.

In March 2018, the Consolidated Appropriations Act was signed into law. The act (with other provisions as well) allowed restaurant owners to include back-of-house (kitchen) staff in the tipping pool, provided they pay the federal minimum wage to front-of-house employees. This then dilutes the tip your server is receiving, so try to tip appropriately to take this into consideration. What’s more, bar backs and dishwashers do deserve some of that pool; they allow your server to spend more time with you. However, the argument could also be made that including non-tipped employees in the tip pooling allows employers to pay them less, in essence having the front-of-house people pay part of the back-of-house peoples’ salaries out of their tips.

If it matters to you, you can ask a sever who is leaving if you can tip them or if you can close and re-open your tab. image credit: ShopKeep

On a different front, if tips are pooled then your server ending their shift is less of an issue. But if not, then offering to close and re-open your tab or pay tip only with the new server is one way you can help. On the other side of the bar, asking patrons to close and reopen is considered a serious no-no, even suggesting that the patron pay tip only to the leaving employee is considered crass – but it doesn’t mean the patron can’t offer to do it.

You can often see when a shift change is occurring, another employee is suddenly there, and they may be carrying a cash drawer. Your server might be gathering their things; you can do a lot of good by just asking if you can tip them out now or close the tab so they can close their drawer completely.

A server can introduce the new beer slinger to you (helps create the personal touch and does help tips), and that can be a subtle clue that you could ask to help out at that point. But again, servers do themselves no service when they ask you to close and re-open or tip them out. As it has been stated at Hospitality Hotline, “The guest shouldn’t have to do anything additional (including a additional transaction, swipe or signature) in order to accommodate your SOP.” A shift change is YOUR action, not theirs, and as the guest they shouldn’t be expected to adapt or alter their actions. But s a drinker, you can still offer.

Even if the establishment does pool tips, tipping out an exiting server is still something you can do; it shows that you appreciate them personally and the service they gave you. And if the server is responsible for the drawer, the closing and re-opening on another drawer can help make for a cleaner shift change.

Conclusion. If you are a craft beer fan, I have to believe that you appreciate the people that make and serve your beer. You can show that by being a wise tipper. That’s doesn’t mean you have to over tip to show how great you are; that just reduces your ability to go out to get beers more often and therefore will hurt other peoples’ tips. No, try to understand the nuances and hidden parts of spending and tipping and try to act appropriately; no one can ask more of you than that. And if you want to be a great patron without spending more on tips? Take your empties back to the bar when you leave.

banner image credit: Craft Brewing Business

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