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Restaurant Tipping: Is It On The Way Out?

On September 15 New York Eater website ran an article by Ryan Sutton about one restaurant that is experimenting with eliminating the need for a patron to leave a tip. The article, Tom Colicchio Eliminates Tipping During Craft’s Lunch Service; Dinner Could Follow, explains that the celebrity chef Tom Colicchio—head judge of Bravo TV’s Top Chef—is opening a new establishment, Craft, and has decided to experiment with removing the traditional expectation of a 15-20% tip. He’s removing the line on a credit card charge slip where a patron would normally add in a tip. Colicchio won’t prevent a patron from leaving a cash tip, but there’s no expectation that the patron should do that. The experiment starts with his lunch service.

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The impetus for the decision to test no tipping is a change to New York state’s wage law. The article explains Colicchio’s decision. “If this policy proves successful, Colicchio says he’ll eliminate tipping at dinner as well, ‘ideally’ by the year’s end, a move that would let him skirt the burdensome effects of New York’s decision to raise the minimum wage for tipped restaurant workers.”

Over the past ten years, The Emily Post Institute has noticed a shift from 15% to 20% in the amount people tip at restaurants. Most people the Institute questioned now say they tip 20%, with the most frequent explanation being that it is simply easier to figure.

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Colicchio understands that in eliminating tipping, his menu prices will increase, and that’s where the experiment may fail. Comparing a burger at his restaurant, Craft, to one at a commensurate competitor will make it seem like his is more expensive. But when the 20% tip is added in at the competitor’s establishment, the price would be roughly the same.

While the article articulates both sides of the question of changing tipping, personally, as a consumer, I like the idea of moving away from the 20% tipping world. I’d rather know that my bill reflects the quality of the food and service and that I’m not left having to add a tip on the credit card slip or leave one on the table in cash. I also like the idea that I can sign the slip without doing any math gymnastics. My focus remains on my dining partners, which is where it should be.

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An irksome tipping development is restaurants that now take orders on a tablet. They push the envelope by offering the suggestion of 25% or 30% or more. The diner chooses the tip amount from a menu preset by the establishment. To choose “other” is possible, but purposefully inconvenient. Considering that your server is doing little more than delivering your food and clearing your table, (and explaining how to use the tablet) tipping at the upper end seems over the top. Buyer beware: When at a tablet restaurant, you may suddenly find you are leaving a tip amount you did not intend.

If you have a business etiquette question, please email it to [email protected] You can hear more Emily Post etiquette advice on the Awesome Etiquette podcast featuring Lizzie Post and Dan Post Senning. Listen and subscribe at infiniteguest.org.

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Post’s newest book, The Unwritten Rules of Golf, Morrow, is available at emilypost.com.

Since 2004, Peter Post has tackled readers’ questions in The Boston Sunday Globe’s weekly business etiquette advice column, Etiquette at Work. Post is the co-author of “The Etiquette Advantage in Business” and conducts business etiquette seminars across the country. In October 2003 his book “Essential Manners For Men” was released and quickly became a New York Times best seller. He is also the author of “Essential Manners for Couples,” “Playing Through–A Guide to the Unwritten Rules of Golf,” and co-author of “A Wedding Like No Other.” Post is Emily Post’s great-grandson. His media appearances include “CBS Sunday Morning,” CBS’s “The Early Show,” NBC’s “Today,” ABC’s “Good Morning America,” and “Fox News.” Follow Post: @PeterLPost.

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