Last fall our family celebrated one of our adult daughters’ birthdays by dining outdoors at a local “special occasion” restaurant. Everything was impeccable — including the service. When the bill came, I added my usual 20-plus percent tip to the credit card, then popped a fiver in cash on top to underscore our appreciation to the waiter.
“Daaad,” exclaimed both kids at once. “A five is insulting.” Instantly, I discovered that what seemed like a gracious extra, had instead branded me as a cheapskate. Somehow, our 40-something children had become more generous tippers than me.
Indeed, current national statistics bear this out: the best tippers (those who tip 18 percent or more nearly two-thirds of the time) are now in the 25-34 age group, followed closely by 35–44-year-old customers.
“When I started out more than 30 years ago there seemed to be a bigger difference in tips from older and younger guests,” explained John Jacob, longtime bartender and assistant manager at Mancy’s Italian. “But lately, I’ve found that tipping has become more normalized and that gap has largely gone away.”
This is not because older customers have gotten more frugal, Jacob is quick to explain. “The generation of good tippers when I started out have remained good tippers, but now the 30- and 40-somethings are catching up. Today, a tip of 18-25 percent of the bill is considered average—anything over that shows appreciation. And tipping 30-plus percent is appropriate to show your server he or she has done an excellent job.”
Closing the generational gap in tipping is having particular impact on front-line servers at local family restaurants with whom I talked: Abby Channer and Kayla Cherry at the landmark J&G Pizza downtown and Brianna Lammon and Emilamo Meta at Scrambler’s on Central.
All four workers agreed that tips allow them to make a living salary from their jobs. “Tipping is pretty important because we make most of our money based on tips,” said Brianna. “About 90 percent or more of what I bring home is tips,” added Kayla.
“I’ve considered having other jobs, but when you factor in tips, what I make per hour is more than what I’d probably get at most other jobs,” explained Emilamo. “With tips, my earnings sometimes average more than $30 an hour.”
“In the past, things may have been different—but now prices and inflation are higher. You have to pay more money for living expenses. A lot of customers are starting to understand that, and are paying more attention to tipping,” said Abby. “It depends on the area, too. In some other communities where I worked, tips weren’t so good. But the tips are pretty good here in Sylvania.”
The servers all agree that the customers’ age is not really the biggest factor in who is a better tipper. “Recently, no matter what the age, people have been tipping pretty well,” said Brianna. Also, the number of parties that don’t tip or leave a small amount is minimal. On the flip side, there are surprises: Abby and Brianna have both gotten $100 tips. “It made my day,” Abby said. “I started crying.”
More normally, at J&G the regulars more than make up for frugal tippers; they reward their servers very well noted Kayla. “Regulars are particularly important—it’s very consistent, almost like I’m able to get the same wage every week. One in particular is in his 40s and is from humble beginnings. He’s very successful now, and has a ‘pay it forward’ philosophy about tipping.”
Both Abby and Kayla said that they tip the servers well when they are out. “Usually, at least one time during a shift at J&G someone will tip beyond what I expected,” said Kayla. “That’s why when I’m out I try to make my server’s night.”
Restaurant veteran John Jacob offers two final reminders to customers—and a benediction. First, customers shouldn’t penalize the server for a slow kitchen or under-staffed dining room; it’s not their fault. And don’t forget, the people who handle carryout work just as hard as those serving tables: tip them, too.
His bottom line is, “Of course, the tip is about the food and drink, but the greatest factor is how the server relates to the guests. It’s more than just taking the order. How do they treat you? Are they bright and cheerful? Most guests may or may not remember the meal, but they will certainly remember –and show gratitude—for how their server made them feel … Got that, Dad?”