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Rethinking Restaurant Tipping

by Carole Hamlin

This is an article about tipping in restaurants. It occurred to me that this subject needed to be addressed among vegetarians because I had noticed so many times that waiters (both men and women) serving vegetarians were being shortchanged.

I have seen it happen both in vegetarian restaurants, and in non-vegetarian restaurants when people ordered vegetarian food. What spurred me to write something was a recent experience on a New York trip when I had dinner in a vegetarian restaurant with two middle-aged couples (with comfortable lifestyles), who got up from the table and left a total of $2.00 as their tip. We had had a pleasant and inexpensive meal, and we had occupied the table for over an hour.

It costs waiters in vegetarian restaurants just as much for living expenses as people serving food in any other restaurant. I have thought for a long time now that it did not seem fair that these waiters, who are willing to work in a place that promotes good health (and, intentionally or not, compassion for animals, and a healthier environment), should end up with less compensation for their labors than people working in places which do not promote such values.

If we want to encourage the proliferation of vegetarian restaurants, we should not expect the service people to become economic martyrs. If the average dinner in a traditional restaurant costs $20 - $25 or more, and a waiter can earn a tip of $4 - $5 (and up) for serving such a meal, we can understand why many waiters would want to (or have to) work there, rather than in a vegetarian restaurant, where a meal might cost $8 - $10 (or even less). If people use the traditional 15 - 20% rate for tipping, then many of these waiters end up leaving because they can not support themselves.

There's a Greek restaurant I sometimes patronize. When I do, I order a plate full of vegetables and grains (such as green beans, eggplant, potatoes, carrots, rice, etc.). Since they charge only $3.00-$3.50 for the platter (pricing each vegetable as if it were a side dish), I end up with a whole dinner's worth of food for less than what many people spend when they go out for lunch. If I were to tip 15 or 20%, the poor waiter would end up with a 50 to 70 cents tip for serving my meal. I cannot believe that person would look forward to my return, or that she or he would encourage the restaurant owner to put a lot of inexpensive vegetarian options on the menu. (I also think these platters should be priced higher since restaurants count on selling more expensive entrees.) The problem is compounded by the fact that many, if not most, vegetarians do not drink much liquor, traditionally a big profit item in restaurants.

Even if we dine in non-vegetarian restaurants, but order healthy (and inevitably less expensive) food, I feel we should tip as if we had ordered an average priced meal in that restaurant. Otherwise, we will not be welcome as customers by the waiters, since they know they will have to serve us for the same amount of time as those ordering the more expensive food, but will receive a lot less money in tips. I want to encourage restaurants to offer vegetarians options without having to fight the waiters.

In my opinion, at today's prices, someone should leave a minimum tip of $3.00 - $3.50 (per person) for dinner, no matter how inexpensive the tab. It is tough enough for vegetarian restaurants to afford rent and utility costs when they are competing with traditional places --let's not have those willing to work there make half or a third of what someone makes at restaurants serving expensive, but unhealthy food.

Another thought -- related but slightly off the topic -- is the matter of tipping at banquets and conferences. When vegetarians do not tip the service providers, or tip them with minimal amounts, then the owners of the facilities have less incentive to have future vegetarian events. The irony is that often the service people working at vegetarian events must work harder to prepare food that they are not familiar with and need to spend more time learning about new dishes. They really deserve more in tips, not less!!! If we can afford to eat out, we can afford decent tips.

This article was originally published in the Vegetarian Journal Reports, Copyright 1990, published by:
The Vegetarian Resource Group
P.O. Box 1463, Dept. IN
Baltimore, MD 21203
(410) 366-VEGE
The Vegetarian Resource Group (VRG) is a non-profit organization dedicated to educating the public on vegetarianism and the interrelated issues of health, nutrition, ecology, ethics, and world hunger. In addition to publishing the _Vegetarian_Journal_, VRG produces and sells cookbooks, other books, pamphlets, and article reprints.

For more information, send a stamped self-addressed envelope to the above address. Subscriptions to the Vegetarian Journal are $20 per year. All contributions above the $20 subscription are tax-deductible to the full extent allowed by law. Contributions help VRG promote vegetarianism.

This article may be reproduced for non-commercial use intact or with credit given to The Vegetarian Resource Group.

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