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Tipping Tips

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Tips & Advice for the Seasoned and Armchair Traveler Alike! 

Nov. 27, 2007 

When I was in college, one of my best friends was a hotel 
management major. 

He was a great guy; the life of the party, a fun road trip 
companion and a pretty fair pool player. 

But I dreaded going to restaurants with him. 

Invariably, he'd look for stuff that was wrong or 
unsatisfactory.  The soup was too peppery, the beef 
overcooked or undercooked, the wine not quite what he had 
expected. I'd sit there, smiling at the targeted waiter, 
and try to turn myself invisible. 

In this week's issue: 




P.S. If you're interested you can now post comments on this 
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Now that it's been a couple of decades since the pizza-and-
beer days of college (It's evolved into the pizza-and-soda 
days of parenthood) I realize that, in most cases, my picky 
buddy was right. 

His attitude was unnecessarily snotty, but his gripes were 
generally legitimate. 

Dining out is an experience, and an expensive one at that. 
And when you're traveling for leisure, it's one of the 
fundamentals that helps determine whether it's a good 
vacation day or a bad vacation day. You have a right to 
good food and good service, and the more expensive the 
meal, the more you  should legitimately expect. 

But where do you draw the line between getting your money's 
worth as a customer and being "that jerk" the restaurant 
staff talks about for the rest of the week? 

Here are some guidelines for finding that line. Most of it 
is based on an interview New York City restaurateur Danny 
Meyer did with Budget Travel magazine and a restaurant 
etiquette guide posted on StarChefs.com, a Website devoted 
to the culinary industry. As always, I've tossed in my own 
thoughts, experiences and opinions when appropriate. 

Q:  If you arrive on time for your reservation, but the 
table isn't ready, how long before you're allowed to be 

A: In general, give them about 20 minutes before you get 
too cranky. Often, delays are beyond the restaurant's 
control, especially when the earlier party at your table 
arrived late, or is "camping out" in front of empty desert 

The restaurant staff, however, does owe you an apology, an 
explanation of why things aren't ready, and a realistic 
estimate of when your table will be ready. After about 20 
minutes, it's customary for a restaurant to buy parties 
with delayed reservations a round of drinks. 

Q. What's the appropriate way to express displeasure with 
something you ordered? Is it enough that you don't like the 

A. Restaurants, like most service industries, still live by 
he motto "the customer is always right." You should speak 
up whenever you are less than happy with a dish. Just be 
polite about it, and do it early - when there's still some-
thing the restaurant can do about it. If you weren't expect-
ing broccoli in your pasta dish, tell the waiter and order 
something else. If the shrimp taste chewy or the meat is 
dry, you don't have to suffer through it. And you shouldn't 
feel like you're being whiny. 

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Q: How should you go about trying to get special service 
for a special occasion such as a birthday or anniversary 
without appearing demanding? 

A: OK, let's first assume you're not talking about 
Bennigans or Applebee's or someplace like that where the 
staff claps and halfheartedly sings the chain's signature 
birthday chant. You don’t want that. Ever. 

It's not at all demanding to let a restaurant know what 
your agenda is for a meal beyond putting food in your 
body. When making a reservation, mention that you're 
celebrating an anniversary or a promotion or meeting with 
clients for business. A good restaurant focused on pleasing 
its patrons will use that information to help make your 
stay more pleasurable, without embarrassing you. 

Q: I've got one of those tipping cards that lets me figure 
out how much to leave, but it's pretty old. What's the 
standard these days? 

A: People will tell you the range is 15 to 20 percent, but 
actually the socially acceptable norm in the United States 
is closer to 20 percent, with up to 25 percent for truly 
excellent service in fine dining establishments. Keep in 
mind that your waiter is probably being paid less than 
minimum wage and probably has to split tips with the bus 
boys and other wait staff. 

Keep in mind, however, that tipping is also the customer's 
way of grading the wait staff on their service. If you feel 
your waiter was surly, unhelpful, rude or inattentive, feel 
free to tip less than the norm. Leaving no tip at all, 
however, is not considered good dining etiquette. 

Q: Do I also have to tip on that expensive bottle of wine? 

A: In general, wine is considered to be part of the meal, 
even if it costs a lot more than the food itself. You are 
expected to tip on the whole deal. 

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Q: When is it OK to return a bottle of wine? 

A: There are two reasons. First, when there's something 
wrong with it, and second, when the restaurant has given 
you considerable assistance and advice in choosing a wine, 
but you just don't like it.   

Many people are embarrassed to say they think a bottle is 
bad, because they're not sure whether something is actually 
wrong or their taste buds just aren't sophisticated enough 
to appreciate that particular vintage. 

They shouldn't be. The world is filled with people like me, 
who have spent a lifetime sniffing the cork when it's 
offered by the waiter, without really knowing what I was 
sniffing for. 

About one out of every 30 or 40 corks contains a bacteria 
that, while harmless to your body, creates a musty, "off-
taste" in the wine called "corkiness." It's nobody's fault, 
and you should not assume the restaurant did anything 
wrong. But you shouldn't pay for the bottle, either. The 
restaurant will understand that and should help you without 

If the bottle is fine, and you just don't like the wine, 
you shouldn't make much of a fuss if you ordered it 
confidently, by yourself, and didn't ask the restaurant 
for a recommendation. If the restaurant basically selected 
it for you, you're within the bounds of etiquette to say 
you don't like it and want to order a different one. 

Well, that's it for this week, group. Thanks again for 
reading, and please keep those comments, complaints and 
questions coming in. 

You can send me an e-mail message at: Email Pierce

Until next week, thanks for reading.   

Your Tipmeister,   



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