Tipping the Scales

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Sometimes you wonder which extreme, gullibility or generosity, drives American dining behavior.

As a people, we tip quite well. We're accustomed to it, leaving change behind on grimy diner tables and credit slips bearing at least one zero at fine establishments. Our willingness to toss away cash with scant consideration probably returns billions of dollars into circulation annually. The food-service industry depends upon tips to reduce personnel costs, although the same logic rarely applies to menu pricing. Everyone understands the established boundaries of tipping, right?--a couple of bucks for the coat check, 15 to 20 percent for wait staff, anywhere from $3 to $10 for valets, depending on whether you can blame them for the foul odor lingering inside your car.

But what's the deal with self-service tipping?

Yep, the gullibility factor: Self-service establishments count on our credulity. "You get your own food, why should you be expected to tip?" asks an incredulous Mari Woodlief, Dallas diner par excellence. "What's that money for?" Seattle's Best Coffee (yes, the competition hasn't been entirely Starbucked out of existence) in DFW Airport leaves a tip jar on the counter, as does Marble Slab Creamery anywhere in Dallas. Self-serve restaurants such as Tin Star include a tip line on receipts.

"I don't think customers should be asked to subsidize the salaries of staff," Woodlief adds. She believes that self-serve restaurant owners should "just pay the staff more."

But perhaps self-serve restaurateurs are looking ahead to a Bush America, laden with tax cuts for the wealthy. Perhaps restaurateurs understand that putting more money in the accounts of America's top tier actually creates only a trickle for everyone else. The wealthy, you see, rarely purchase millions of televisions, Big Mouth Billy Bass plaques, or bottles of store-brand ketchup. Or catsup, for that matter. Put more money in the hands of America's consumers, however, and they will invariably run out and purchase things. Perhaps self-serve restaurateurs only seek to maintain America's economic growth by undercutting Bush and his grandiose plans.

Tip well, if you care about the future and the continued production of consumer goods. Toss leftover change into tip jars. Hand over 15 percent at counter-service restaurants. Give 10 percent to self-serve staff.

Gullibility? Generosity? Maybe it's responsibility.

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Join the Observer community and help support independent local journalism in Dallas.


Join the Observer community and help support independent local journalism in Dallas.