Gratitude and Gratuity

by Jim Stovall

During the current economic downturn, I realize many businesses and individuals are having a difficult time making ends meet.

Recently, my coauthor Tim Maurer and I released a book dealing with money and personal finance (  As a result of the publicity and promotion of that book, I have had the opportunity to talk with many groups and individuals about the economy, budgets, and personal finances.  While speaking to a group of people who work in the restaurant and food industry, I was shocked to find out how much economic conditions affect consumers’ tipping practices.

My first life experience in the world of business and commerce involved delivering newspapers.  I quickly discovered if I was reliable, dependable, got the newspaper on the porch or where the customer wanted it, and kept it dry during inclement weather, I could receive some generous tips.  I found that good service often brings a disproportionately higher tip.  This is to say that many times for slightly exceeding expectations, you can receive a tip two or three times larger than you would otherwise expect.

When you and your family or colleagues go out to eat, everyone knows that the standard expectation for tipping is a minimum of 15%.  If you cannot afford to comfortably pay for your meal and minimal tip within the context of your budget, you simply cannot afford to eat out.  Regardless of your personal financial condition or the prevailing economic trends, the person who serves you deserves to be compensated appropriately.

Experts disagree on how you should handle substandard or poor service.  Some feel you should not tip at all or limit your tip while others feel you should discuss your situation with your server or, better yet, management.  I feel if you’re going to withhold a tip, the server should understand why.  Withholding a tip should indicate the service was so poor that if your meal had been deficient to the same extent, you would discuss not paying your bill with the management.

Apparently, many consumers find a number of minor complaints in their own minds sufficient enough to withhold the tip, but they never express their displeasure or the reason for their actions with the server.  Tips are discretionary as are most standard expectations in polite society.  If you withhold a tip without discussing it with your server, it says more critical things about you than the waiter or waitress.

I have a personal problem with establishments that put a standard gratuity on the bill.  I guess there’s nothing wrong with it if it’s disclosed up front, but I simply think the practice defeats the time-honored tradition of tipping.  Invariably if there is a mandatory tip already added to my bill, that is generally all I will pay.

One of my favorite quotes from President Harry Truman says, “We will give millions for charity but not one penny for tribute.”  President Truman was expressing the sentiment that we enjoy being generous but not having things taken from us or required of us by people who feel entitled to what we have.

As you go through your day today, remember the people who serve you, and treat them as you would want to be treated.

Today’s the day!