I’m afraid I don’t have a suitable photo for this post!
Coming from Italy to the US for the first time, it’s important to note a few very different customs. One of these is the already noted bigger portions, that can cause you to overeat if you don’t remember to ask for a box when you’re stuffed. Another big one is tipping. While it’s not unheard of in Italy as well, tipping is not as regular, or regulated, as here. For what I know, tips (mancie) are not declared at all, even if they are supposed to, since they are only possible on cash transaction, as there are no lines in the receipts where you can add tips. Even though Wikipedia says that this requires a citation (maybe I should just take a picture of my next receipt when I go back to Italy).
The reason for this is that the service, i.e., the wage for the waiting staff, is usually included on the bill (usually, explicitly — some rare times it’s included in the price of the food itself, but that’s been rare until a few hours ago). The same is true, as far as I know, in England for the most part, while in France it seems like they are happy to get some.
Anyway, I have to say that up to now, my experience with tipping staff is actually quite positive. It’s not like it changes much of how I go around — even in Italy I tend to always go to the same place, but I guess it helps the fact that I tip well enough that the waitresses remember me, and they almost never bring me the menu nowadays, unless I ask for it (they know already what I’m getting).
A quick check of my past receipts shows that my average tipping is around 22%, with the exception being the breakfasts I get in the morning, which is well over that (but simply because it would be less than eight dollars), at around 50%. This actually paid off, since I didn’t have to know about the local diner’s “Breakfast Club” — the waiter brought me the card after seeing me one morning after the other, already stamped twice; and the one time I forgot my card at the office, he stamped it twice the next visit. Also, once I actually used the fidelity card, which got me free pancakes, they poured in the coffee with it (which is not supposed to be included).
I guess that for most of the waiting staff, having to survive on tips is far from easy. On the other hand, it feels like the waiting staff here is more caring about the single customer’s experience (since their living depends on it) rather than the frenetic “serve as many customers as possible in the shortest time as possible” that most of the Italian restaurants (as in, in Italy) focus on. Even in places I like, and where I know the owner since forever, don’t have the same friendly service.
Googling around, it seems like there is a lot of angst and grief around the concept of tipping – I was looking around to see how much to tip a cab driver since today I went to Santa Monica to see The Oatmeal – and I can from one point understand why, on the other hand it’s also an easy to use them as a way to make sure that you’re offered a decent service. Like the cab driver who brought me back, and who insisted for me to get cash on the ATMs, which meant I had to walk three blocks over, and pay another $3 in fees, and got less than 10% tip (if he accepted the credit card, he would have gotten 20% — yes that means waiting and paying the extra fee, but it’s still more than he got).
I guess one of the reasons why I’m not having much problem, as a customer, with tipping, is that Free Software works the same way. We’re for the most part not paid, or paid (as related to opensource) a minimum wage, and all we do is compensated for the most part in tips … which are actually rarely enough to cover our side of the expenses — I can actually write quite a bit on the subject as recently I found out how much it costed me, in power alone, to run Yamato and the tinderbox at my house.
So in all of this, I can actually say that it’s one of the things that I have really no problem whatsoever with, during my stay here.