Tipping: Common courtesy or mandatory service

By: Melanie Fleming

Leaving a gratuity for your server after eating is not a legal obligation. If the establishment notifies the consumer beforehand that a mandatory gratuity or service charge will be added then tip is added to the bill as an agreement.

The notification of this mandatory gratuity does not have to be announced orally, and in most cases it isn’t.

Tipping in restaurants is a practice in which customers will calculate a certain percentage of their bill and give that percentage to their server as a form of saying thank you. According to the Webster Dictionary, gratuity means a gift of money for a service.

A tip jar located in the back of a restaurant. Photo cred: Melanie Fleming

“I don’t think tips should be expected…it’s a tip out of the kindness,” said Dalin Chen, a student who frequently eats out at restaurants.

Tipping in restaurants varies within countries. According to a survey from IT facts, 19 percent of the cost of the meal is the average tipping amount in the United States.

“Bad service gets one dollar, no matter the bill…good service 10 to 20 percent, great service 20 to 30 percent,” said Chen.

Mandatory gratuity is sometimes added for parties of six or more people in restaurants. In more upscale restaurants, gratuity can be seen added to a bill of less than six.

Keoni by Keo’s, a restaurant in Waikiki, had added a mandatory gratuity to non-English speaking customers due to the fact that these customers were unaware of the customary tipping practice in the United States.

Keoni by Keo’s menu disclosed, “A 15 percent gratuity will be added to your check for parties of six or more and for non-English speaking guests.”

Restaurants are allowed to add a mandatory charge as long as it isn’t prejudice. The disclosure of the mandatory tip forced on non-English speaking guests was removed after a television station reported on it.

“ I don’t like mandatory gratuity at times only because I feel the service is almost always not up to par due to the server knowing they will get a tip either way,” said Mayra Ruiz.

Highlighted Countries where tipping is a common practice. Produced by Melanie Fleming

Mayra is a customer who, if given the opportunity, will tip generally around the average percentage of 19 percent.

When mandatory tipping is added to the bill, tax isn’t included. Most customers will tip the total of the bill which includes the tax.

“I usually tip 20 to 30 percent, tax included, but only if the person provides superior service because they are being paid to work there as a server and are required to do the minimum to service you,” said Ruiz.

Minimum wage

The federal minimum wage is the lowest amount that an employer can pay if the job is subject to the Fair Labor Standards Act. The minimum wage for restaurant servers that receive tips is less than the standard minimum wage because the Department of Labor expects gratuities to make up the difference in pay.

The minimum wage under Hawai‘i State Law $7.25 since Jan. 1, 2007.  Hawai‘i, along with 25 other states, has the same minimum wage as the federal minimum wage.

Tipping credit allows the employer to pay a tipped employee less that minimum wage. According to the United States Department of Labor, if an employee gets more than $20 in tips than the employer can pay the employee a minimum cash wage of $7 an hour.

Tip pooling

Servers have to share a certain percentage of their tip with other staff from the ‘front of the house’. The staff are divided into two sections, the servers, hosts, bussers, bartenders and expos are the front of the house and will commonly share a tip pool. Dishwashers and Cooks are considered back of the house and are not included in a tip pool.

“I always remember that when tipping, the tips generally get split amongst the servers, cooks, cleaners, etc,” said customer James Richardson, a customer of Kimchee #7 restaurant.

Service Charge

If the charge is labeled as gratuity then the server is honored the full amount however, if a service charge is added then it is not always money that goes to the server. According to the Hawaiian Statue, section 481B-14, service charge does not have to be given to the employee if mentioned before hand with the customer.

Tipping on a credit card

According to the California Labor Code Section 351 tip added to a credit card must be paid in full to the employee from the employer.The amount must be paid to the employee by the next regular payday.