Parpan Column: Tipping is now more awkward than ever


I’m a big fan of tipping. I feel it’s one small way to give back to folks who could really use the money — and the best way to get better service. 

I am, however, a bit confused by gratuities lately. Who should be tipped? How much should they get? The line on tipping seems more blurred than ever before.

I recently read a piece about Joe’s Crab Shack that said it’s the first major restaurant chain to experiment with a no-tipping policy at some locations (Riverhead is not among them). The idea is that the waitstaff will be paid a higher wage and the customer will realize a bit of savings.

Personally, I’d rather pay 20 percent extra for a waiter or waitress who’s eager to make my meal more enjoyable than a server who’d rather please restaurant management, hoping for a salary increase.

My personal method for calculating tips is to start at 20 percent of the total bill. If I feel the service was below par, I’ll drop it down to the standard 17 percent. If I was wowed, I’ll bump it up to 25 percent. In no case, however, do I ever leave less than $5.

There’s no way restaurants that move to a gratuity-free model are increasing employee salaries enough to offset the larger tips. And while I recognize that some diners are less generous — and so it balances out for the servers — I don’t believe their frugal ways should affect my meal.

One of my all-time favorite scenes in any movie is the opening of “Reservoir Dogs,” when Mr. Pink, played by Steve Buscemi, protests throwing in for a tip at a diner, much to the chagrin of Harvey Keitel’s Mr. White.

“These people bust their [butts],” Mr. White says. “This is a hard job.”

“So’s working at McDonald’s, but you don’t feel the need to tip them, do ya?” responds Mr. Pink. “Why not? They’re servin’ ya food, but no, society says, ‘Don’t tip these guys over here, but tip these guys over here.’ ”

It’s a great scene for several reasons. Not only did it introduce the world to Quentin Tarantino’s unique style of writing dialogue, but it perfectly captured the uncomfortable nature of partnering on a tip with someone less benevolent. It also raises a fairly reasonable question about who should be tipped.

It’s been my experience that the older you get and the more responsibilities you have, the more bewildering it all becomes.

The prevalence of debit cards has made things more uncomfortable than ever when ordering takeout. Almost every eatery has a tip line on the receipt. Am I expected to leave a tip for a $7 sandwich at a deli? I feel like it’s almost worse to write in $1 than to ignore the tip line altogether. Of course, if there’s a tip jar on the counter, I’ll always leave something.

One of the most awkward tipping situations is establishing expectations with a large gratuity. Say the person took good care of you, so you gave them a little extra. Now you’re back, and they’re serving you again. Do you tip the same amount — even if the service isn’t as good as last time?

Similarly, the owner of my barber shop keeps raising his prices. When I first went there five years ago, a cut cost $12. I’d always give my haircutter, who is not the owner, a $20 bill and tell him to keep the change. The price has risen incrementally to $15 over the years, but I don’t feel like reaching for singles so I now give him less of a tip. Is that wrong?

Last month, I had Optimum come to my house to install cable and move my Internet modem to a different room. The fee for this was less than $45, and when I checked my wallet all I had were $20 bills. Am I supposed to ask for change?

Ultimately, because the installer was at my house for more than an hour and cleaned up a lot of my existing mess of wires, I opted to give him the $20.

Just last week, I had a repairman service my oil burner, but because it was under contract there was no fee. I was working in my home office while he was there. After a while, I forgot he was even in the house. When I went to check on him, he was asleep on a bucket in my oil burner room. He got $4.

I have absolutely no idea what I should have given either of these gentlemen. One of my friends recently asked what he should give the mailman and garbage men at his new house and I couldn’t respond. Where is the handbook for this?

In an attempt to address some of these questions this week, I stumbled on a article about the “11 people you aren’t tipping but should be.”

I recognized that I do tip most of these people, but some were flat-out ridiculous. You’re supposed to tip the DJ at a karaoke bar?

According to that same article, the $20 I gave the cable guy was the correct amount. Rip Van Repairman should have received $10, according to Thrillist.

Fox Business, meanwhile, says my friend should give his mailman $20. The trash collectors should get between $10 and $30 each, according to various sources on

When it comes to takeout, says: “Tipping for takeout is not necessary and it’s not being ‘cheap’ if you don’t tip someone who’s already getting paid for doing their job as a cashier. Tipping should only be for service, servers who take your order, serve your food and bring you the bill.”

One of the all-time greatest tips I ever witnessed was when my friend Bill tipped the beer guy at Shea Stadium $20 during the first inning of a Mets game. The man never left our side the rest of the night. I wouldn’t expect that kind of service at a tip-free restaurant.

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TR1226_Staff_Parpan_C.jpgThe author is the executive editor of Times Review Media Group. He can be reached at [email protected].