Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Tip Etiquette: My wife and I did something last night that we haven't done in years. No, not that. And most certainly not that (besides I'm fairly sure Bush has had it outlawed)!

Rather, we ordered out for pizza. Actually I ordered out; my wife lay in bed shivering with a fever and assorted aches and pains. Despite her 3-day forced bed rest from whatever bug has got her in its grasp, she had this sudden carb-crave and only pizza was going to scratch that itch (I guess those bottles of Gatorade and soup broth just weren't cutting it anymore 60 hours later).

So, to make matters even worse, I ordered from Dominos - a place which shouldn't be allowed to market itself as making pizza. The stuff is awful; even my wife mentioned (between giant bites mind you) how bad it was - and this from a woman who hasn't actually tasted anything since last week.

But, what makes this story even slightly worth blogging about is that I was forced to re-visit the age-old question of how much to tip the pizza delivery girl. It just had been too long.

The price of the pizza came to $11.32. But what for her? Good waitresses get 20%, but then they're serving you drinks, apps, entrees, wine, and dessert over the course of maybe two hours. All this girl did was get into a car and make a stop along her route. But then again, she's out risking her life (through bad weather, bad drivers, and just bad people), so doesn't she at least measure up to a waitress who, after all, only has to walk back and forth from a kitchen? Well, before I tell you what I gave her, let's consult the experts: On the bill mentioned above, the recommendation is two dollars.

Even I, who was once chastised by a pizza delivery guy for trying to stiff him so I wouldn't have to break a $20 (granted this was in my law school days when my creative accounting would have made the guys from Enron look like square-up fellows), feels $2.00 on an $11+ bill is a bit low. With cabbies, I always round up to the nearest dollar and then add a dollar (assuming the typical $5 to $10 cab ride) to give it some heft - so those guys are getting somewhere in the range of 20 to nearly 50% usually.

The question with tipping on the whole is to strike the balance between giving someone who makes minimum wage or less the ability to earn at least part of a living while recogizing the relative value of the proffered service (on one hand), and then using the tip as a forward-looking device to ensure positive service the next time (on the other).

In a bar, it's a no-brainer. If you want the bartender to either think you're a stud (depending on gender and your preference) or to ensure that your outstretched hand is filled with the suds of your choice ahead of the hoi polloi, then a good tip is more about the future, and less about the past (unless your Guiness is simply all head, in which case the smacked ass deserves only the lint from your pockets). And, if you ever want the occasional freebee of a shot of Jamesons, or an extra bit in your "single" scotch, then a strong tipping hand is as much in your self-interest as the bartender's.

But with pizza delivery, I've concluded, it's really only about your relative sense of guilt. Afterall, unless you're getting pizza every few days, the chances of that poor student being your repeat delivery person are slim to none. In the end I gave her a $20 and asked for $5 back, or a net tip of $3.68, or roughly a third (!) of the pizza price. I guess I'm not quite the heartless bastard most of my opposing counsel think I am...nahhhhhh.

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