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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington.

It's the awkward moment spent on the sidewalk outside the hotel as the bellman calls you a cab, after your barber takes out the whiskbroom, and that second spent with a pen poised above a credit card slip at the corner café. It's the tipping point.

Gratuities in this country symbolize something about who we are: generous, demanding, maybe simply stingy. This hour, we'll try to resolve the mysteries of how much and when and why bellmen, cab drivers, and waiters all seem to require different equations.

Later in the hour, we'll head out on the highway for another installment in the TALK OF THE NATION Summer Movie Festival. If you have a nominee for best road movie ever, zap us an e-mail now - talk@npr.org. But first, we're talking tips.

Are certain gratuities gratuitous? How much math do you need to reward good service? What about gas station attendants, hotel maids, parking lot attendants? Join the conversation. Our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255. That's 800-989-talk. The e-mail address is talk@npr.org.

Our first guest is Amy Dickinson. She writes the syndicated column Ask Amy for the Chicago Tribune and joins us from NPR's bureau in Chicago. Nice to have you back on the program, Amy.

Ms. AMY DICKINSON (Syndicated Columnist): Hi, Neal.

CONAN: I understand you did a little research on this point yesterday in the hair salon.

Ms. DICKINSON: Yes. Actually, I've been grooming, grooming, grooming. And, you know, when you get the bill you'll know what I've been up to.

CONAN: I see. And does the bill include a tip?

Ms. DICKINSON: Well, funny you should ask. I had my hair cut yesterday, and I spent about an hour and 15 minutes talking about tips with Becka(ph)...

CONAN: Uh-huh.

Ms. DICKINSON: ...who cuts my hair regularly, and I was shocked. Of course, I've always thought that I'm very generous and...

CONAN: You found out you're Mrs. Scrooge.

Ms. DICKINSON: Well, I found out that I'm a little below the norm. I usually tip around 10 to 15 percent. I don't actually figure out the percentage.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. DICKINSON: But Becka does.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Every single time, I bet.

Ms. DICKINSON: She said that her clients usually tip her around 20 percent, and that whenever she gets her hair cut, she always tips 20 percent.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. Now there are other people than just the person who cuts your hair, as I understand it.

Ms. DICKINSON: Well, you know, this was interesting because I said to her, well, what about Sophia, who washed my hair? I feel pretty strongly about tipping the person who - anyone who touches me gets a tip, okay.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. DICKINSON: Anyone who has to touch me in the course of their job gets a tip.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. DICKINSON: So I said, well, what about Sophia? Because I always tip the person who washes my hair. And she said, oh, well, whatever.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. DICKINSON: You know?

CONAN: So that person be damned.

Ms. DICKINSON: Yeah, whatever.

CONAN: You make 20 percent, though, lady.

Ms. DICKINSON: Yeah.

CONAN: Yeah. What's the most common question you get about tipping at your column?

Ms. DICKINSON: Well, how much? How much?

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. DICKINSON: Yeah. And who? You know, who - I have learned - you know, I feel that in my adulthood, one of the pleasures of being an adult for me, honestly -I read Woody Allen once. He said the only reason he wants to make money is so he can pick up the check.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. DICKINSON: I sort of feel that way. Like one of the pleasures of working for a living and doing okay in life is that you can spread it around a little bit. When I was young, I was not able to tip people. I think that when I'm old, I probably won't tip people because old people don't seem to do that.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. DICKINSON: So now I'm just spreading it around and making up for all of that.

CONAN: Let's get some questions on the air from listeners. 800-989-8255, if you'd like to join us as we discuss the tipping point. E-mail us, talk@npr.org. We'll begin with Nick. Nick's calling from Portland, Oregon.

NICK (Caller): Yeah, I was wondering about if you go in for a pizza takeout or a sushi or something like that, do you go ahead and tip or not?

CONAN: Takeout. In other words, it's not delivery. You're picking it up at the store.

NICK: Exactly.

CONAN: All right. Amy, do you tip at pickup?

Ms. DICKINSON: I…no.

CONAN: No.

Ms. DICKINSON: You're doing everything. You know, if there's a tip jar there and if you have a buck throw it in. But you're doing everything, aren't you?

NICK: Yeah.

CONAN: Yeah.

Ms. DICKINSON: Yeah. They're just preparing the food…

NICK: But, I mean normally, like, you go and sit down at the sushi bar or something, and, you know, that's - but you don't. If you call it in, you're just - no tip?

Ms. DICKINSON: Well, I don't. I mean, all I'm - I'll tell you that I don't. And I do do that from time to time. I pick up stuff, you know, from my local restaurant and I do not leave a tip, honestly.

NICK: Okay

CONAN: Okay Nick, thanks very much.

NICK: Well, thank you.

CONAN: And good luck at the pizza (unintelligible) next time.

Ms. DICKINSON: But I'm starting to feel bad now.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Here's an e-mail we got from Michael in San Antonio. I'd appreciate hearing how to calculate a proper tip on drinks and wine ordered with a meal. I've heard various approaches, but what's most correct?

Ms. DICKINSON: Well, I think that 20 percent of the entire bill is what a person should do. I mean, I don't separate out drinks from food.

CONAN: So it…

Ms. DICKINSON: Do you?

CONAN: No, I don't.

Ms. DICKINSON: Yeah.

CONAN: I can't imagine why I would.

Ms. DICKINSON: No.

CONAN: But, you know, unless maybe he goes to restaurants with sommeliers. I don't go too many of those.

Ms. DICKINSON: Right. Me neither.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. DICKINSON: And again, the sommelier has a corkscrew. You're going to want to treat him well.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. DICKINSON: One thing I've learned in a little bit of research I've done on tipping is that there's this whole underbelly of people - we'll get into this later - bellmen, for instance, who, you know, they can do you some damage if you'd treat them right. So that's the underbelly. You know, you and I - I think I'm being really generous, but it turns out I'm - it's kind of a payoff. I'm paying them not to hurt me.

CONAN: It's a protection racket.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. DICKINSON: Yeah.

CONAN: Okay. Let's get John on the line. John's calling us from Louisville, Kentucky.

JOHN (Caller): Hi, actually I've got a couple of comments. Number one, I'm a restaurant owner in the Louisville area, and I kind of have to disagree with the one point that you brought up about the patron doing all the work. That's not necessarily the case. For example, if you've got a buffet, and a person - a patron goes up to get their own food at the buffet, there's still a lot of other work that the server actually ends up doing, believe it or not.

CONAN: To be fair, John, we were talking about pickup at a - like a pizza place or something like that or Chinese restaurants, so…

JOHN: Right, I realize that.

CONAN: …I think that's different. Buffet, I guess, is in a separate category.

JOHN: Well, in a separate category but similar, you know, to what you were talking about because of the fact that, yes, the patron is doing some of the work. But at the same time, the server is doing a lot of the work for the patron, such as getting drinks, clearing dishes, and what have you. And all those costs, basically, have to go back to the server in some way. And the reason being is that the server typically is paid an hourly wage much below the minimum wage level because they're earning - their primary earning is in their tips that they earn.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

JOHN: And that's pretty much a function of how good the level of service is that they're providing the patron.

CONAN: Well, how do we tell how good the service is if we're going to a buffet?

Ms. DICKINSON: And, John, why are we - I mean you're - are you suggesting that we should tip you the owner? When I go and order sushi over the phone and then go to pick it up, who's working for me?

JOHN: Well, actually, it's the person who's working there at the, I'll say, the window or whatever.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. But presumably, that - you don't expect that person to get tipped, so you pay them a better wage.

JOHN: Well, that's sometimes the case. In that particular instance, I can't really comment because, again, as I say, it's - that's a little bit different from, say, in a situation where you've got a waiter or waitress in a buffet where the patron is going up and getting their own food.

But again, you know, what I'm suggesting there is that the worker or the waiter is actually not getting paid a, you know, a wage from the restaurant in accordance with the other wages that would be, you know, similar in that context.

CONAN: Right. Okay.

Ms. DICKINSON: But that's a - you bring up a really great question, so if you can answer this for me. I think a lot of people think that at a buffet-style restaurant that they should tip, but not as much. What do you think?

JOHN: Again, you know, I think that it should predominantly be based on a level of service that they're getting. You know, if the waiter or waitress is keeping their table cleared, is getting them drinks, making sure that their drinks are filled and so forth, and getting them any other things that they may be requesting, then I think that that should be the primary…

CONAN: But is that worth the standard 15 or 20 percent that you'd get if the water brought the food over and did all of that for you?

JOHN: Right, well, I would consider, you know, a 15 to 20 percent, more or less, being an average of what you would pay the person. If they're giving you less than adequate service, then you would obviously tip…

CONAN: So that counts if it's a buffet as well as a full-service meal?

JOHN: That's the way I feel about it, yes.

CONAN: All right. I think you would find a lot of people who'd disagree with that, John. I know you're the owner, but I think...

JOHN: That's okay.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: ...there'd be a number of people who would disagree with that, including the two you're talking to.

JOHN: That's all right. Okay, thank you.

CONAN: If we're confused about tipping practices here at home, imagine what it's like when you go overseas. Well, John - Don George is with us. He's global travel editor for the Lonely Planet. He joins us now from the studios of member station KQED in San Francisco. Hey, Don, nice to talk to you again.

Mr. DON GEORGE (Global Travel Editor, Lonely Planet): Hello, Neal. It's great to be back.

CONAN: What's the most confusing tipping experience you've ever had outside of this country?

Mr. GEORGE: How much time do we have?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GEORGE: There's so many. Every - it is really one of the great mysteries of the world, I think, is what to tip. And to my mind it really points up the, you know, the necessity of the mantra we have at Lonely Planet which is know before you go, because every culture, every country is different.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. GEORGE: But the one astounding one I'll say is when I went to Japan a long time ago as a naïve young man and went out to have my first meal in a beautiful restaurant and added the 10 percent, 15 percent - what I felt was appropriate. And as I was walking out of this...

(Soundbite of throat clearing)

Mr. GEORGE: ...excuse me - little, lovely restaurant, I got out to the street, and the waitress came running after me clutching my yen in her hand saying (foreign language spoken). And getting my attention, she said you forgot this. You left this behind...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GEORGE: ...because in Japan, you don't leave a tip. So she assumed that I'd just forgotten my money on the table.

CONAN: Ah-ha.

Mr. GEORGE: And she went way out of her way to get the money back to me.

CONAN: So that's just one cultural difference. You explored several cultural differences in Japan on that particular visit.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GEORGE: Indeed.

CONAN: If you'd just forgotten it in New York, I suspect people may not have run after you quite so - with such alacrity, anyway.

Mr. GEORGE: Indeed, right.

CONAN: But this is a practice throughout Asia, that there's no tip?

Mr. GEORGE: Generally speaking, in many Asian countries there is no tip. It's evolving, of course. In China, for example, there traditionally is no tipping. But now as the country becomes much more Westernized, much more capitalistic, tipping in higher-class restaurants is becoming a norm. And so you might add a 10 percent to your total, for example.

It's cultures in transition like that that are especially difficult to navigate. And what I always end up falling back on is one, know as much as you can before you go. Two, if you don't know, ask someone locally what's appropriate. And then three, it has to feel good to you.

Whatever it is - if you think you've had outstanding service, give a tip. If you think the service really wasn't that good, don't leave a tip. It really has to feel right to you. And so that's my final, final bottom-line for me. Even if I've had a fantastic meal, I may not leave a tip if the service wasn't right.

CONAN: All right. We'll have more questions for Don George and for Amy Dickinson when we come back from a break. We'll also be speaking with The Waiter. Yes, he's the guy who's ranting at The Waiter Rant, so stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington. We're talking about tips today: when, how much, where. And in a few minutes, tipping from the other side. We'll talk to The Waiter and find out what advice servers have for tippers. Our guests are Amy Dickinson - she writes the syndicated column Ask Amy for the Chicago Tribune - and Don George, global travel editor for Lonely Planet.

Of course, you're welcome to join us: 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail is recently ordered room service at a hotel. The hotel tacked on a 20 percent service charge and a $3 delivery charge. There was an awkward minute when the delivery person waited for a tip. I figured the $5.80 covered it, but was embarrassed into giving him another $3. What is the protocol in these situations. Amy?

Ms. DICKINSON: Well, again, I've learned a lot about hotels. It's a real racket. I had a similar experience recently also at a hotel that was so, so expensive. I went ahead and gave the guy five bucks, but when I looked at the bill, I realized I had spent almost as much on gratuities as I had on the food.

CONAN: Hmm.

Ms. DICKINSON: It's incredible.

CONAN: And...

Mr. GEORGE: Neal, can I chip in...

CONAN: Sure, Don.

Mr. GEORGE: ...because this has happened to me. And the first time I got so burned, I paid more for the gratuity than I did for the hamburger. So the second time when this happened to me, I looked at the bill and I signed it, and I began to hand it over. And then I stopped, and I looked at it again. I said, let's see, is the tip included here? Oh, oh, good, it is. Oh, great, thank you very much.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GEORGE: And I handed it to the person.

CONAN: Don, you were telling us a story of Japan and being pursued down the street with the tip by a waiter who didn't know what was going on there. Are there any situations where you could get into trouble for not leaving a tip?

Mr. GEORGE: There are. Yes, there definitely are, and it's - and I always say when in doubt, leave a tip. I'd much rather have someone chase after me with my money than chase after me with my knife and fork in their hand. So I think that it really depends. And, for example, in Germany, usually the service charge is included in your tip, but it's still customary to leave a 10 percent tip in addition to that.

In England, on the other hand, sometimes the service charge is included, in which case you're not obliged to leave a tip. Sometimes it's not included, in which case you are obliged to leave a tip. So you really have to look carefully at the bill that you're paying. And then once you've determined whether or not the service is already being included, you still have to have some sense of the local custom if you're meant to add on top of that or not.

CONAN: Hmm. Now in general, are Americans regarded as good tippers or bad tippers?

Mr. GEORGE: I would say they're generally regarded as good tippers. I know many waiters and waitresses who work in the United States who say that when the Europeans come in, they usually leave smaller tips or no tip at all. Whereas Americans in foreign countries are usually perceived as being pretty generous, pretty good tippers.

CONAN: Okay, Don, thanks very much. Appreciate it. Don George is global travel editor for Lonely Planet, and he joined us today from the studios of member station KQED in San Francisco. Here's an emergency question we have, Amy. This from John in Reno, Nevada. I have furniture arriving in minutes. Do I tip the guys who will move the seven or so boxes in? Please hurry.

Ms. DICKINSON: Yes.

(Singing) Yes, yes, yes.

CONAN: Yes?

Ms. DICKINSON: I tell you, I don't know. It's a whole new world. I absolutely believe in tipping delivery people. I think it's a little unusual. My philosophy is, yes, they're being paid a decent wage. I am always so grateful...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. DICKINSON: ...that, you know, that something arrives when they say it will, in the condition they say it will. They will help you set it up, blah blah blah. Yeah, I tip them.

CONAN: Let's talk...

Ms. DICKINSON: What do you think, Neal?

CONAN: I wouldn't. I mean, you see what those guys get per mile?

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Just look at the bottom-line which - no, I wouldn't. Mitch...

Ms. DICKINSON: So, Neal, you go, thank you so much.

CONAN: Would you like a glass of ice water?

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Mitch, you're on the air. Mitch is calling us Caro, Michigan.

MITCH (Caller): Hey, I - how you guys doing today?

CONAN: Okay.

MITCH: Good. I'm a wedding D.J., and tipping there is kind of strange. The industry standard is tip the florist, tip the bartender, tip the limo driver, maybe even tip the caterer - D.J. optional.

CONAN: Hmm.

Ms. DICKINSON: Ooh…

MITCH: I don't know why. It's like we're the reason - if the D.J.'s no good, you're screwed. But if the D.J.'s good, you've had a night to remember.

Ms. DICKINSON: When do you usually receive your tip? Is it - or not. Is it at the end of the evening when service people receive their tips?

MITCH: Usually at the end of the night. Sometimes you get paid halfway through the night. It's in a sealed envelope, and hey look there's, you know, anywhere from 20 to 100 bucks in there.

CONAN: What I'm curious about, Mitch, is who makes these decisions that, yes, you have to tip the limo driver, but it's optional for the wedding D.J.?

MITCH: I don't know who makes the decision. I mean, in our case, it's half the time, you know, the parents are paying for it.

CONAN: No, I mean societally. I mean, who amongst us? There seems to be somehow, like three or four years ago - am I right, Amy - it was written in stone on every - above every restaurant in the world: 20 percent is now normal.

Ms. DICKINSON: Right, I know. When did this happen?

CONAN: When did that happen? Who decided?

Ms. DICKINSON: I know. I know it. When did it - it's like it's creeping up. And not that you don't deserve a tip, but I know what you're saying. Although I don't know about tipping the florist. I don't know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MITCH: Give me a break.

Ms. DICKINSON: You know, I got a letter from my column about this, a letter asking was it okay or improper to put a tip jar - for the bartender to put a tip jar up at an open-bar wedding? And I answered and said, you know, if it's there and you choose to - if they get a couple ones from people, that's great. But then I heard from a wedding planner who said it's so inappropriate to put a tip jar up at a private event. That's very, very inappropriate. They're already receiving their gratuity from the host of the party.

MITCH: Yeah, I kind of would have to agree. I had a couple of bartenders that kept sending me drinks. You know, hey, we need our props over here and, you know, want me to make announcements and, you know, tip Jerry and you know...

Ms. DICKINSON: Oh!

MITCH: ...(unintelligible) the bartenders. And I'm like, wait a minute.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. DICKINSON: Oh, no, that's not good at all.

CONAN: Well...

MITCH: Not that they weren't working hard. They were.

CONAN: No matter what the rules are, it was not good form to discuss them in front of you when you weren't sharing in...

MITCH: No.

CONAN: Mitch, thanks very much and we appreciate your phone call.

MITCH: Hey, I just wanted to say tip your bartenders, waitresses, and your wedding D.J.'s.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: All right.

MITCH: Thanks a lot, guys.

CONAN: Bye-bye.

MITCH: Bye.

CONAN: Tipping while dining is often a source of anxiety on both sides of the table sometimes. The author of The Waiter Rant blog is with us today. Besides writing his blog, he's waited table in New York City for the past seven years. To protect his identity, he is known simply as The Waiter, and he joins us now from our bureau in New York this afternoon. Nice to have you on the program today.

THE WAITER (Blog Author, waiterrant.net): Good afternoon, Neal. Thank you for having me.

CONAN: And do you know who decided it was 20 percent?

THE WAITER: Beats me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

THE WAITER: I'm glad it's 20 percent.

CONAN: But you're happy whoever he was.

THE WAITER: Oh, yeah, sure.

CONAN: Yeah.

THE WAITER: Sure. I just think this is a cultural thing that just happened in response to, you know, wage pressures. I think that's what happened. People are getting paid a little less, and tips are a way of making up for it. And that's why I think we see tipping in places that we never used to, like in Starbucks and tipping the florist. I think that's relatively new.

CONAN: Do you, like Amy's haircutter, do you go back and sort of calculate what everybody's given you?

THE WAITER: I know exactly the percentage...

(Soundbite of laughter)

THE WAITER: ...of every - in fact, I see a percentage sign over people's head when they walk in the door.

CONAN: Really?

THE WAITER: Seventeen, 20 - sure, sure. That's how you start to look at - I mean, you look at customers as people, but sometimes you know them for what they tip besides, you know, how they act as a human being. But, you know, you're there to make a living, and the bottom-line is that's how you're going to make your living.

CONAN: And with regulars, does this affect your service?

THE WAITER: I think what I - we were talking about tipping the furniture delivery people and how you're so grateful that it gets there on time. I think the same dynamic happens with regulars. Regulars in a restaurant know that if they tip appropriately - you don't have to tip extravagantly - but if they tip appropriately that they will always have good service. And you should always have good service when you go to a restaurant, but when you need that table on Friday night at the last minute and I know you're a good tipper or you're a bad tipper, the bad tipper's not going to get the table.

CONAN: Hmm.

THE WAITER: If you ask for the romantic table in the corner and you're - you never tip above eight percent, you're not going to get it. And I think that's part of the reason why people have trouble when they dine out is that they don't realize that that tip that you stiff a waiter one day can come and haunt you another. Now sometimes people just make mistakes. I mean, everyone makes a mistake, and that's not problem.

CONAN: Especially after a drink or two.

THE WAITER: Right. And, I mean - and I've gotten bad tips from some of my favorite customers, and I understand that it just - it was an accident. But you get people who habitually come in every week and leave you 8 percent or 6 percent, and they know what's going on. And then they want - they're amazed why they don't get the nicest table in the house.

CONAN: Let's get a caller on the line. This is Mark. Mark's with us from Kansas City.

MARK (CALLER): Yes. My girlfriend is a waitress and I just want to mention that sometimes waiters and waitresses only will have three or four tables for the whole night. And especially if somebody comes in and sits and orders drinks or, you know, ice water - and some business people come in for five hours - they have to realize that their tying that table up where, you know, it could've been turned maybe one more time.

But if it's very good service 25, you know, even 30 percent. If you're going to go out and spend a couple of hundred dollars, especially if you're a regular, you give it that little bit extra, 25-30, you're remembered to get great service. But remember that the waiters and waitresses sometimes only have just a couple of tables, that's all.

CONAN: And would The Waiter like to forward the address of his restaurant to Mark?

THE WAITER: We'll keep it a secret. But he's absolutely right that there are, you know, a waiter has to turn the tables. And if a table decides to stay for hours and hours, that is cutting in, not only on the restaurant's ability to make money, but the waiter's ability to make money.

And hopefully if you're staying extra long for the romantic dinner you leave something extra for your waiter, realizing that you've prevented him or her from turning that table another time.

MARK: Yeah, these people make, you know, $2 an hour and have to pay their own health insurance and…

THE WAITER: That's right. I pay my own health insurance.

MARK: And so, it's not easy being a waiter or waitress. And old restaurants here used to say that tips stood for tell if poor service.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARK: Have a great afternoon.

CONAN: Thanks very much Mark. And enjoy that six-hour lunch you're going to have today.

MARK: There you go.

CONAN: Any tipping stereotypes? You know, there's so many. That the bald guy is going to leave you five percent.

THE WAITER: I have discovered over the years - there are stereotypes that exist out there for tipping. And what I have discovered in my years of waiting tables is I'm constantly surprised that there are people that leave me wonderful tips I don't expect and there people who leave me horrible tips. I've noticed that everyone has the ability to be cheap.

Ms. AMY DICKINSON (Writer, Column Ask Amy, Chicago Tribune): Can I weigh in on this?

CONAN: Go ahead Amy.

THE WAITER: Yeah. Sure.

Ms. DICKINSON: Years ago I was a waitress on an island. And at the tail end of the summer for one weekend all of the birders came to island - like a couple of thousand birders came. And everyone was dreading it and I couldn't figure out why, because it was going to be flooded with people. And they said, oh so cheap. They're cheap. And you know what - they were.

THE WAITER: What do you mean birders, though?

CONAN: People who look…

Ms. DICKINSON: Bird watchers.

CONAN: Bird watchers, yeah.

THE WAITER: Oh, bird watchers. Oh, ok.

Ms. DICKINSON: Let me tell you - cheap.

THE WAITER: Bird watchers are cheap?

Ms. DICKINSON: Bird watchers are cheap.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. DICKINSON: And it's funny because I never realized that you could sort of characterize a group of people in such a way, but in this case it turned out to be true.

THE WAITER: Where was this? Like what part of the country?

Ms. DICKINSON: Block Island.

THE WAITER: Ok.

Ms. DICKINSON: New England.

CONAN: We'll let you get away with cheap Amy, but we're just glad you didn't say they flocked to the island.

THE WAITER: The bird watchers are going to be calling in outraged any minute.

Ms. DICKINSON: I know. I feel terrible. But you know what. Another thing, I feel like if there's a question, one extra buck from my pocket, you know, might make somebody else's day, I'm not going to miss it.

THE WAITER: That's true. That's true. I think one of the things that happens to a lot of waiters when we deal with customers from other countries - now that sends an alarm bell through my head when I see some customers, because sometimes people come from countries that tipping is not, you know, they're used to the gratuity being in the bill and they leave nothing or sometimes they leave a very small amount.

But I had a guy in my restaurant who was from a European country, let's just say, and he - and I had him in my restaurant for six years. And he always left like 5 percent. And I said, you know, sometime in six years I'm sure you heard of tipping 15 to 20 percent in this country. So sometimes you have people from other countries that honestly don't know and then you've got people from other countries that just, you know, shine you on.

Ms. DICKINSON: So did you speak to him about it?

THE WAITER: You know. That's tough. It - when do you talk to somebody about leaving a bad tip? My thing is if they ask me. I'm not going to go up to someone and say you left me a lousy tip. If they come up to me and they say did I tip you enough, well then I'm going to say well this is what's considered a standard gratuity. For me a standard gratuity is between 15 and 20 percent, and if someone leaves me 8 percent that's a big deal. One of my favorite stories is I had a young woman…

CONAN: Can we hear that story in just a second because I should say we're talking about the tipping point. And you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

Now go ahead please. I'm sorry.

THE WAITER: Oh, are we on the air?

CONAN: Yes. Yeah. We're still on the air.

THE WAITER: Oh, ok, ok. The…

CONAN: Mysteries of the floating cut away.

THE WAITER: I know. The - a couple on a date came and, you know, the gentleman paid for the check and the young woman actually came up to me when he was in the bathroom and asked how much he left as a tip.

CONAN: Really?

THE WAITER: Oh yeah. And the tip wasn't that great. I mean, it was like 12-15 percent.

CONAN: And maybe not the rest of that evening.

THE WAITER: And, I think, the young woman used it as a barometer of the man's generosity. Now…

Ms. DICKINSON: As you should. As you should.

THE WAITER: I think I gave - and I said to myself, wow. But I think what you said earlier in the program is that tipping really reflects an attribute of yourself. I mean, if you're a generous person, that's fine - or you like to spread it around. Or there are people who, for whatever reasons of their own -you know, sometimes they're psychological - but they have to hold onto every little thing they have. They can't part with anything.

And tipping is painful for them. And they will - if they could get away with tipping you nothing, they would, but then they're going to have a very hard time finding places to eat. So people do use tipping as a barometer of how you look at yourself.

CONAN: Let's get Kay on quickly. Kay is calling us from San Antonio.

KAY (CALLER): Hello.

CONAN: Hi, Kay. You're on the air. Go ahead please.

KAY: Good afternoon guys. It's good to be on the show, actually. I really must say that me being born in India and raised in the Middle East and, obviously, I've studied in England for a few years. When I came to America for the first time in 1998, went to a restaurant with my friends and when the bill came on the table they were like, ok Kay we're going to leave a tip.

I'm like, tip? For what reason? I don't understand. What should I leave a tip for? They go no Kay. Well, the only reason why we ask you for a tip is because they don't get paid too much. And I'm like, how much do they get paid? They're like probably make like $2.50 an hour. I'm like really now? I had no idea about this.

So me being a university student, I'm foreign student here, started working as a waiter, well the pay was different, much, much different than the (unintelligible) restaurants. I was getting paid $5.50. But that I really respect for what people do for a living, you know, because they have to pay their own tuition fees and I really understand that. So that's what I needed to point out, that sometimes when you're with your friends who have not gone through that before, they can definitely pay for this. It definitely helps a person out a lot.

CONAN: All right Kay. Thanks very much and good luck.

KAY: Thank you. Have a nice day guys.

CONAN: Bye-bye. And, obviously, we could go on forever with but we're out of time. We'd like to thank The Waiter for joining us today. You can read his blog at Waiter Rant blog at www.waiterrant.net. And he's currently signed a book deal to turn his blog into a book. When they pay the advance is there a tip on top of that?

THE WAITER: No.

CONAN: Ok. But you're agent gets a tip.

THE WAITER: My agent got a tip, which is 15 percent. Yeah.

CONAN: Only 15 percent, not so bad.

THE WAITER: Only 15 percent, I was very - he's a good agent.

CONAN: Amy Dickinson thanks very much for being with us today.

THE WAITER: Ok.

Ms. DICKINSON: Thank you Neal.

THE WAITER: Thank you Neal.

CONAN: Amy Dickinson writes the syndicated column Ask Amy for the Chicago Tribune and she joined us today from our bureau in Chicago. When we get back from our short break, Murray Horwitz joins us with this week's summer movie festival. Today's genre, Best Road movie of all time. Call us with your nominee or e-mail the Best Road movie to talk@npr.org. The phone number: 800-989-8255. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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