DEBATES are not just for politicians. They happen all the...

salmagundi

July 01, 1994

DEBATES are not just for politicians. They happen all the time. Orange juice with pulp or without? "To-may-to" or "to-mah-to?" Pass the butter or the fat-free cream cheese?

And then there's restaurant tipping. Next time you're eating out, look around. Do you see two friends whispering and jabbing at the bill? Do they look guiltily over their shoulders as their waiter scoops up a pile of change? A tip debate, definitely.

To sort out the ground rules, we consulted an expert, Hilka Klinkenberg, of Etiquette International.

"Standard tipping is 15 percent. " says Mrs. Klinkenberg. "If the service is extraordinary, the tip should increase. If less than wonderful, the tip should decrease."

Fair enough. Good service, big tip; bad service, small tip. But how about those times you are annoyed enough to pull back the waiter's bow tie and let it go with a loud snap?

"If you wait until paying the check, your meal has been ruined. Take it up with the manager earlier on." says Mrs. Klinkenberg. "Learn to take control."

Snapping bow ties is apparently not the way. OK, what if my TTC friend orders the filet mignon and I get the side salad? Do we owe the same tip?

"Don't quibble. If the check is being split evenly, split the tip. Otherwise, tip on what you order."

As we see it, however, a tip is a reward for good service. Everyone at the table deserves attentive service, not just the guy with the most expensive entree. Therefore, split the tip evenly.

No way, counters Mrs. Klinkenberg. "The waitstaff lives on tips. Many restaurants pay less than minimum wage knowing that they will receive tips." A tip is seen as payment for services rendered, not a bonus for good performance.

We are remined of a recent meal where the waiter forgot dessert, left the check before it was requested then changed into street clothes and hovered around the table, waiting for the tip. It wasn't coming. A complaint to the manager was.

The subtle rewards and rebukes of tipping etiquette have few iron-clad rules. Good thing, too. That way we don't have to resort to snapping bow ties.

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