Tipping in Restaurants -- Now the Gloves REALLY Come Off!

Oct 10, 2008

I launched this blog by practicing on uninteresting, non-controversial topics like the U.S.financial meltdown and software recognition.  Now that I’ve gotten a few posts under my belt, it’s no more Mr. Nice Guy for me!  I now take on the really tough issues, like tipping in restaurants! 

Here’s a question:  When you see someone in a restaurant using a calculator to calculate the tip, what is your reaction?  And more to the point:  How do the servers react?  [FYI, by “calculator,” I also include those little cards with tipping tables that some people have in their wallets.  You know who you are.] 

This question required extensive, thorough, exhausting research and fieldwork.  So I visited a few restaurants onSanta Cruz AvenueinMenlo Parkjust before lunch.  My findings:  not many patrons use calculators, but servers felt that patrons who did fell into one of two categories: 

  1. Older patrons who lacked confidence in their mental agility
  1. Patrons who feel strongly about getting the tip exactly right.  Moreover, the servers felt this usually reflected a desire to avoid over-tipping, not under-tipping.  In fact, one waiter said his reaction was, “Oh, s--t, I’m about to get stiffed.”  

In other words, when diners take out a calculator to determine the tip, the people they most need to impress (let’s face it) are likely to conclude that they are (a) mentally on the downslope and/or (b) cheapskates.  [NOTE:  Regrettably, how much overlap there is between (a) and (b) was not the focus of my research.  Obviously, considerable additional work is needed in this field.]

But there is an even more important, and global point here, which is at the core of the rationale behind Painting with Numbers, and it’s this:  People form conclusions about you from the way you handle and present numbers, which go far beyond just whether you can add and subtract in your head.  In this respect, it’s a lot like the conclusions people form based on your choice of words, whether you speak grammatically, the kind of clothes you wear, etc., etc.  Whether these are fair conclusions is irrelevant.  Just deal with it. 

For those of you who feel “challenged,” help is on the way.  Stay tuned for future posts. 

“Painting with Numbers” is my effort to get people talking about financial statements and other numbers in ways that we can all understand.  I welcome your interest and your feedback. 

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