Service charge not included

Ah, tipping. That cash diminishing custom that Americans have helped make an common part of everyday culture. Despite the fact that it’s origins actually stem from Europe, the extent to which tipping takes place in the US is still something that the British sometimes have a problem with.

There are two quite different, but equally relevant, sides to the debate of how much you should tip and this has been the topic of much discussion. Lest we forget the classic “I don’t tip” scene in Reservoir Dogs where Mr Pink explains, “I don’t tip because society says I have to. All right, if someone deserves a tip, if they really put forth an effort, I’ll give them something a little extra. But this tipping automatically, it’s for the birds. As far as I’m concerned, they’re just doing their job.”

The flip side is of course that many of the people working in the service industry make minimum wage and depend on tips to help supplement their income. However, I’ve since I’ve been in the US, I’ve seen some of the measures employed to help that tip jar get a little fuller.

I went for dinner at the Sushi Roku Japanese restaurant on the corner of Santa Monica and Ocean Blvd a while back and the nice lady serving me was very friendly. The evening went on and and since I sat at the bar to eat, the conversation flowed as did many bottles of sake. Towards the end of the night I honestly thought I’d made a new best friend, we were swapping contact details and everything. We talked about music that we liked, personal ambitions and living in Los Angeles. We promised to stay in touch over social media since I hardly knew anyone here and did I ever hear from her again? No, of course I didn’t.

Something similar happened not long ago when I spent the evening at the Yard House bar and grille in Las Vegas. I was in town by myself to research a story, so I propped up the bar, watched the LA Kings game on TV and chatted away to lovely, young girl looking after me. Again, we talked about many things, like travelling around Europe, studying at university and living in Las Vegas. It was incredible, we had so much in common, I honestly thought I’d found a kindred spirit. When, at the end of the night, I wrote down my Facebook address on a piece of paper, folded it and hurriedly passed it to her, I’m now quite sure she thought it was a tip. At the time though I genuinely believed that she was just being really friendly.

Now I know better, I can imagine her annoyance when she reached into her pocket and pulled out a scrap of paper that clearly wasn’t a denomination of local currency. I’m pretty sure she threw that straight into the bin, ’cause I never got a friend request. All that effort in attempt to bump up the tip. The fact that I was totally oblivious to this to begin with and mistook it as honest friendliness makes it even more hilarious in hindsight.

But who do you tip and who don’t you tip? To paraphrase Mr Pink again, waitressing is hard, but so’s working at McDonald’s and you don’t feel the need to tip them. They’re serving you food, so you should tip them. But no, society says ‘tip these guys over here, but not those guys over there’. We’re often put into situations where it’s not clear how much to tip.

What about the guy at Starbucks? Do you tip your hairdresser? Car valet? Pizza delivery bloke? What about when you buy take out?

Probably the most common instance of tipping is at the bar and the most common rule of thumb is $1 tip per drink. But since I’ve been living in Venice, I’ve been frequenting a bar called Nikki’s, especially to watch the Stanley Cup playoffs. I’ve been lucky enough to hang out with regulars who all know the staff well and when it’s been my turn to pay the tab (or ‘close out’) I sit there and try to work out how much I should leave, my drinking partner explains quietly in my ear that we’ve only been charged a fraction of what it should of cost, so I need to leave a big tip. Now I know, I see that it happens almost every time we’re there and long after happy hour has finished. Personally, I have no problem with this, since I end up paying about the right amount in the end anyway, but surely this equates to staff skimming off the top..? Still, at least this technique is subtle.

While I was down in Laguna Niguel for the annual Mooning of the Amtrak last year, I was drinking in the backwater biker bar there called Mugs Away and the barmaids there made no attempt to keep their strategy concealed, or anything else for that matter. Maybe I’m getting tired and grumpy in my old age, but the sight of a truly enormous pair of enhanced tits staring at me like the barrels of a loaded shotgun just don’t float my boat. Only the thinnest of threads held back the titanic titular tidal wave and it looked like this brave, near-beaten bikini top was ready to give up the struggle at any minute. But she was a hit with the boozed up local boys.

The accepted practice is as follows: Couple of beers…$1 per drink, 20% tip if you’ve ordered a fancy cocktail, multiple drinks and the bar’s packed…20% plus. If you want to be a regular the staff likes…50% on the total.

Perhaps this is why the USA is one of the very few countries where you can make a successful career out of a being bartender.

How much do you leave servers? Well, according to online sources, the general guideline is…for average service: 20%, horrible service: 5-10% and for exceptional service: 30-50%. Although why you leave a tip at all for horrible service I have no idea.

In 2012 a report from the US Government Accountability Office, which is an arm of the US Congress, argued that replacing US dollar bills with dollar coins could save the government roughly $4.4 billion in net benefits over the next 30 years. It costs roughly 5.2 cents to produce a dollar bill according to the Federal Reserve System Board Of Governors. Although a dollar coin actually costs more to make, it stays in circulation roughly 10 times as long as the dollar bill, according to Daily Finance.

Thankfully, this hasn’t happened and personally I think it would utterly nuke the process of tipping and even affect the tourism sector. No one wants to carry more coins…and I’m sure tipping might be more widespread in the UK if we still had our beloved £1 note.

A seldom known fact is that a $2 dollar bill is actually in circulation

A little known fact is that a $2 dollar bill is actually in everyday circulation

Follow Londoner in LA on Twitter at @londonerinla