Q My wife and I dined at a restaurant in Los Angeles where the menu noted that it pays a living wage. But I was unsure how much to tip. Without the living wage, I would have tipped my usual amount. I favor the custom in most countries we visit, where there is no tipping, but the staff is adequately paid and has benefits such as health insurance.
A The topic of tipping is fraught with emotion, never mind political overtones, economic and sociological implications and, perhaps above all, confusion.
At the federal level, the minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. In some places, if you are a tipped employee, the federal wage is $2.13 an hour and has been since the 1990s; tips are supposed to
In in some communities, a "living wage" is mandated. That wage is calculated based on what it would take to "cover the basic housing, food, transportation and other key essentials," said Linda Bradley, an assistant professor with the department of family and consumer sciences at Cal State Northridge.
The living wage probably does not take into account how many people are in the family, Bradley said. A living wage indicator developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology suggests that a person living in Los Angeles County would need $11.37 an hour for that amount to be a living wage, but would need $22.95 if the
Other issues you might need to consider in tipping: Does the food server split the money with the rest of the restaurant staff? Does the restaurant operate on "postage stamp" pricing -- that is, are menu items uniform throughout the country, as they are in some chains? (The postage stamp reference comes from the notion that it costs the same to mail a letter from Los Angeles to Sacramento, as it does to Chicago.) If it is postage stamp pricing, are you tipping adequately for your area?
Head spinning yet? If not, consider this from Holona Ochs, co-author of "Gratuity: A Contextual Understanding of Tipping Norms From the Perspective of Tipped Employees." "About 90 percent of Americans tip and in many more circumstances and a larger percentage than anywhere in the world," said Ochs, an assistant professor of political science at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa.
We do leave tips because we want to reward for good service or make up for economic differences, right? Those may be reasons, but the "primary reason is because it's expected," Ochs said. "It's a really high rate of conformity to a social norm. People ... don't want to be seen as a jerk."
To keep yourself out of the jerk category, you may have to ask hard questions of your food server to determine what's right. That can be tough, but it does give you the opportunity, if you're a traveler, to interact with someone on the local level. "Part of the joy of traveling is eating the food, but the other joy is getting to know people," Ochs said.
If your comfort level doesn't involve having discussions in person, call ahead and ask.
Today's column comes from Catharine Hamm of the Los Angeles Times.