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Executive Travel | ON THE MOVE / MICHAEL RAPHAEL

City of Brotherly Love Gives Biggest Tips, Zagat Finds

May 22, 1996|MICHAEL RAPHAEL

Los Angeles and New York have the movers and shakers. Turns out Philadelphia has the big spenders.

A new 14-region survey finds Philadelphia diners, by their own admission, to be the most generous tippers of the lot--more generous by miles than diners in New York or L.A.

Almost half of the Philadelphians surveyed said they tip 20% or more when they dine out, say the publishers of the Zagat restaurant reviews.

The tipping habits were revealed in the same questionnaires used to gather diners' reviews for the Zagat guides. The survey simply asked the diners to check one of three choices for the average percentage tipping range in their city--15% or less, 15% to 19% and 20% or more.

New Orleans ran a close second to Philadelphia, followed by Boston; Orlando, Fla.; and Atlanta. Rounding out the list were Miami, Detroit, St. Louis, Chicago, New York, Minneapolis, Hawaii, San Francisco and L.A.

New York, the self-proclaimed king of the restaurant scene, came in 10th place. Slightly more than a third of New York diners said they tipped more than 20%.

The real penny pinchers appear to be on the West Coast: One in four Los Angeles diners admitted to leaving the accepted amount for excellent service. That's dead last, according to the survey.

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But Los Angeles residents, like New Yorkers, may have good reasons to tip less, according to Allan Ripp, a spokesman for Zagat. He thinks the big cities have more servers who may be less attentive because they are not planning to stay in the business. "There's more turnover in New York and L.A. More people are moonlighting."

There is no shortage of professionally staffed restaurants on either coast, Ripp said, but in some locations the service could suffer from transience.

Another important reason Los Angeles was last on the list, Ripp said, is that casual dining has been a particularly strong trend in California and there is a tendency to tip more at more formal restaurants.

"Prices are a lot higher in New York, but service has always been a problem," Ripp said. Diners "are no longer intimidated by snooty service or attitude. If you have a less-than-good experience, you're going to leave a less-than-good tip. It's part of the empowerment of diners."

The big shocker, at least to Zagat, was Philadelphia.

"We thought New Yorkers were the big tippers," Ripp said. "I can't really explain why Philadelphians are so much more generous."

Among Philadelphia waiters and waitresses, the news was met with incredulous stares.

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'That's strange," said a chuckling Michelle Valence, at Striped Bass, a fashionable restaurant on the city's toniest downtown block.

Valence, who supervised a roomful of waiters and waitresses at New York's Sign of the Dove, did admit that she makes more money in Philadelphia, mostly because of a mix of higher volume and higher tips.

"I find the diners here are better," she said. "I found the people in New York very demanding, incredibly demanding."

It is that high-quality level, said one Philadelphia restaurant expert, that may help explain Los Angeles' and New York's reticence in tipping and Philadelphia's apparent ease.

"I think that New Yorkers are hardened people," said Richard Reynolds, director of education at the Restaurant School in Philadelphia. "This is the City of Brotherly Love; maybe that has something to do with it. I don't know if they have the gumption" to give a bad tip.

Michael Raphael writes for Associated Press. Times staff contributed to this column. If you have experiences to share or suggestions for Executive Travel, write Executive Travel Editor, Business Editorial, Los Angeles Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053; fax (213) 237-7837; or e-mail business@latimes.com

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