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THE GOODS

A Little Out of Hand : Knowing when, who and how much to tip has become a job in itself. Some informal guidelines might clear up confusion over when to be gratuitous.

August 13, 1996|MARNELL JAMESON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Quick. You pull into a nice hotel. The porter takes three bags from your car to the front desk. Do you tip? If so, how much? Then the bellman takes your bags from the desk to your room. Tip? How much? While you're settling in, a bellman delivers a bottle of chilled champagne "compliments of management." Tip for a gift? As you leave for dinner, the garage attendant brings up your car. You noticed a sign near the registration desk that said overnight parking was $5 a day. Does that cover car retrieval or do you tip for that? Oh, and by the way, you had only three singles driving in.

And that's just at a hotel. What about tips for beauticians, valets, food delivery drivers, frozen yogurt scoopers--who all have an implied hand out? Unfortunately, the tyranny of tipping is only going to get worse. "As our society continues to become more service driven, more people will receive and expect tips," says John Schein, founder of Tippers International, which is dedicated to helping people handle tipping situations.

While most people don't mind rewarding good service, many feel the cumulative expectation burdensome. "Tipping is getting extremely out of hand--and it always seems to be my hand," laments Irvine-based accountant Julie Barazsu.

For others the experience is downright intimidating. Mary Jagiello, also of Irvine, says: "I am always traumatized when I have to face a situation when tipping is involved."

My particular tipping paralysis comes from the fact that although I waited tables through college, I had a Scotland-born mother who raised me to be "veddy froogal." I tend to run on the slightly cheap side of average; I don't want to be stingy, but I don't want to shell out cash needlessly. I want to do the right thing, which depends on a cascade of factors such as what does etiquette say, how good was the service and, the greatest equalizer of all: What do most people do?

So, I set out to get a better grip on the community's standards. In a completely unscientific survey, I asked 40 people via questionnaire about their tipping practices. I asked for candor, and if that candor proved embarrassing I asked for anonymous candor. Then I interviewed some industry insiders. Here's their consensus.

The Salon

Much depends on the culture of the salon, but almost all respondents said they usually tip hairstylists 10%, often 15%. Tipping frequency drops if the stylist owns the salon; however, about two-thirds of respondents said they still tip owner-stylists.

Brandon Hoskins, owner of Brandon Hoskins Salon in Studio City, says, "Customers often don't tip me since they feel I make money from the others who work in the salon and on the sale of products. Those who do tip don't tip as much as they would the other hairdressers."

People aren't as generous with shampooers, who less than half the time get a buck or two for sudsing someone's mane.

For those pamper services such as manicures and facials, customers again universally buck up, tipping most often $2 and commonly $3 for a $12 manicure, and $3 to $5 for a $35 facial. Vera Brown, owner of Vera's Retreat in the Glen, says almost all customers tip, and most tip about 10%.

The Valet

At a restaurant where the sign reads "Complimentary Valet Parking," almost no one takes the sign literally. Virtually everyone gives the valet a bean or two--even when you could have taken the key off the hook and gotten your own car a heck of a lot faster.

Same if you pull into a restaurant where the sign reads "Valet Parking $2.50." Although some take that to be the charge, they're the minority. Two out of three folks in my sample give the valet a bit more, mostly 50 cents to a buck and a half over the stated rate.

Takeout Food

Outside the restaurant, to-go orders pose new tipping challenges. Do you tip a driver the same as a waiter? What if the restaurant adds a delivery charge?

The consensus is that on a $25 order, most people tack on 10%. What changes depending on the circumstances of delivery is not tip amount but frequency. Everyone tips the delivery boy. But, if the restaurant adds a delivery charge, about one in five customers assume the charge covers the gratuity and don't tip. For those who schlep the food home themselves, two out of three don't tip.

When a restaurant tacks on a delivery charge, explains Art Lettieri, manager of Sherman Oaks-based Fab's Italian Kitchen, sometimes the restaurant keeps the delivery charge and the driver gets only the tip. Other restaurants give the driver a portion of the delivery charge, plus tips. Either way, the assumption on the restaurant's part is that people will tip the drivers.

Nevertheless, when asked whether she would tip on top of a delivery charge, one anonymous source echoed the resentment of others when she said, "Yes, but I wouldn't order from them again."

Lodging

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