Restaurant reviewer Chris Sherman talks tips

Published August 24, 2005

St. Petersburg Times food critic Chris Sherman has left many, many tips in his 20 years reviewing restaurants. Here are his thoughts on gratuities:

To tip or not?

It is an illogical and discomforting practice, but it is here to stay. Tipping will grow as we subcontract more and more personal chores (teaching kids to ride bikes, paying others to chop our vegetables). In the future, we'll tip more people, not fewer.

Automatic service charge?

That rather irks me, especially when the restaurant sets the figure high at 18 or 20 percent. Setting it low, at say 13 percent, confuses me, too. In other countries that do this, I'm still inclined to add something for the server. Where the service charge is used in locally (on the beaches and at Bern's Steak House in Tampa), it occasionally leads to double tipping. And don't you hate that.

Tips or salary?

In a perfect world, put everyone on salary and make management responsible for wages, not customers. That would make a $5 burger $6, and a $10 dinner $12, but the fee would be upfront.

Tip on tax?

Yes. At a tax rate of 7 percent on a $40 bill, that would be $2.80; 15 percent of that is 42 cents. How cheap can you be?

Tip on drinks?

On cocktails and beer, sure.

On wine, yes, but carefully. The markup on wine drives me nuts so I rarely spend more than $30 to $35 for a bottle, and I can see a few dollars for taking care of the bottle and refilling the glasses. More than that is your call. To me, it's insult upon injury.

How much?

It's still 15 to 20 percent unless you make special demands on the staff (or break something). Some people move up the sliding scale the more expensive the meal, perhaps to show off. I go the other way. Tip a bigger percentage on a smaller bill; people hustling $4 blue plates need a buck not six dimes carefully disbursed.

Tip as punishment?

Not without making a complaint to management. It's more honest and effective. After all, it's not the server's fault if the food is lousy.

Quality of service?

Servers are smarter and better trained than ever, and for many it has become a profitable career. And as restaurants multiply and prices go up, more people spend more years waiting tables.

-- Chris Sherman can be reached at 727 893-8585 or sherman@sptimes.com