Math skills, service charges and even technology can affect gratuity
While you can never predict this exactly, there are some types of people who usually leave a good tip and others who are likelier to walk out the door without depositing a dime more than the bill demands. (Phil Geib/Tribune Illustration)
"That's what people think, but it just doesn't work that way," said Nick Kokonas, business partner of Alinea and Next chef Grant Achatz, and the deviser of the restaurants' ticketing system.
"We know that if we provide someone with bad service, we're not gonna have repeat customers."
Servers whose customers use a new form of payment may see higher tips. The 2-year-old app Tabbedout allows diners to pay for their meals, including gratuities, with their iPhone or Android smartphones.
The restaurant determines the suggested tip percentage, which pops up automatically when the user pays, as well as a minimum tip percentage. If the customer doesn't want to pay the minimum tip, he must speak with a manager to void it.
"We view that as a good thing," said Kevin McKeand, vice president of sales and marketing for Austin, Texas-based Tabbedout. "The manager now is informed that there's some issue, rather than you just throwing a dollar down on the table and storming out."
The average tip on a bill paid via Tabbedout? About 21.5 percent, the company says, more than 2 percentage points above the national average. That may be because users are more satisfied with their service if they don't have to wait to get their check.
Or, said McKeand, it may just be because they don't have to do any math.
Without the app, he said, "I might think to myself, 'I don't know how to calculate 20 percent, so I'm just going to pick a round number.'" With the app, users can focus on the percent, not the amount.
The company said about 1,200 U.S. restaurants, including 400 T.G.I. Friday's locations, have adopted Tabbedout so far.
John Burkhardt, a server at Chicago's Big Jones restaurant, thinks that, barring a bowl of soup in the lap, the quality of the service he provides has surprisingly little to do with the amount he's tipped.
"I think that when people come in, they already know what they're tipping, regardless of what happens," he said. "Certain people just tip certain percentages."
And then there's the surprise factor.
"I've had so many tables where I've taken great care of somebody, and they were really cool, and you get 10 percent," Roberts said. "Sometimes you've got Cowboy Jim sitting there with his wife, and they leave you 35 percent. What I've found is that in stereotyping people, I am always wrong."
So what should diners who've received bad service do? Let the manager know, either immediately or the next day. Stay gracious but provide as many details as possible, "so they can use this as a tool to teach their staff," Roberts said.
Above all, he advised, "Don't try to take it out on the server, because they're probably already having a bad day."