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Ask the Critic: Is Tipping Optional?

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Dear Insufferable Know-It-Alls:

My husband and I agree that we'll give up just about anything -- new Wii games, Stella McCartney frocks, our children's dental checkups -- if we're forced to cut back on our spending. But the one thing we're stubbornly refusing to budge on is our once-a-week restaurant meal. Arguing with some justification that both our jobs could evaporate before we can say "braised short ribs with cauliflower puree" (he's in banking, I'm in journalism) my husband -- who even in good times is tighter than a clam's ass -- insists on pinching pennies by cutting the percentage of tip he leaves the server. Where we used to invariably tip 20 percent, even for mediocre service, he's now tipping just 15 percent even if the waiter or waitress has been brilliant. Since our check totals are already smaller (we share an appetizer now, order cheaper wine, and usually skip dessert), I say this amounts to double punishment on the poor waitstaff. What do you think?

Signed
Married to a Quahog

Dear Mrs. Mercenaria*:
Short of recommending a good divorce attorney (we do know a few, and they're not suffering in the new economy), we'd advise you to at least choose a less clammed-up dining partner for your Friday-night forays. By coincidence, the Wall Street Journal published an editorial on just this subject recently, with a well-known New York restaurateur voicing precisely your husband's opinion. We here at Clean Plate Charlie violently beg to differ. If you are flush enough to eat out, you are flush enough to tip decently -- and tipping decently means 20 percent for anything but truly awful service. Servers share their tips with the entire house -- with the busboys (who make even less than they do) and the bartenders and the sushi rollers. When you are stingy with one, you are stingy with the whole kaboodle. As you point out, restaurant staff are already making less money because diners are ordering fewer dishes. If your cheapskate hubbie has a beef with either food or service, he should raise his concerns with the manager, who, if he or she knows the first thing about hospitality, will probably comp at least part of your bill (and we're not recommending this as an habitual practice). Servers are not slaves, and just like your husband, they have rent, groceries to buy, and Virtual Tennis games to play.

*The scientific name for the Quahog is "Mercenaria mercenaria," which translates as "wage." That pimply faced kid transporting your burgers and sushi deserves a fair one.

***THINK YOU CAN STUMP US? Leave your foodish questions in the comments section below and we'll answer them next Friday.***

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