Iowans lag behind both coasts for leaving tips

Gratuities going as high as 25 percent

Waiter Marc Hines tips supervisor and bartender Lucas Hayes a percentage of his total sales for the evening at Zins in downtown Cedar Rapids. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Waiter Marc Hines tips supervisor and bartender Lucas Hayes a percentage of his total sales for the evening at Zins in downtown Cedar Rapids. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

For ages, when eating out, a generous gratuity for good service at a restaurant hovered around 15 percent. Then 18 percent. And now 20.

But a recent study shows that good TIPS – To Insure Proper Service – are now nearing 25 percent, at least on the East Coast.

“Our bartenders and servers would be glad to hear that,” says Lee Belfield, co-owner of Zins restaurant in downtown Cedar Rapids and manager of the Hotel at Kirkwood Center.

“New trends start on the East Coast and the West Coast,” he adds. “It hasn’t reached us yet.”

“Wow,” says Bill Leichsenring Jr., president of Ox Yoke restaurants in Amana where visitors from around the country and the world stop to dine. “On the East Coast, that may be ...” (story continues below poll)

[polldaddy poll=6619499]

But, it hasn’t reached that tipping point in Eastern Iowa, at least in fine dining establishments in the rural area, adds Dirk Downing, co-owner of Tyler & Downing in Anamosa.

“We’re as low as 10 percent and as high as 20,” Downing says.

Michael Lynn, professor of consumer behavior at Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration, studied some 9,000 credit card receipts from a Poughkeepsie, N.Y., establishment and found that 37 percent of the customers left tips greater than 20 percent.

Steve Dublanica, author of “Keep the Change: A Clueless Tipper’s Quest to Become the Guru of Gratuity,” says in a recent New York Post story that he’s heard Manhattan, N.Y., waiters now want 25 percent.

“I don’t know how often they’re getting it,” he says, “but within the past couple of years, I’ve heard that mumbled.”

When consumers think about tipping, they typically think of the gratuity paid while dining out. But, there are certainly other occasions where a tip is appropriate and expected. But, to tip and how much to tip have always been questions of concern for consumers. explains reasons behind certain tipping points and gives suggested tipping practices for everything from airports and restaurants to hair solons and supermarkets. Yes, supermarkets, where it suggests you tip a bagger $1 per bag and the person who loads them into your car another $1 to $5 per load.

At a restaurant, it suggests a 15-to-20 percent tip for the server, a $20 to $100 tip to the headwaiter depending on the occasion, 15 percent of the wine bill to the wine steward, 10 to 15 percent to the bartender and $1 each to coat check attendant, restroom attendant and car park attendant.

“I’m the world’s oldest valet,” jokes Belfield, 62, about working the door evenings at Zins. “I get tips, but I don’t keep them. I share them with the staff.”

“We get the crowd that knows how to tip,” says Marc Hines, 34, a server at Zins for more than two years. “I have a lot of passion for my job. I try to do my best.

While credit card users tend to tip higher than cash customers, who may just leave the change, Hines says, “For the most part, it’s 20 percent or better.”

“I’m the same way,” adds Hines, married with two children. “I leave 20 percent or better if I can tell you like your job and know what you’re doing.”

Leichsenring, who says the Ox Yoke restaurants’ servers average 15 percent, isn’t surprised that tipping is higher on the coasts. He recalls a few years ago when a salesman, discussing pocket reference tip tables at increments of 15 percent and 20 percent, thought that might be too much. “Oh, you’re in Iowa,” he said, “I’d recommend the 10 and 15.”

As the often cited explanation for a TIPS acronym implies — that they’re for good service — Leichsenring says he hires all of his servers, teaches them the ins and outs of good service, and emphasizes that they’re really individual business owners. They can control their tips, he says, by giving exceptional service and encouraging customers with what he calls “suggestive selling” since customers often ask for a server’s recommendations.

“I have heard of 45 and even 50-percent,” he adds. “Or, people may say, ‘You’ve done such a great job, here’s another 50 bucks.’”

At Tyler and Downing, a restaurant that caters to Anamosa and larger cities within an easy drive (Cedar Rapids, Dubuque, Waterloo), those occasions seem rare, Downing says.

“If they’re really happy, and this is what we’ve found from people who come from a city, when they’re happy with the service, they’ll tip 18 to 20 percent.”

As he has studied customer behavior, Downing has found that women often make better tippers and often influence their husbands to tip better. On the other hand, older customers who have a $100 tab, will think $5 is a generous tip.

“I think for men, if they don’t talk to anybody but their wives, it’s 15 percent,” he says. “Men don’t have an idea how to tip, but women have a grasp about what it’s all about.”

At the Hotel at Kirkwood, a teaching hotel to provide on-the-job experience for Kirkwood’s hospitality and culinary arts students, tips often become a topic of conversation, Belfield says. And students quickly learn, whether they’re taking care of guests at the hotel or diners at The Class Act, that tips are not guaranteed. That they can get stiffed

“That’s one thing all servers talk about,” Belfield says. “Did I do something wrong with table whatever? You want keep the customers happy. You want to keep the staff happy.”

Does that mean a new standard for good service?

“Twenty-five percent might be putting it on the high side for our area right now,” Leichsenring says, “but with inflation I could see it.”


Restaurants: 15 to 20 percent. (But, don’t forget others like the wine steward, the maitre d’, and the coat check attendant)

Buffets:  10 percent

Bars: 10 to 15 percent, depending on complexity of drink order

Cafes/coffee houses: 10 to 15 percent to the countertop tip jar.

Hairdresser/barber/ manicurist:  15 to 20 percent

Hotels/Bellhops:  At least $1 per bag; maid service, $1 to $10 per night; concierge, $5 to $10 depending on service; doorman to hail a cab, $1

Pizza/food delivery:  $2 to $5 depending on distance and weather conditions

Flower delivery:  $1 to $10 depending on size of arrangement

Furniture delivery:  $5 to $10 per person

Airports/Skycaps:  $1 to $2 per bag; Shuttle drivers, $1 to $2 per bag; cabdrivers, 15 to 20 percent of the fare


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