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Published: Tuesday, 5/28/2002

Tip jars thrive as employees seek cash for better service

BY GARY T. PAKULSKI
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
At Kotobuki restaurant in Sylvania, customers can monetarily reward the sushi chefs, who not only prepare food, but educate and entertain. At Kotobuki restaurant in Sylvania, customers can monetarily reward the sushi chefs, who not only prepare food, but educate and entertain.
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Tip jars have begun to sprout at coffee counters, sushi bars, airport shuttle buses and other places where customers aren't ordinarily expected to leave a gratuity.

Although some hospitality industry consultants and customers criticize the practice, the people who put out tip jars say they are a voluntary way for customers to show their gratitude for politeness and speed to service workers who don't make a ton of money.

“We're still serving people,” said Liz Perry, a college student who works at a walk-up ice cream stand in suburban Toledo where employees decorate personalized tip jars with their names and plans for use of the money.

“It's a stressful job,” added the college freshman. “You wouldn't believe how upset people can get about ice cream.”

Her jar, which indicated she planned to use the money to help pay for a car purchased last February, was stuffed with dollar bills on a recent Friday afternoon. She estimated that half of customers leave tips. One co-worker plans to use the money to help pay for a backpacking trip to Europe; another to buy a car.

“I don't always tip here, but he was really nice,” said customer Lori Ignasiak, of Sylvania, as she dropped $1 into the jar of a male worker at the ice-cream stand.

“When they're pleasant and give you good service, I'll tip,” she added. “If my kids were working here I would hope people would tip them.”

In the Toledo area, tip jars have become commonplace at ice cream shops, coffee counters, and car washes.

“It's unfortunate,” Jerry McVety, a restaurant consultant in suburban Detroit, said of the practice that is common across the country.

“I was in the cleaners, and there was a tip jar,” he said with disdain.

Restaurant-supply companies have begun to sell specialized jars for tips, he added.

He argued that, in restaurants at least, tipping should be limited to waiters who often make less than the minimum wage.

He sees the practice expanding, but not to major restaurant chains such as McDonald's and Wendy's. Tip jars are most prevalent in mom-and-pop shops, and that trend will probably continue, Mr. McVety predicted.

Michael Bare, a hospitality industry consultant in Fairfax, Va., has seen tip jars in airport shuttle busses and ski resorts where operators pay young people to watch equipment belonging to customers.

“People are just trying to maximize their income stream,” he shrugged. “A lot of people feel obligated to tip in our culture.”

He isn't crazy about tip jars, but has no major objections to them.

His advice to patrons in any situation where tips are expected or solicited: don't tip - or leave just a token amount - when service is poor or indifferent.

Bryan Meinzer, manager of a sit-down ice cream shop in Sylvania, doesn't see why anyone would complain about tip jars.

“No one is obligated to do it,” he said. Employees of the shop he manages, Charlie's Homemade Ice Cream and Edibles, have a tip jar. He noted, however, that while customers place their own orders, workers deliver the ice cream.

“We're taking the trays out to them and we clean the table after they leave,” he said. “We're serving the customer. People give a tip when they get a haircut.”

Chefs at Kotobuki Japanese Restaurant in Sylvania put out tip jars for use by customers.

Owner Dennis Chung said the practice is common at sushi bars. “The chefs aren't in a kitchen where you don't see them,” Mr. Chung explained. “They're out there working hard and putting together different dishes. People ask a lot of questions. So the customer is learning. It's educational and entertaining.”



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