- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Servers and bartenders who work downtown say they are happier with their tips than other servers in the District.

“The income level of those who work in the city is higher than in other areas, so people seem to tip better,” said Matt Perkins, a bartender at the Front Page on New Hampshire Avenue in Dupont Circle.

“The service industry in D.C. follows the behavior of the government,” he said. When Congress is in session, the bars and restaurants downtown see a large number of professionals and interns who usually tip well, he said.

The summer is often a difficult time for Washington-area servers, they said. When Congress goes on recess, many residents leave town, and the restaurant traffic in Washington slows down.

“Business has just started to pick up in September because students and families have come back from their vacations,” said Safisa Said, the owner of Meskerem on 18th street in Adams Morgan.

The return of college students in September is often a mixed blessing for bar and restaurant workers. The college crowd brings servers and bartenders more money because of their large numbers, but their limited income generally keeps their tips low.

“The worst is when you have kids that dine and dash,” said Clyde’s server Alicia Long, referring to students who order a full meal, eat it and then run out on their tab. “It’s only happened to me once, but I chased them down the street and confronted them,” she said. She said the guilty party confessed and eventually paid the bill.

The groups of international tourists who visit the nation’s capital are notoriously the worst tippers, servers said. Many of these visitors come from regions that don’t traditionally tip or include gratuities on their bills.

“It’s frustrating when people from other countries don’t understand the American system of tipping,” said Juan Lopez, manager of Lauriol Plaza, a Mexican restaurant on 18th Street in Northwest. “My employees work very hard to give them the best service, and they still don’t understand how to tip accordingly,” he said.

A 15 percent to 20 percent tip is an acceptable amount to give waiters, and tipping $1 a drink is reasonable for bartenders, restaurant managers said.

“Low tips really affect our servers because they end up paying taxes anyway,” Mr. Lopez said. “Most customers are unaware that the government taxes their server’s tips,” he said. If a server earns more than $20 a month in tips, the Internal Revenue Service requires him to report his gross income from tips on his federal tax return.

The minimum base pay for waiters in the District is $2.77 an hour, and waiters in the area can make $200 to $800 a week, depending on the number of shifts they work.

Most restaurants automatically include a gratuity for large parties, but few restaurants add a preset tip percentage to all bills. “It wouldn’t be fair to our servers,” Mr. Lopez said. “Most of our customers give their servers 20 percent, and if we charged everyone 15 percent, my servers would be making less money,” he said.

Restaurant workers have varying beliefs about which techniques bring better tips.

Some say they make more money when their understanding of the menu enables them to sell a customer what they will most enjoy. Others say a friendly and engaging personality is key to good tips. Some are even convinced that weather will affect their customers’ generosity, regardless of the service they provide.

“Myself, I believe in tipping karma,” said Mr. Perkins from the Front Page. “People who take care of their servers will be taken care of.”

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