Arts & Culture
3:54 pm
Wed September 25, 2013

To Tip Or Not to Tip? How Much is the Question

Lake Effect's Dan Harmon interviews dining contributor Ann Christenson.

Quickly – what’s 17 percent of $55.50?  Or maybe 20 percent? 

When deciding how much to tip, some customers go with "not at all."
Credit passiveaggressivenotes/Flickr

Unless you had a horrible meal, often the worst part of going out to eat is figuring out the tip, unless there are six or more of you, in which case, the tip is included. 

But some restaurants around the country are adopting a more European approach and either building those costs of service into the cost of the food, or just automatically adding a surcharge to your bill. 

The phenomenon is chronicled in a recent New York Times article, and it interested dining contributor Ann Christenson.

She says there are a lot of reasons to go "tip-free," including the "angst" a diner may feel when deciding on a tip, particularly in front of a server.

"They're kind of watching you and you kind of know that they're watching you decide what kind of tip you're going to leave them, so it's an awkward point of the meal," she says.

Another argument for adding the tip to the bill automatically is the low hourly wage servers get. Most servers rely on tips for a living, but Christenson says there are no guarantees when the tip is left up to the diner.

"You can't even offer great service and assume that you're going to get a 20 percent tip or more, because diners make that choice," she says.

That said, Christenson doesn't see any Milwaukee restaurants adopting the trend any time soon.

Water expert

Another trending topic in the dining world is the curious new role of the "water sommelier."

Christenson loves the idea, which comes from a Los Angeles restaurant whose general manager is a certified water sommelier.

"He's very much a connoisseur of water, and he will say that in Germany there are...580 different kinds of bottled water, and Europeans are usually very discriminating about water," she says.

Christenson doesn't think most Americans are very particular about their H2O, but she says the idea makes sense. Environmental variables can affect the taste of a water, which this sommelier would argue could affect your meal.

"Just as wine can enhance your meal, the water could enhance your meal, and the water you drink with wine could be something that enhances each other," she says.

While this restaurant features water from 10 different countries including a water tasting sampler, Christenson doesn't think the trend will catch on in the States.

Ann Christenson is dining critic and senior editor at Milwaukee Magazine and our regular dining contributor.