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How much will you hand them?

Understanding the art of the tip amid a boom in personal services.

(Page 2 of 2)

But most people say the normal deviation for awarding great service or acknowledging a poor experience is within 5 to 10 percent of 15 percent.

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For bell hops and skycaps the span of $1 to $3 a bag is acceptable. And tip cups at ice cream parlors and newsstands generally attract everything from spare change to $1 bills.

Business people tend to be the most generous, often because their company foots the bill when they travel or dine out, workers say. Men give more than women, say experts. And Americans, often said to be the world's best tippers, are far more openhanded than Europeans, who, by custom, tip meagerly.

No 'stiffing' allowed

Regardless of tip size, one point etiquette experts agree upon: not leaving a tip is a no-no, regardless of the level of service. They point out that gratuities should be considered as part of the cost for service, and many workers depend on tips for 40 to 70 percent of their income.

"These people are trying to make a living," says Lydia Ramsey, a Georgia-based columnist known as "Lady Etiquette." "There should be a communication.... So that they have the opportunity to correct whatever [the problem] is."

Eddie Melucci, a Delta Airlines skycap who makes $200 a day in tips working curbside at Boston's Logan Airport, knows what it's like to get "stiffed." He once spent 30 minutes searching for woman's bag after it was put on an airport conveyor belt. When Mr. Melucci found the luggage, the woman decided she didn't need it, and didn't give him a dime.

The case for 'building in' service fees

Such injustices and inconsistencies raise the ire of Judith Martin, the syndicated "Miss Manners" columnist. She opposes the gratuity system entirely and has said she "would like it replaced with a European method of a built-in service charge."

Ms. Martin points out that businesses use tipping policies to save on payroll costs, and cash gratuities make it easy for service people to avoid paying taxes. According to the IRS, of the more than $18 billion food and beverage workers received in tips last year, only about $8.3 billion was declared. (See charts, page 12.)

In addition, the American system fosters "unfair rewards" because not everyone who deserves a tip gets one. Experts agree certain professions, such as bus drivers or fast-food workers, are overlooked.

One method commonly used to counter this problem is tip cups. When customers pick up a cone at J.P. Licks, a Boston ice cream parlor, about three-fourths of customers toss leftover change into a plastic piggy bank. While such tips are widely considered acceptable, it translates into no more than $1 extra per hour for workers, says store manager Beth Frederico.

The proliferation of tip cups, however, raises concerns. "They are popping up in many places they shouldn't," says Fodor's Ms. Cure. When she passes a newsstand worker on her morning commutes she says she thinks: "Why are you supposed to tip him for selling papers and pieces of candy?"

Meanwhile, others who receive tips may not really deserve them, say some consumers, especially when the job requires only a few seconds' time.

"I won't tip a guy to hail a cab, it's not extra work, it's their job," says Scott Nilson, a marketing executive living in Boston. He adds that having to wait in line for five or 10 minutes at a hotel only to watch a doorman simply wave down a cab doesn't inspire him to tip either.

But for the vast majority of service workers, receiving a good gratuity is just as important as enjoying an expensive meal, says Ms. Ramsey. "A dollar here or a dollar there is not much for the person tipping, and it's a good reward for people in menial jobs," she says. "The porters, bell hops, waiter and waitresses are dependent on it for so much of their money."

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society