EVERYTHING about eating and the cost of food seems to be going up -- except the 15 percent tip. Tipping 15 percent of the bill for food and beverage before tax is still the rule, according to Jim Huss, an extension food specialist at Iowa State University.
For especially attentive service, particularly in a fine restaurant, 20 percent has been the usual and is still proper, Mr. Huss says.
Tipping guidelines have evolved from customs over the years, ever since people in 18th-century England coined the word ``tip'' as money paid ``to insure promptness.''
A study of 12,800 households in 1982 by the University of Illinois Survey Research Laboratory showed that consumers follow this 15 percent guideline. The survey reported that tips were left on 30 percent of eat-out occasions. This statistic probably reflects the fact that many people eat at fast-food restaurants where tipping is not expected. The average tip was 14.5 percent of the bill. Tipping in restaurants was estimated to be about $6 billion a year.
Mr. Huss suggests relaxing the 15 percent rule at buffet or self-service lines. A tip of 10 percent is appropriate for servers responsible only for beverages and desserts.
Maitre d's are not tipped simply for seating a party, Mr. Huss says. If they provide special services such as obtaining a select table or making tableside presentations, they are frequently tipped. Usually the amount is between $2 and $5, depending on the type of service and the party's size.
He says tipping the people responsible for small services in a restaurant is recommended, too.
For example, give check-room attendants 25 cents a coat and valet parking attendants 25 to 50 cents upon delivery of the car. Musicians who play special requests usually get between $1 and $2.