Expert tips


POSTED: Saturday, July 25, 2009

Question: I recently went to a restaurant where I wrote the percentage tip on the receipt—15 percent on a $30 meal. When I later I checked my balances, I found that they had taken a full $5, instead of $4.50, for the tip. It appears that the cashier rounded it up to $5. Is that appropriate or an accepted practice in restaurants? They may be doing this to all their customers who may not notice it because of the small amount. Is 15 percent considered adequate tip in an informal restaurant in Hawaii? Maybe I am out of touch with today's tipping standards and that's why the cashier corrected the amount. How about tipping at a fine dining restaurant and at an all-you-can-eat buffet where you serve yourself?

Answer: The restaurant shouldn't be charging you more than 15 percent of the final amount.

That's the word from the state Office of Consumer Protection.

However, if it is your practice to just write out a percentage tip, “;It's just not a good idea,”; said Stephen Levins, executive director of the Consumer Protection Office. “;You should figure out a specific amount”; and write that down.

While the restaurant shouldn't be charging more than 15 percent for a tip, “;It's unclear what the 15 percent is on, even assuming that this were some kind of accepted practice,”; Levins said.

Was the tip to be only on the cost of the food or for the total amount, with tax?

We also checked with the Hawaii Restaurant Association about your complaint and whether your practice of writing out a percentage tip was at all common—or wise.

After checking with several board members, a spokeswoman said the responses she passed on to us reflect a general consensus of the situation.

First, you are advised to have taken your complaint to the restaurant's manager, because it was probably an error rather than a policy.

“;I have a hard time believing that once brought to management's attention, the charge would not be reversed/reduced,”; said one member. “;To my knowledge there is no industry standard on such practices.”;

There is a possibility that the $5 was a “;hold,”; based on a percent of the check amount, he said.

In that instance, once the actual charge is processed, the final amount the customer pays is the $4.50 that was intended as a tip, the member said.

“;Many restaurants do program a credit card verification amount based on the check value and an estimated tip percentage,”; he said.

That would determine whether the customer has an available balance large enough for the check or enough for the check and the tip.

“;Tips that are a percent of the check should be calculated on the pre-tax subtotal,”; the member said. “;Servers should not get tips on the gross amount after tax. That way the server will not lose his/her tip if the guest cannot charge the whole amount.”;

Another restaurant association board member said it is not appropriate to take a $5 tip for a $30 check.

Doing so would be equivalent to rounding up the state's general excise tax, 4.1666 percent, to 4.17 percent, which is illegal.

“;Fifteen percent is 15 percent and not 16.66667 percent,”; that member said.

As to what is acceptable to tip, it always depends on the level of service received.

But in general, we're told 15 percent for a buffet; 15 to 18 percent for a casual restaurant; and 20 percent for a fine-dining restaurant.


Lunalilo Home Road lights

The city says it is installing 179 new street lights to replace 59 lights along Lunalilo Home Road both to upgrade an aging street lighting system, as well as for safety reasons.

The project is ongoing, said Collins Lam, deputy director of the city Department of Design and Construction.

The Hawaii Kai Neighborhood Board has asked that the project be halted until officials could explain why so many lights were needed (Kokua Line, July 23).

All the new lights are necessary to bring the level of lighting up to the present roadway classification, Lam said. When the road and street lights were installed more than 40 years ago, upper Hawaii Kai and Kalama Valley were not yet developed.

The traffic volume has since increased, with peak traffic at night being more than 1,200 vehicles per hour.

The additional lights will not only make the roadway brighter, but also safer for motorists, pedestrians and bikers, Lam said. “;Safety on our roads is our main concern.”;

He said that the aging roadway lighting system, which includes an underground conduit and wiring system, the pole foundation, and pole and street light luminaries, also need to be replaced.

The new light fixtures will be 150 watt high pressure sodium, the same as the existing lights.