According to particpants in the annual Sagat dining survey, servers in New Orleans restaurants receive, on average, the biggest tips in the nation. The average tip in New Orleans is 19.7 percent, compared to the national average of 19.2 percent. On the West Coast, the average drops below 19 percent.
The difference between 19.7 and 19.2 percent averages doesn’t sound like much. But when those numbers are projected out to millions of diners, it’s obvious that some servers are getting tips of 20 percent or more and some are getting closer to 15 percent. It takes a lot of 20%-plus tips to make up for 15% tips enroute to a 19.7 average. Servers will tell you that the differene between 15 and 20 percent is major to them.
The reason or reasons for the higher New Orleans numbers are not obvious. But here are some tips, pun not to be passed up, on why New Orleans may be the leader.
Huge tourist and convention business
Though they might actually be, the Zagat findings don’t necessarily say that New Orleans residents are the biggest tippers. That’s because New Orleans restaurants, especially those in the French Quarter, get a lot of their business from tourists and conventioneers, at least some of whom are dining on expense accounts. Many are trying to influence clients and potential clients and tipping less than 20 percent might be embarrassing, or at least not impressive.
Of course, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Boston and other cities also attract a lot of tourists who are likely to be a bit more generous to waiters and waitresses. So what’s the New Orleans difference? It might be that New Orleans has a bigger percentage of tourist diners than those bigger cities.
It may also have something to do with New Orleans’ reputation for dining and general attitude toward eating out. Antoine’s, Commander’s Palace, Galatoire’s and Brennan’s and the city’s numerous other first class restaurants are 20-percent and up type establishments.
New Orleans meals are occasions
As many folks in the New Orleans area will admit, they don’t eat to live. They live to eat. A meal is an occasion. A restaurant meal is a special occasion. It’s very often accompanied by a glass or two of wine or some other alcoholic beverage. That alone helps to loosen the purse strings or feel a little more generous when signing the tab.It’s part of the celebration.
A lot of New Orleans servers also take great pride and enjoyment in their work. Long time diners at Antoine’s and Galatoire’s, for instance, have their special waiters. There’s a relationship there that naturally produces higher tips. Some waiters are showmen, like the middle aged Orleanian who has cultivated his own Italian accent for his customers.
In many less expensive restaurants, middle-aged (and older) waitresses address every customer as “dawlin,” making you feel like you’re been friends for years. That “Dawlin” alone is worth 20 percent.
There’s nothing scientific about all this, but a trip to a New Orleans restaurant provides some strong anecdotal evidence.