Burning questions: How much should I tip?

$ 5 dollar tip on the table with

$ 5 dollar tip on the table with receipt, on a tray ,at a restaurant. (Credit: iStock)

Erica Marcus

Erica Marcus (face disguised) is Newsday's food writer. Erica Marcus

Marcus has covered food for Newsday since 1998.

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What's the average restaurant tip?

There are no official figures, but Michael Lynn, a Cornell professor who has researched and published widely on tipping, said his "best guess was around 18 percent." And that figure has been slowly rising.

In general, Lynn said, "tipping guides provide a rough estimation of what people actually do." Etiquette books in the 1940s and '50s suggested that diners leave 10 percent. By the time Lynn himself was waiting tables, in the '70s, the standard tip had risen to 15 percent. Some time over the last 30 years, it has crept up closer to 20 percent.

I asked Lynn if there was any truth to the oft-repeated "fact" that women tip less than men. "There's no research to indicate that," he said, "but I once did an analysis that seemed to indicate that women tip more than men in studies when the servers were mostly male, and that men tip more than women when the servers are mostly female." No surprise.

Old people vs. young people? Lynn cited at least two studies showing that older people were more likely to tip less than younger ones when the service was bad. There was no difference when the service was good.

Lynn's observations dovetail with those of local restaurateurs. Dean Kois, whose Reststar Hospitality Group operates 10 restaurants on Long Island and in Manhattan (including Café Buenos Aires in Huntington and various bistros and brasseries Cassis and Citron), said he sees average tips in the range of 15 to 22 percent. The percentage, he said, has not declined with the flat economy, although "the average check has gone down a bit."

At Plaza Café in Southampton, chef-owner Doug Gulija also has seen the average check decrease, while the average tip, about 20 percent at his restaurant, has stayed the same. He finds the biggest spenders often leave the largest percentages.

Jay Grossman, managing partner at both Two in New Hyde Park and Four in Melville, says he believes that when it comes to tipping, "people are programmed -- they just have their standard tip and that doesn't change. A lot of our customers are just double-the-tax tippers." In both Nassau and Suffolk counties, sales tax is 8.625 percent; doubling that gives you 17.25 percent. Round up a bit and you're at 18.


Got any new ideas for eggplant?

Indeed I do. Over the last few weeks I've been playing around with recipes for miso eggplant, that most delicious of Japanese appetizers. All of the recipes, however, called for ingredients that I know are just going to sit, unused, in my pantry. I knew I'd have to buy some miso paste, but I managed to come up with a recipe that called for no other exotic ingredients. It was delicious, and I call it:

CHEATER'S MISO EGGPLANT

3 tablespoons honey

5 tablespoons shiro miso

2 pounds eggplant, unpeeled (preferably 4 to 8 small to medium ones)

Vegetable oil

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a small bowl, combine the honey and miso with 2 to 3 tablespoons water, to make a thick sauce / loose paste.

2. Cut the eggplants in half lengthwise and score the cut surfaces with a knife. (You can make a pretty diamond pattern, but long parallel lines are easier.) Brush the cut surfaces with oil and then smear on the miso mixture. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until eggplant is soft when you pinch it, and topping is brown and bubbling. Makes 4 servings.