Tips & Memorabilia

“We can’t dictate how much tip you have 
to leave, it’s up to you!”

Yet anyone offers to write a “Thank You Note” here are helmut’s thoughts:

…a bank note will do

just fine:

about banknotes…

as helmut the waiter quotes

those banks do supply quite

appreciatable thank-you-notes

adequate and always right


I called the waitress and pointed it out to her, “You forgot to add your tip on this check!” Her answer came as a surprise, “We don’t dictate how much tip you have to leave, it’s up to you.”

“Service charge! Servicio! Drinkspengar! Trinkgeld! Bakhsheesh!” In many parts of the world the prices listed on a price-list, may it be wine list or menu, are actual end-prices. There the tips and taxes are included. Tourists coming from such countries, who are new to the United States often think it’s the same way here and therefor are surprised by seeing tax added to their check. Many a times they do not leave a tip rightfully thinking “Such must be included too!”
I remember my first trip to America coming from Germany and I too assumed that the prices from the menu reflected what I actually owed after consuming the meal. I had my first dining experience in a Russian restaurant called Alexis in San Francisco and I ordered for myself and three friends food and wine totaling just below three hundred dollars at list price.

I had only three-hundred-dollars worth of traveler checks on me. There came the bill after an exceptional good meal and yes it was just below three-hundred and fifty-dollars. I asked about the difference between menu and bill and was told that the Alexis did not include the tax on the menu, neither was the tip included. I had to borrow money from my guests to pay my bill.

This my first encountering of the American haute cuisine is still today well remembered as a great lesson and memorable evening in San Francisco. Within my first year in California I worked as a dinner chef in Big Sur at the River Inn. I visited many restaurants up and down the Pacific Coast to do the necessary sightseeing and to learn about American food and customs. Waiters and waitresses, who realized my heavy German accent, automatically added the tip to my check. I was so used to it that one evening in Mendocino when I got my dinner tab and there was no service charge added into it, I called the waitress and pointed it out to her, “You forgot to add your tip on this check!”
Her answer came as a surprise, “We don’t dictate how much tip you have to leave, it’s up to you.” I am glad she took the time to explain to me her view of tipping for I was blessed with ignorance about the American way. From her I learned that around most customers leave ten percent if they got everything they ordered. Less if the waiter forgot some of their order or if he was unfriendly or unreachable. Happy customers leave more than ten percent, fifteen is common and twenty percent represents outstanding service.

As the years have gone by I have gotten used to the idea of “It all evens out!” Here in Monterey some guests tip more, some less. Talking about the monthly average, I get around fifteen percent on all sales. I keep records of my tips and have jotted down nationalities, countries and/or place of origin of the different tippers. This my ‘black book of tips’ from records kept 1985 to 1996, shows that the Germans, Scotch, Dutch and Belgian visitors most likely will not tip at all.
However if they tipped, it was for Belgium tourists between 5 and 10%, just like the Dutch and the Australians. British visitors were good for ten to fifteen percent. Guests from Southern California were 15 to 20%, the same as visitors from Florida. The rest of the East Coast customers were easily 20% tippers for exceptional service. Other tourists from down under New Zealand, and South Africa were in the 10 to 15% range. The same 15% figure was typical for visitors from Northern California, Oregon and Washington state. Getting a little farther north, the Canadians were known for ten percent tips. Guest from Alaska ranged from 10% to 25% and most were easy to please. The same with Japanese, Korean and Chinese visitors, they tipped 15% to 20%.
Looking at certain professions, the doctors, attorneys and government employees were usually at 10% to 15% as the maximum. Customers from Washington, D.C. as well as the ones from the entertainment industry were good for 20%, the same as musicians and restaurant employees. However famous actors, actresses, movie stars, politicians and other prominent public figures often felt that a kind word, a handshake or maybe an autograph was sufficient compensation for the services provided by a waiter. Some people with temporary fame did overvalue their worthless signatures by far. I had a few so-called famous personalities who did not leave much of a cash tip.

Over time IT ALL EVENS OUT. Looking back at years of working in upscale restaurants in Germany, Spain, South Africa and the United States I have gotten many non-monetary tips, like a handshake and a “vielen herzlichen Dank” (thank you very much) from Dr. Porsche after a five-hundred-dollar dinner check, which keeps me away from buying a Porsche. I also have received free advice from Bob Hope, words of wisdom from Hamburg’s Mayor Helmut Schmidt, and a short history lesson from Dr. Diedrichs, then the South African President. P.W. Botha, then South African Defense Minister sent me a thank-you-letter for my services. More generous I received a silver chain and medallion from Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, a wristwatch from Tom Jones and cash and autographs from Shirley Bassey, Ursula Andres, Ringo Star and Peter Lawford, just to name some of those I waited on.

The greatest tips are memories of meeting truly remarkable people, like the Beach Boys at the River Inn. I also got to get to know Virginia Stanton in Monterey, whose generous charity and monetary ability to entertain in “grande style” had made her a legend within her life time.
True I also had embarrassing moments. One was as my doing room service and walking in on Miss South Africa 1975 during her stay at the Landdrost. Reason, on the order ticket it said, use key – leave tray in room. So I did and coming out of the shower she was, and I nearly dropped the tray which I was carrying. I did my share of apologizing too. I was naturally afraid I might lose my job, as I knew her to date the hotel’s owner.
Looking back, I met many personalities which ordinary people like me generally don’t get to meet. The cash-tips received from my many customers have been spent on vacations, cars, clothing, entertainment and you name it. The memories of meeting unusual people are still with me.

by helmut schonwalder