When tipping came to restaurants

The French word for a tip – pourboire – simply means "for drinking", the idea being of course that one gives a little extra to someone supposedly so they can buy a drink. How long has this concept been around?

This is the kind of practice that was rarely noted in earlier centuries, but in the fourteenth, when King John of France was prisoner in England, a spurrier was paid 3 sous, not only for making a pair of spurs, but for "the valets' wine" (presumably a gratification to his helpers) and later wine was similarly given to the helpers of an armorer who himself refused pay for his work. The same accounts list not only payments for specific services but "gifts" given for various services, as when a messenger carried a letter to someone. These too were probably gratifications, though the fact that wine is only mentioned twice as being given to helpers suggests that this was less expected than such "gifts".

Sometime around the middle of the sixteenth century, Claude de La Landelle noted the expenses for a large breakfast in his accounts book, ending with this entry: "For the servants after having breakfasted to drink with those remaining, paid... 11 s[ous]." In another case, he notes an expense of four deniers "in wine for the helpers ["boys"]"; this may literally have meant providing them wine (which at this early date would have been a significant expense for workers) but he might also simply have given them money on the pretext they would use it for that. Certainly, it was a gratification, whatever its exact form. More amusingly, de La Landelle (a clergyman) gave four sous to "the beautiful cook" at a place he was visiting (a day after giving four deniers, a much smaller sum, to a stable-hand).

These are all examples of an aristocrat giving a gratification to various workers. On the other hand, where he mentions a meal at an inn, he notes a tip to the stable boy but nothing for service at his meal.

A question one might not think to consider is: was it appropriate to give a woman money for drink?  Apparently in seventeenth century France, it was not; tips to serving women were not "for wine", but for... "needles".

In the same century, increasingly luxurious options existed for dining out. One such place was run outside Paris by a colorful woman named La Duryer and an anecdote about her includes what may be the first mention of a tip in an eatery. A lord she had helped when he was in need kept trying to pay her back. Having repeatedly refused, she finally told him, “Since you want to pay me, give me two pistoles.” She then gave this to her personnel, saying, “Here, this is what Monsieur gives you.” Which makes it clear that such gratifications were standard in a place such as hers.

It is unlikely on the other hand that diners in taverns and the cheaper cabarets gave tips. This was an obligation for aristocrats – or, probably, those who wanted to emulate them. And it even extended to those in the prison which most often held them: the Bastille. One otherwise kindly jailer there, disappointed at what a departing prisoner had left him, grumbled, “A reasonable prisoner, when he leaves here, gives us at least thirty louis.”

Before the restaurant appeared, as the traiteurs – that is, the cooks’ trades group – gradually gained the monopoly on fine dining, it is very likely that upscale diners gave something to the personnel. Whether simpler people did is simply unknown. It may then have been a matter of personal choice, as it was in London for Samuel Johnson in 1737:
I dined very well for eight-pence, with very good company, at the Pine Apple, in New Street, just by; but it used to cost the rest a shilling, for they drank wine. I had a cut of meat for six-pence, and bread for a penny, and gave the waiter a penny, so that I was quite well served; better than the rest, for they gave the waiter nothing.

With the restaurant, the optional nature of the tip faded (in France, at least); but how soon after its birth in 1767 is unsure. The first great restaurants did not appear until, ironically enough, the Revolution; they only came into their own, under Napoleon, at the start of the nineteenth century. Though some memoirists detail meal prices early on, explicit references to a tip are, at first, hard to find. In a satirical novel from 1813 – Les Aventures plaisantes de M. Bobèche et son voyage de quarante-huit heures dans l'intérieur de la capitale the main character neglects to leave something for the waiter who brings him punch at the theater. Clearly this was considered ill-mannered at this point, yet not necessarily unthinkable. But over a decade later J. B. Richard wrote in his 1824 Guide du voyageur en France: “One pays at the counter, or to the waiter who served you, adding something for drink” - that is, a tip. 

And so by the first quarter of the century, the tip was an expected part of paying the bill. But at this point the amount was not formalized. And, according to Louis Gabriel Montigny, there was still some sense that tips were for the well-off:
Among our first restaurateurs, the taxes the waiters levy on those who come and go are gathered in a tronc placed for this purpose on the counter; these waiters are not otherwise remunerated, and yet they find themselves quite content with their fate. But if the deputy who is not dining that day at a minister's, if the opulent voyager, if the receiver-general on holiday, who goes to have a gourmet meal at Vèry's, at the Frères Provençeaux,’s at the Rocher de Cancale, if some gourmand Englishman is happy to give twenty sous to the waiter, the starving consumer who sits a moment at the Tabar's tables, hesitates a little before letting go of a two sous piece, and often even abstains from taking it from his pocket when it exists.
Montigny goes on to say that the cheaper places all began to hire pretty young women whose charming eyes overcame such scrupules.

Even by 1846, Eugène Briffault seemed to regard the tip as a recent and unwelcome innovation, calling it “the pourboire, this tax working its way into the details of Parisian life". Clearly, he now considered it universal, not the obligation of a given class. However, he said, the custom had not yet made it to the provinces.

At that point he noted set percentages as the standard: five percent in dining rooms, ten in the private ones. But the recommended amounts varied by writer. Stanford wrote in 1858 that a meal for four people at a top restaurant cost (with champagne) sixteen francs, including ninety centimes for the waiter. In 1883, the younger Charles Dickens wrote:
At a restaurant, if a man be alone, 50c. will always be amply sufficient, unless extraordinary service be demanded; in many restaurants one gives less than half a franc. If two or three are dining or breakfasting together, the same rule, or perhaps one franc in twenty upon the total amount of the bill may be left on the table, to go into the waiters' box.
In 1878, a guide again spoke of the tip as a tax, but with resignation:
Everywhere you eat, submit without a murmur to the tax of the tip. It is illogical, absurd, exorbitant, vexatious; but it is necessary; you owe to it the smile of the welcome, you will owe it the smile of departure. Thus you pay the good grace of the service, the pleasantries, the appearances, no, I will dare to say the realities of friendship.
In 1856, August Luchet described the tronc in which all tips were gathered: “a cylindrical metal safe, split on top.” He also wrote that (not unexpectedly) distribution of the collected tips was not always to the advantage of the servers; some owners found various pretexts for redirecting or appropriating some portion of the funds. Waiters were expected to pay against the cost of breakage, as well as a number of other items, including sometimes charges to pay towards other employees’ salaries.

Not only did some employers appropriate part of what went into the tronc, but in later years, Marguery, one of the top restaurants at that point, paid the waiters a salary, then took the entire contents of the tronc: “It is a source of enormous profits, because each waiter puts in the sum of about 30 francs of tips each day. The fixed salary paid to the waiters according to seniority varies from 5 to 10 francs a day.”

Though it would be a century before the tip was regularly included in the bill, in 1855, it was already included (compris) at so-called “poster restaurants” (restaurants à l'affiche), where set meals were served for a fixed price and the menu was posted on the wall.

Villemessant, a journalist, warned in 1873 that waiters could also increase their tip: 
[Diners] should not fear, when the waiter brings [their change] on a plate, to lift the paper covered with numbers which accompanies it; often the check covers a little coin, either of five francs in gold, or of any other value, that one leaves without noticing, but which the waiter does not forget and which he has baptised with the significant name of trainard ["straggler"].

Finally, an article reprinted in the New York Times (August 11, 1878) shows how Americans viewed this French practice; it is titled "The Fee System in France: A Parisian Nuisance":
...Indeed, the pourboire has entered into the French blood and manners, and it has been created even where it did not exist; on omnibuses and tramways, for instance, where you often see habitual passengers give one or two sous to the conductor... Parisians, therefore, would hail as a public benefactor anyone who would relieve them of such a heavy tax on their pocket money. In second rate establishments the pourboire is 10 centimes, whatever may be the number of consommations; in first-class cafés it is 20 or 25 centimes, and sometimes more; in the large restaurants it attains fabulous figures... Of course, in the night restaurants, the pourboires mount in proportion with the nocturnal menu; but men who frequent them do not mind being écorché...
The article (a long one) adds that the Slavic nations were the worst in this regard, but that the practice was then unknown in “free America”...

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