Sacramentians poor tippers?

Steve Bruce of Sacramento pays his bill at OneSpeed restaurant in the capital Wednesday. A Zagat survey found that Sacramento diners left an average tip of 18.6 percent. A server at OneSpeed, in east Sacramento, said: “I always do the best I can and hope to get above 15 percent. We’re supporting families, we’re going to school, so we depend on tips.”

Sacramento diners pinch their pennies extra tight when it comes to restaurant tipping.

That tidbit comes courtesy of Wednesday’s 2011 America’s Top Restaurants Survey by Zagat, which polled more than 153,000 consumers around the country.

Sacramento ranked second-to-last in the survey with an 18.6 percent average tip, a figure that tied with San Francisco and Seattle. The national average in this survey of 31 restaurant markets was 19.2 percent, with New Orleans ranking highest at 19.7 percent. Hawaii ranked lowest in the survey with an average 18.4 percent tip.

“The West Coast, for some reason, has consistently tipped less than the East Coast, and I still don’t understand why,” said Tim Zaget, the co-founder of  Zaget Survey. “It’s been the pattern for about 10 years.”

There’s no standard formula for leaving a tip, though a minimum 15 percent tip is considered customary. Restaurant servers tend to be paid minimum wage, and count on their tips for the bulk of their earnings. They generally have to give a portion of their tips to bussers and other restaurant staff as well.

“I always do the best I can and hope to get above 15 percent,” said Guido Semler, a server at east  Sacramento’s OneSpeed restaurant. “We’re supporting families, we’re going to school, so we depend on tips.”

The variance between Sacramento’s  tipping average and the national average isn’t too wide. But look at the Zagat survey results and you’ll see that the West Coast uniformly tips lower than the rest of the country. Along with Sacramento, San Francisco and Seattle tied at 18.6 percent,Los Angeles and San Diego each had an 18.7 percent average.

Chris Macias/Sacramento Bee

“That could be a reflection of the cost of living and the impact of the recession,” said Daniel Conway, spokesman for the California Restaurant Association.California has been hit harder than other parts of the country, and we see that it’s impacted discretionary spending more deeply.”

Back at OneSpeed, Gary Taylor of Sacramento always insists on leaving at least a 20 percent tip. As sales director for Vino Noceto winery, he spends just about every working day at a restaurant to dine or sell wine. The idea that Sacramentans tip lower than average makes him wince.

“I don’t think the restaurant-going public in Sacramento is very sophisticated,” said Taylor. “We’re more of a fast-food culture, so I don’t think people really understand what the servers go through. If they’re doing a good job, they deserve some credit.”