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Dear Ann Landers: May I respond to "Jill in Evansville, Ind.," who said the general public does not know what a decent tip is? Last week, 10 members of my extended family were dining at a restaurant. We agreed that each "family" would pay its own bill. Our part came to $31. We handed our waitress an appropriate tip, and the rest of our family members left their tips on the table.

When we were in the parking lot, the manager came running out and shouted, "Excuse me, was there a miscalculation -- leaving a $3 tip for a $94 bill?" (She had added all three parties' bills together.) We told her the other tips were left on the table. The manager didn't believe us. We were not pleased, to put it mildly.

The next day, my sister phoned the owner of the restaurant to voice her displeasure. He was very apologetic. When my sister asked him how this business of tipping came about, he said he pays his employees only $3.09 an hour, and it's up to the customers to make up the difference.

This tipping racket has gotten out of hand. We are now expected to tip the paperboy, the mailman, the barber and the hairdresser. My doctor and dentist perform services that enhance (or even save lives, but no tip is expected.

If people are willing to work for less than minimum wage at restaurants, that's their choice. But employers should share their profits with the employees. After all, the employees are the ones who work for it.

-- Off My Chest in Iowa
Dear Iowa: I could not believe the number of high-voltage letters I received on this subject. Several readers suggested that we adopt the European custom of adding a "service charge" to the bill instead of expecting the customer to tip. Keep reading for additional observations:

From Petaluma, Calif.: There are few low-skill jobs that pay as well as waiting on tables. This is not brain surgery or astrophysics.

From San Jose, Calif.: As a waitress, I am taxed 8.25 percent of my sales and count on tips to break even. That means it comes out of my pocket if you don't leave me a tip. The server is only responsible for part of your dining experience. If there is a problem in the kitchen, don't blame us.

From Chicago: I am furious. Restaurant cooks bust their butts doing highly skilled work in a 98-degree kitchen, preparing 15 or 20 meals at the same time. When they are finished, a waitress or waiter picks up the food and carries it 50 feet, for which they receive a tip equal to or greater than the hourly wage of the cook.

From Pueblo, Colo.: You are right to say waiters and waitresses should be rewarded with a 15 or 20 percent tip for good service. You are wrong, however, to suggest no tip be left when the service is poor. If you leave nothing, the server might conclude that the busboy took the tip. The best way to get the message across is to leave a nickel. It would then be clear that the service was lousy.

Dear Pueblo: You may be right, but I don't believe many people would have the nerve to do it -- unless they planned never to return to that restaurant again. I wouldn't.

Problems? Dump on Ann. Write her at The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, N.Y. 14240.

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