Tip Talk: For some reason, tipping arouses violent emotions in some people. They resent it with a passion, and, in a way, I can understand their feelings. After all, the reasoning runs, we already have to throw in an extra 7 percent of the bill to pay the tax. Why do we have to add on another 15 percent to take care of the server's salary, too? Shouldn't that be the restaurant owner's responsibility? In Europe, of course, it's a completely different story. Tax is already figured into the cost of the meal, and usually, so is the tip. So the prices you see are what you actually end up paying.

But in this country, a tip is at the diner's discretion. And too often, disgust with tipping in general translates into stiffing hardworking waiters and waitresses who didn't set up the policy in the first place. Sure, there are some misanthropes and incompetents serving food in Valley restaurants who are better suited for other lines of work. But the overwhelming majority--and I've eaten out enough to know--perform their work with reasonable skill and enthusiasm. I've just come across a pernicious group named Tippers Anonymous that aims to take out its frustrations on servers. Send them two dollars, and they'll mail you a booklet of printed coupons, which you're encouraged to tear out and leave with your tips.

Across the top of the coupon it says, "You have just served a member of Tippers Anonymous." Underneath, it explains that "this group is dedicated to improving service and restoring its reward--tipping--to its rightful status. The group is not opposed to tipping, but rather feels that its meaning has been lost in the hurried pace of the modern world." Tips, the message concludes, "are a reward for fine service. Lack of them is an indication of poor service." The customer then rates the service by checking a box--excellent, good, fair, poor--and tips accordingly. I don't buy it. The whole deal seems like a sneaky way for shameless cheapskates to leave powerless workers puny tips. I don't wantonly throw around money at tip time. But I think decent service merits at least 15 percent, superior service 20 percent. After all, on a 50-dollar meal, the difference between being a skinflint who leaves 10 percent, or a Diamond Jim Brady who leaves 20, comes to a measly five bucks. I say: Take your coupon and shove it. Diners, servers--what do you think? Nick of Time: As his fans well know, Nick Ligidakis' Cuisine of Southern Europe, at 3717 East Indian School, offers a staggering menu of infinite variety: pizzas with 80 toppings, seven kinds of calzones, dozens of Greek specialties, steaks, pasta and seafood. But nothing tops his extraordinary desserts. Now, just in time for the holiday season, he's put out a book of dessert recipes, My Golden Collection of Original Desserts ($21.95, available at the restaurant). If you're worried about calories, you might be better off handing the book to someone else. There's no stinting on butter, cream cheese, sugar or chocolate in most of these recipes. In fact, I wish I hadn't looked up what goes into the white-chocolate cheesecake, one of my favorites. But I didn't peek at the recipe for fig berry pie or Final Addiction. So I'll still have the courage to order them by the slice at the restaurant.


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