After almost ten back-aching years in the service industry, I am still amazed at the number of people who ask what is and isn’t appropriate in regards to tipping. Though I have been rewarded with the all too elusive $100 tip on a next-to-nothing tab, those moments are rare. More often than not, servers get screwed. For this reason, I’ve compiled some basic tips for tipping.
1. Don’t take your credit card receipt with you. All too often your careless mistake turns into a $0 tip for your server. Servers are not allowed to add in a tip without a credit card receipt. So if your “oops” occurs when you’ve rung up a huge tab, your server probably just paid to wait on you. Most servers are required to tip-out various people (hosts, bussers and bartenders) based on their sales. So even if you leave nothing, they still have to pay those people. Don’t take your receipt!
2. Get with the times. Most servers expect 20%. Forget the days of doubling the tax—unless your sales tax is 10%, you’re falling short. Servers make anywhere from $2-$3 an hour. They survive on your tips. 20% should be the starting point for tipping. Depending on the level of service, feel free to add more or subtract.
3. It isn’t always your server’s fault. Maybe your sandwich is gross or your martini is too weak. These things happen in restaurants everyday. It is your server’s job to fix these errors. But don’t fault them. They do not cook the food or taste it before they bring it to the table. They do not make the drinks or have a sip to ensure quality. Your server’s tip should not be based on you not liking the steak. You tip based on the service you received while getting that gnarly steak.
4. Keep your 50 cents. I work in a bar where beers are $3.50. I take it as an insult when someone gives me $4. Open a tab and tip all at once. You can even give them a credit card and pay cash at the end. But keep your quarters. I’m not a slot machine.
5. Let some things go. Servers are people too. Sometimes they get dumped, or their dog dies or they have a headache, but they still have to come to work and be friendly. So forgive them if sometimes, they aren’t as upbeat as you’d like them to be. Many servers and bartenders work regular day jobs, or are students or single parents. Cut them some slack if they’re having an off-day. This doesn’t mean you should accept sub-standard service. But don’t take it personally if they don’t have a smile plastered across their face. As long as they do their job—which is to get your food and drinks to you in a timely manner—then be content.
6. Learn some math. Pull out your calculator, your iPhone or your abacus—just do something about bad math. Most servers despise the dreaded check-splitting. Why? Because they rarely receive the appropriate tip. When customers ask the server to “take the cash off and put the rest on the card,” servers rarely get tipped on the full amount of the check. Most get tipped on the “rest of the card” part. Some simple math: If the tab is $100 and Jane pays $60 cash towards the tab, and Dick puts $40 on his card, most of the time Dick only tips around $8—a nice tip for a $40 tab, but shoddy for $100. Pay attention.
I am clearly a supporter of servers, but that doesn’t mean I’m advocating tipping when it isn’t deserved. It makes me cringe to tip less than 20%, but there are some instances where a subtraction is necessary.
~If the server is downright rude. I know I mentioned that sometimes servers have bad days, but that doesn’t mean they should take it out on you. An apathetic server is acceptable sometimes, a mean server is never acceptable.
~If the server shows a complete lack of concern for my needs. If they forget my appetizer, my extra dressing or my water refill because they’re outside taking a smoke break or texting, I deduct from the tip.
~If the server brings my check to me without me requesting it. I have spent many nights as a server waiting on that ONE table to close out so I can go home. But never would I just drop the check off without discussing it with the customer first. I would have no problem closing out and getting service from someone else. But if a server drops the check at my table before I’m ready to go and doesn’t discuss it with me first, I take this as a personal insult.
With the holidays upon us, people are cutting back in many areas of their lives. Tipping should not be one of them. If you can’t afford to tip, don’t go out to eat.