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5 Rules for Tipping

January 23, 2010

By Monsieur Anton

Discussing tipping can be quite polarizing.  I know in advance that in writing this servers and bartenders will applaud, while miserly, miserable skinflints will be wrong.  Can you already see where I stand?

Let me start this out by saying that everyone should be forced to wait tables for a minimum of six months.  Consider it like mandatory military service in some countries minus the weapons.  We  certainly don’t want the servers to have weapons.  That would get ugly in a hurry.  Having undergone the hard work, and being exposed to the treatment of some customers, people’s outlook on life would be much different, and for the better.  That or it would look like the local post office on downsizing day.

Servers here in the state of Ohio earn $3.65 an hour.  Try living off that.  It is assumed by both their employer and the great state of Ohio that the generosity of restaurant diners will bring the earnings up to at least the minimum wage of $7.30.  Now you may be in favor of the European model where the servers are paid a higher wage, and do not get tipped by the patron.  Keep in mind that this will result in a higher cost for the food and drinks you order.  The living wage has to come from somewhere.  If this is the system you prefer, the more power to you.  Just be sure to take into account the cost of your Trans Atlantic flight into the cost of your meal because the U.S. system is not going to change anytime soon.

I’ve heard many say that the gratuity they give should reflect the quality of the service they receive.  It’s hard to argue this logic as long as the diner understands what good service is.  Can they differentiate whether it was the server’s fault, or the kitchen’s when their entrée arrives late?  The reality is that few diners know when the server is at fault for bad service, unless that server exhibits a flat-out bad attitude.  Under the economic model established for restaurant compensation, it would be unfair to penalize the server when it is not their fault.  The better course of action would be to speak to the manager about the situation and not to take it out on the server.

Enough background information about how the system works.  The title of this post promised five rules, and five rules you shall get!

How much should you tip? This depends on a number of factors.  What type of restaurant are you dining at?  A high-end establishment generally requires a higher tip than the neighborhood diner.  This is not to disparage the hard-working diner server, it’s just that the server in the four star establishment has hopefully honed their craft to a high level and should be compensated for it.  It’s much like the professional athlete that has proven themselves and been promoted to the big time.  They command a higher pay grade than the minor leaguer.  So how much is enough?  At any level, 18-20% is appropriate with more for exceptional service, or if your server has done something above and beyond the normal service standards.  When in doubt, always remember the golden rule of gratuities; you cannot ever over tip.  Err on the side of generosity.  Consider it an investment in good karma.

Cover for your idiot friends. We’ve all been in the situation before.  We’ve enjoyed a nice meal with a friend and you glance down at the credit card slip only to see that your good buddy stiffed the server.  Your friend even complimented the server on a job well done.  This is called a verbal tip.  I tried to pay my rent with a verbal tip one time, but my landlord would have none of it.  At this moment you will save the day.  On your way out, or during a discreet trip to the restroom, you should slip your deserving server a little extra cash to make up for your unenlightened companion.  Consider it the cost of having an idiot for a friend.   It would then be a good idea to email your friend a link to this blog to avoid any future embarrassment.

If your kids make a mess…tip more. It is important to remember that the person tending to you, bringing you food and drinks is a trained professional, not your janitor.  If you bring your toddlers to dinner with you, it’s likely the floor around them will be littered with copious amounts of food and rubbish.  Got a guess who is going to have to clean this up?  It is going to one of two people, the server or the busser who the server will have to tip out.  Either way, it is more work for somebody, and they should be compensated for the extra work.

Tip on alcohol. There seems to be a line of thought that it is not necessary to tip on wine or drinks ordered at the table.  Answer me this.  Is it any less work for the server to bring you a drink than to bring your filet?  The same skill set applies.  The service is even more involved when it comes to wine.  It is an elaborate process to present and serve a bottle of wine.  It is also time-consuming; time that can be spent on other, better tipping guests.  There are limits to this of course.  It’s silly to tip the same percentage on a $150 bottle of wine as you would on a $30 bottle.  Just be reasonable, topping out the gratuity to $10 per bottle, more if the server made a good recommendation on the wine.  You should also tip at least the same dollar a drink for drinks ordered at the table as you would at the bar.  You are tipping a dollar a drink at the bar aren’t you?

Pay rent. Dinner was great.  Service was wonderful.  The conversation was delightful.  You don’t want this evening to end, and so you linger.  You enjoy your companion’s company a few minutes longer.  Then a few minutes turns into an hour.  Then an hour turns into the rest of the evening.   All this time your server is cooling their heels waiting for you to leave so the host can reseat the table allowing them to earn more tips.  Tables are earning potential for restaurant workers.  The more often they are seated, the more opportunity to earn cash.  That is until you decide to squat for the rest of the evening.  The value of the table you are sitting at is declining faster than a 401k in today’s market.  You must leave or pay or your squatter’s rights to the tune of oh say, an additional 5% added to the gratuity per extra half hour of residence.

A seasoned server can develop that “hundred mile stare.”  It is the glance that can cut a hole through you at fifty paces.  Trust me, you do not want to be on the receiving end of that stare, and you will be if you don’t adhere to these rules.  Do yourself and servers all over this great nation a favor and pay your fair share of the dining tax that is tipping.  Nobody is saying that you have to act like a character in a mafia movie doling out C-notes like they were spare change, but nobody would complain either, and I’ll venture a bet that you get pretty damn good service on your next visit!

Chef Gusteau: I have been “accused” of overtipping.  Trust me; there are worse things in life.  I love to see the look of surprise and satisfaction on my server’s face when they notice the generous tip.  And you know what, they have earned it.  I appreciate when the server goes to extra efforts to ensure that my wife and kids are treated well during dinner.  I know my boy just said he didn’t want another drink, but now he does…and my server didn’t flinch or wince.  That’s professionalism, and it should be rewarded.  Another note on tipping.  I really overtip at small diners and neighborhood restaurants.  My server would come to the table numerous times with drinks, entrees, more drinks, as well as the courteous quality checks for meal satisfaction.  When the bill arrives and the total is less than $40 for the four of us, then the 18-20% guide is out the window.  I will typically tip 30-40%; the few extra dollars might make a typical long and arduous day for that server just a little bit brighter.

Anton would be quick to agree that good deeds and respect always come back around to you.  Now, when we frequent our favorite restaurants, we don’t even have to order drinks or appetizers; rather, these items are typically waiting for us at the table as a sign of appreciation from our favorite servers.  It feels great to know that your signs of appreciation are appreciated…everyone wins.

Final thought…Anton – you tell me why no one ever tips the Chef!!!

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. January 24, 2010 6:37 pm

    “Can they differentiate whether it was the server’s fault, or the kitchen’s when their entrée arrives late? The reality is that few diners know when the server is at fault for bad service, unless that server exhibits a flat-out bad attitude.”

    Actually, the customer a lot of the times can. When I see our server(my husband and I) waiting to put that order in by going to other tables without anyone calling them over(not counting if they have to deliver food, because those customers placed their order WAY BEFORE us or if they have a problem that is a mistake(mistakes should be handled as TOP PRIORTITY over putting in our order), THAT shows WHY we waited longer for our food. There is no reason that you can’t do a mini-greet to say “I’ll be right with you all” while you go put that order into the computer first as far as greeting tables goes if you are double or triple sat. If you go to check on another table to see if they need anything before putting in our order when they didn’t call you over, THAT is delaying our food from getting to us and it is VERY RUDE!! That is CUTTING!!

    As far as if we get bad service, 95% of the time I can tell whether my server is at fault or not. If they bring me the wrong food or forget something obvious when they brought out the food(not another server), that’s on them 100%!!

    It’s very rare that I can’t tell whether it’s my server or not. I usually can tell in MOST situations. I didn’t say all, but in most situations I can.

    My server forgets my ranch, I know it’s them that left the kitchen without it when they brought my food to me that it is THEIR FAULT, NOT the kitchen staff. If another server runs the food, my server could have brought that ranch out beforehand if it gets forgotten, so that’s still my server as far as condiments are concerned.

    If another server brings out wrong food or forgets something, that’s when I don’t know if the server put in the order wrong or not or if my server delivered my food, but there is something such as a pickle under a bun(I order no pickles) if they put in the order correctly or not.

    In the cases such as a pickle under a bun that wasn’t supposed to be there, if the server doesn’t admit fault, I will assume that is the kitchen staff’s fault since they would have had to touch my food to notice that type of mistake and would not take off the tip any for that.

    If my server overcharges us in any way, shape or form, unless they didn’t hand us our check, they are always at fault for that. The reason why I am mentioning that is because we have had that happen to us many of times in restaurants.

    Also if the food is wrong, that’s a reason why the food can be late as well, which is pretty obvious there.-

    “If your kids make a mess…tip more.”

    Sorry, I 100% DISAGREE!! I don’t have children(I am 32yrs old), but the mess customers leave that you end up cleaning up happens AFTER the service is over with. WHY would you pay for something YOU didn’t receive? Do you pay for things you don’t receive? I bet you don’t, so don’t expect others to.

    If you clean up the mess while I am there still, THAT is part of the service I am receiving, but talking about the mess afterwards, that is AFTER I have left the restaurant and is NOT ANY, ANY, ANY, ANY PART of someone’s service. The service has ended, so is the tipping for something we can’t possibly receive since we aren’t there to receive it.

    You are getting paid by the restaurant to do side work(cleaning after people leave and restocking) that have ZERO to do with someone’s service.

    Tell me, HOW can you expect someone to actually PAY for something they aren’t receiving?

    WHY should people care about what happens AFTER they have left a restaurant, huh? NOBODY DOES, that’s why normal people that leave messes don’t care if you have to clean it up, because their service is OVER WITH and they AREN’T AT ALL BENEFITTING from it in ANY WAY, SHAPE OR FORM. This wasn’t their house, this is a restaurant, so you aren’t helping them clean up something THEY’D have to do. There is no benefit from a server cleaning up a mess after someone has left. If anything, it benefits the next customers more than it does the customers that left messes, because someone has to clean up the mess in order for them to sit, but those people shouldn’t be responsible for paying for things that are before their service has started either.

    “Cover for your idiot friends.”

    Agree 100%!! I have done that!! Tipped what should have been the tip if they would have tipped 25% through our check.

    “Pay rent. You must leave or pay or your squatter’s rights to the tune of oh say, an additional 5% added to the gratuity per extra half hour of residence.”

    First off, rent would be paid to the restaurant if we had to pay rent, just as they do for rooms at a restaurant you can have private parties at.

    Secondly, we don’t do this, BUT, if the customers aren’t asking for anything else during that time, WHY should they pay for something they aren’t receiving? The SERVICE IS OVER WITH, SO IS THE TIPPING!!

    I agree if people are getting refills or more service during that time like more bread, etc. to definately tip more, but if the customers just want to sit and chat, honestly they should get their butts up for other customers if it’s busy, but since they won’t do that, they doesn’t mean they OWE money to their server if their server isn’t giving anymore service. WHY do you feel we OWE YOU? NO, if customers are just sitting, they don’t owe you shit!!NOTHING, ZILCH for ZERO SERVICE = ZERO MORE TIP!!

    If it’s not busy, it shouldn’t matter if people are just sitting.

    NOBODY in their right mind, EVEN YOU would pay for things they don’t receive and if you have, you are STUPID, STUPID!! I don’t pay for things I don’t receive.

    “Final thought…Anton – you tell me why no one ever tips the Chef!!!”

    We tip the hibatchi chef at least $5, but that is only because he gives us a show and is IN our service unlike other restaurants.

    • Patsy permalink
      January 27, 2010 7:53 pm

      YOU are a prime example of a “customer” who DESERVES bad service. You need to wait a few tables to defend your lousy attitude.

      • January 27, 2010 8:53 pm

        “YOU are a prime example of a “customer” who DESERVES bad service.”

        You are a prime example of a LAZY ASS, UNCARING server.

        “You need to wait a few tables to defend your lousy attitude.”

        You need to be a CUSTOMER more often to fully understand how it feels to be one, because obviously you don’t.

  2. January 24, 2010 7:25 pm

    Thanks for your comments. I’ll try to address them the best I can. As I said up front, I knew this would be a polarizing topic.

    Mistakes happen. I don’t necessarily feel that mistakes are bad service, unless it becomes a recurring thing. Then you may just have someone who cannot handle the job. I think that when most people go out to dinner they are not focused on watching their server. I would hope they are focused on their dinner companion.

    Most issues in service center on timing. Servers juggle many tasks at once, and when the kitchen does something to throw off the timing there is a domino effect. Now before my good friend Gusteau gets upset, I’m not dumping on the back of the house. There are good servers and bad servers, and good kitchens and bad kitchens. Things can happen in both the front and back of the house. A little tip here, if the food arrives at the proper temperature, it was probably not the server’s fault.

    I believe that if a server does anything above and beyond normal service for the guest, they should be compensated accordingly. Cleaning up after kids is extra work, not normally associated with serving tables. It’s time to look at servers as service professionals. The owner pays the server $3.65/hour. That doesn’t even cover the server’s taxes from their tips. A server’s paycheck if they make any kind of money at all is $0.00 and they will still owe taxes on top of that.

    As for camping out, when you do so you throw off the whole economics of tipped service. If the server cannot turn their tables, they cannot earn more money. If they cannot earn more money, they will find another line of work, and you will be stuck with the kind of service you deserve for the kind of money you spend. As the saying goes, “you get what you pay for.” A good server is priceless.

    Now Gusteau…I read a bartending blog that said that chefs just have to cook. Bartenders have to make a drink and entertain at the same time!

    Monsieur Anton

    • January 25, 2010 8:37 am

      Ah…now it comes out Anton! So Bartenders are more entertaining than Chefs! Well, although bartenders spend their time directly in front of the guests all night, I challenge you to think of a more powerful effect on the evening’s enjoyment than when the Chef comes out of the kitchen to greet the customers and first hand determine if everything was done to satisfaction by the kitchen staff. Granted, most Chefs aren’t coming out to rock star music and autographing bras in the dining room, but I believe that guests like to put a “face” with the food they are enjoying. That said, no one tips the Chef for that; nor should they….all part of the job. Chef Gusteau

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