Plays Well With Others


Yesterday I left the following comment on a blog in regard to a question he posed about tipping in restaurants:

Typically I pay 15% for good service. Just take the tax and double it, here in California. If the service was great, I’ll up it to 20%, if it was not that great—like they did the bare minimum—it goes down to 10%. Only twice have I tipped nothing. The service was horrible. We got our food and never saw the person again. When we asked for a refill, the waiter was actually rude to us.

I think a tip has to be earned, not just expected. You get a salary for doing your job, you get a tip for doing your job well.

I was actually surprised by the number of people that actually tip for poor service. Most people felt that it was appropriate to tip 10% for poor service, 20% for excellent service and 15% for something in between. Ugh. Why in the world would you tip for poor service?

Like I said above, a tip is like a reward for doing more than your job asked of you. If the service is poor, I generally don’t reward them at all. They’ll get nothing on top of the amount for the food. If the service was really poor, I’ll probably stop and have a chat with the manager on the way out. I fully understand that part of the tip goes to the busboy or the bartender, but if the person who is representing all of them can’t get their act together or even treats me rudely, then they’ll all suffer the loss.

I’ll typically tip 10% for adequate service. Maybe the person was having an off day or something. They weren’t rude to me, but also weren’t very attentive. When you go out for a meal and are paying a premium to sit down and have it served to you, at the very least you don’t expect to be forgotten about. There are times when you’re seated at your table and the waiter won’t even take your initial drink order for fifteen or twenty minutes. Or when you’re done with your meal, you’ll be sitting there forever waiting for your check. I’m not asking to be treated like royalty and fully understand a busy restaurant, but I also expect that I won’t have to go looking for my waiter. For me, just doing the basics gets you 10%.

Usually, I’ll tip about 15%-18% for good service. Drinks and refills are brought in a timely manner, the waiter or waitress checks back a few times, and the bill is ready when we’re ready to leave. I think 15%-18% is a reasonable amount on top of an already expensive bill—compared to buying the food at the grocery store and making it yourself.

I reserve a 20% or more tip for those occasions when the service is fabulous. There are those times when you go out to eat and the server makes the experience even better. Perhaps they are just really attentive or perhaps they have a good sense of humor. Just a little bit goes a long way. More than once, I’ve commented that I could never do that job. I can’t imagine having to smile and be that attentive to customers for an 8-hour shift. So, when someone can do it and make it look effortless—putting aside all of their own drama while I’m there—I just have to reward it.

On top of a tip, I typically write a short “Thank You” on the receipt so that they know that I appreciate their work. It’s just something I’ve done for awhile now.

The reason this whole tipping thing came up was because of this story on MSNBC, where a former waiter and restaurant manager, wants to institute a mandatory 20% service fee on all restaurant bills. Understandably 2,500 waiters have joined his efforts. Personally, I think such a mandatory fee would just force a lot of restaurants out of business. Who wants to pay a service fee of 20% for just walking into the restaurant? And how exactly would a diner reward exceptional service?

One of the problems I have with the attitude presented in the article is that it sounds like most serving staff feel entitled to a tip of 20% for just showing up. As someone who has worked with the public—without any kind of tips—I realize how tough people can be. And trying to make some people happy is almost like climbing up a mountain upside down only using your hands. Like I’ve said, I couldn’t do the job and really admire people who can. That said, anything you earn over your paltry salary should be considered a reward for doing a good job that night. If you don’t like it, then find a different job. Whether you’re serving a table of 10, or five tables of two, you’ll be paid the same amount if you just do the basics. If you’re going above and beyond, then you can expect to be rewarded as such. It works the same way in the corporate world, I get a salary for doing my job, I get a bonus if I do my job well, I get a raise for going above and beyond.

According to Zagat, the average tip is 18.7%, up from 17.75 six years ago. However, the story which is skewed towards waiters which are claiming that 20% is the norm. Like I have said, repeatedly, I don’t care about the “norm” because it’s a reward I’m giving you for the service you’ve provided.

I’ll probably end up on the Waiter Rant blog someday. Or, if you tip below 17%, you could end up in the Bitter Waitress database. Ugh.

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